Category Archives: Software

Solidworks Icon

The Best Solidworks PC – 2018 Edition

Another year, another new Solidworks release.  Not too many new features this year on the software end but it’s worth taking a look at updated hardware for a new workstation.  Parts are cheaper, performance has increased, it may be the right time to update.

This article is a refresh from my workstation build last year.  Not a whole lot has changed regarding a workstation build but by now you should be on Windows 10 and be considering a ridiculous amount of RAM and a beefier CAD GPU.  Overall there have been minimal performance relevant changes in 2018 and most of the hardware remains the same.  Some parts are no longer readily available so I have recommended the best possible replacement.

The core of a good Solidworks workstation is still a fast CPU, lots of RAM, and a Solidworks approved workstation graphics card.  A thread on Reddit has a great breakdown on Solidworks performance and how component selection will improve performance.  The Solidworks blog has some additional coverage that confirms all of these points.

Solidworks performance is limited by the CPU and unfortunately only runs single-core for everything except simulation and rendering.  An Intel I7-7700 processor will provide good performance for the price even if you’re using only a single core on the chip.

16GB of RAM is a minimum and important for dealing with large assemblies.  This stuff is cheap and can easily be expanded in the future.

A basic CAD workstation graphics card should be sufficient and won’t hinder performance.  They key here is stability and performance with Solidworks which is why you want something like the newer Pascal architecture Quadro P4000.  Workstations graphics cards are essentially glorified gaming cards but they have extremely stable drivers.

Those are the important bits, the following list covers the complete build.  All components are from Amazon because they have fairly competitive prices and good customer service.  Shop around though, your experience may vary.

The system price at time of writing is is $1880.  Part prices are not listed here because they seem to change week to week.  Expect the system price to trend downward in the next few months.

Processor – Intel I7-700K – great performance for the price, LGA 1151 processor

Motherboard – MSI Pro Z270 – feature-rich motherboard to provide flexibility in the future, has a fancy BIOS and will support up to 32gb of RAM

Graphics Card – Quadro P4000 – pricey but you’re paying for stability here

Memory – Corsair 16GB – fast and cost effective

Storage – Samsung SSD 850 EVO-Series 1TB – a nice solid state drive for speedy performance, I think it’s important to stick with a name brand here to ensure good performance over the life of the drive

DVD –Asus DVD Optical Drive – sigh, can’t quite escape physical discs yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I get files mailed to me on a DVD.  With writing feature for all of your documentation purposes!

Case – Corsair Carbide Series 200R – a nice clean case that’s easy to work on

Power Supply – Rosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 550W – Solid power supply with more than enough wattage, will support expansion in the future

OS – Windows 10 Pro OEM – The new supported standard, if you don’t upgrade now you may be forced into it soon

That’s everything you need for a complete build!  The case comes with all necessary hardware and fans, the power supply has all the cables, and the CPU has it’s own cooler and heatsink.

Need monitors?  I’m a big fan of the 24-inch Dell Ultrasharp because of the positioning flexibility.  It’s easy to setup your dual monitor view in any configuration.  Ergonomics are a big deal if you’re sitting in front of monitors for 8+ hours a day.

N64 on Android

It’s possible to play N64 games on any Android device.  In fact it’s easy.  It’s made possible by the magic of Android N64 emulation and Android’s extensive USB support that works with USB controllers.

To make it happen you’ll need:

  1. USB N64 controller
  2. USB adapter dongle
  3. N64 emulation app
  4. Your favorite N64 ROMs

It’s as easy as plugging in some cables.  I had to remap my controller buttons in the emulator to get started.  You can connect 4 controllers with a USB hub for some nostalgic multiplayer action.

List of Tomato Compatible Routers

This is a comprehensive list of routers that are compatible with Tomato firmware.  The two active communities supporting continuing work on Tomato firmware are Tomato by Shibby and AdvancedTomato.  Both are great and have passionate developers contributing to each mod.

I recently upgraded my router and I found it difficult to find a good router that was readily available, compatible with Tomato, and had the features I needed.  I decided to make a list of all of the Tomato compatible routers, their features, and the firmwares they are compatible with.  I thought this would be helpful for anyone looking for a Tomato router.

Many of these routers are very similar in features and many of the older versions are no longer available.  Shibby supports a lot of routers! A word of caution, many of these routers have different hardware versions and some are not compatible with specific Tomato builds.  Before you buy make sure you double-check the build compatibility!

I was interested in a recent mid-range router that had dual band coverage, a fast processor, and Gigabit LAN ports.  A fast processor is handy when using the router for VPN tunneling, often the processor speed will be the bottleneck for traffic.  I settled on the Asus RT-AC68U but a few routers will fit the bill.

I would also recommend the Linksys EA6900 and Netgear R6400.

List of Tomato Routers

Router Band CPU (MHz) LAN Speed Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-N10 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus RT-N10P 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus RT-N10U Single 300 100 Mbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-N12 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus RT-N15U 500 1 Gbps Shibby
Asus RT-N16 Single 480 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-N18U Single 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-N53 Dual 300 100 Mbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-N66U Dual 600 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-AC56U Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-AC66U Dual 600 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-AC68U/R Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Asus RT-AC3200 Dual 2x 1000 1 Gbps Shibby
Asus WL-330gE 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus WL500GP 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus WL500W 264 100 Mbps Shibby
Asus WL520GU 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Buffalo WHR-G54S 200 100 Mbps Shibby
Buffalo WHR-G125 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Buffalo WHR-HP-G54 200 100 Mbps Shibby
Cisco M10 v2 100 Mbps Shibby
D-Link DIR-320 240 100 Mbps Shibby
D-Link DIR-620 C1 530 100 Mbps Shibby
D-Link DIR-868L Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Fiboom HG320 533 100 Mbps Shibby
Huawei WS880 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys E800 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys E900 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys E1000 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys E1200 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys E1500 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys E1550 Single 300 100 Mbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys E2000 354 1 Gbps Shibby
Linksys E2500 Dual 300 100 Mbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys E3000 480 1 Gbps Shibby
Linksys E3200 Dual 500 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys E4200 Dual 480 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys WRT160N 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys WRT300N 264 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys WRT310N 300 1 Gbps Shibby
Linksys WRT320N 354 1 Gbps Shibby
Linksys WRT54G 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys WRT610N 480 1 Gbps Shibby
Linksys WRTSL54GS 266 100 Mbps Shibby
Linksys EA6500 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys EA6700 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Linksys EA6900 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby
Netgear WNR2000 300 100 Mbps Shibby
Netgear WNR3500L Dual 500 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Netgear R6250 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Netgear R6300 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Netgear R6400 Dual 2x 800 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Netgear R7000 Dual 2x 1000 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Netgear R8000 Dual 2x 1000 1 Gbps Shibby
Ovislink WL1600GL 240 100 Mbps Shibby
Tenda N6 Dual 300 100 Mbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Tenda N60 Dual 500 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
Tenda W1800R Dual 600 1 Gbps Shibby Advanced Tomato
ZTE ZXV10 H618B 240 100 Mbps Shibby
ZTE H218N 500 1 Gbps Shibby

Building a VFIO PC

What is VFIO?

I’ve been hearing about VFIO PCs for a little while now and have been intrigued.  VFIO (Virtual Function I/O) allows a virtual machine to have full access to a dedicated GPU.  This makes gaming in a Windows VM easy and offers great performance.  Dual booting an OS is longer necessary!

I have been seeking a new project and I figured a VFIO build would be fun.  After going down the rabbit hole I wanted to share my findings and detail my build.

The VFIO Build

CPU Intel i7-6800K with cooler – This has VT-d/-x and will work fine.  More cores are better for virtualization so go with six.

Motherboard – ASUS ROG MAXIMUS VIII – Solid LGA 1151 motherboard, a favorite of a few VFIO builds I researched.  Should be easy to configure. Integrated GPU support so the host has a GPU to work with.

RAM – Corsair LPX 32GB – Not messing around here. Again with virtualization, more is better.  You should be OK with 16 GB to start, this is always easy to upgrade later.

GPU – MSI Radeon RX 480 – This is the pass-through card that will do the heavy lifting.  An AMD card should be easier to configure than nVidia but still may need some tweaking.

HDD – Samsung 850 EVO 500GB – These haven’t let me down yet.

Case – Corsair Obsidian Series Black 450D – I’m partial to Corsair cases, clean and high quality for the price.

PSUCorsair CX750M 750W – Plenty of juice.  Modular.

Wrap Up

That should be everything you need for a nice VFIO machine.  I’m running Arch and the RX 480 pass through works great.  To get it to unbind from amdgpu I needed to blacklist amdgpu and reboot. Arch gets the integrated GPU.

/r/VFIO is your friend for getting this all working.

 

 

 

 

Solidworks Icon

The Best Solidworks PC – 2017 Edition

EDIT: This article has been updated in Building a Solidworks PC – 2018 Edition

Dassault has shuffled out another release of Solidworks.  I have become pessimistic with upgrades and none of the new 2017 features seem to be game changers.  Maybe something clever will warm my crusty engineer heart.

This article is a refresh from my workstation build last year.  Not a whole lot has changed regarding a workstation build but by now you should be on Windows 10 and be considering a ridiculous amount of RAM and a beefier CAD GPU.  Overall there have been minimal performance relevant changes in 2017 and most of the hardware remains the same.

The core of a good Solidworks workstation is still a fast CPU, lots of RAM, and a Solidworks approved workstation graphics card.  A thread on Reddit has a great breakdown on Solidworks performance and how component selection will improve performance.

Solidworks performance is limited by the CPU and unfortunately only runs single-core for everything except simulation and rendering.  An Intel I7-6700 processor will provide good performance for the price even if you’re using only a single core on the chip.

16GB of RAM is a minimum and important for dealing with large assemblies.  This stuff is cheap and can easily be expanded in the future.

A basic CAD workstation graphics card should be sufficient and won’t hinder performance.  They key here is stability and performance with Solidworks which is why you want something like the Quadro K4000.  Workstations graphics cards are essentially glorified gaming cards but they have extremely stable drivers.

Those are the important bits, the following list covers the complete build.  All components are from Amazon because they have fairly competitive prices and good customer service.  Shop around though, your experience may vary.

The system price at time of writing is is $1880.  Part prices are not listed here because they seem to change week to week.  Expect the system price to trend downward in the next few months.

Processor – Intel I7-6700K – great performance for the price, LGA 1151 processor

Motherboard – MSI Z97 LGA – feature-rich motherboard to provide flexibility in the future, has a fancy BIOS and will support up to 32gb of RAM

Graphics CardQuadro K4000 – pricey but you’re paying for stability here

Memory – Kingston 16GB – fast and cost effective

Storage – Samsung SSD 850 EVO-Series 1TB – a nice solid state drive for speedy performance, I think it’s important to stick with a name brand here to ensure good performance over the life of the drive

DVD LG Electronics Super Multi Drive – sigh, can’t quite escape physical discs yet, I can’t tell you the number of times I get files mailed to me on a DVD.  With writing feature for all of your documentation purposes!

Case – Corsair Carbide Series 200R – a nice clean case that’s easy to work on

Power Supply – Rosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 550W – Solid power supply with more than enough wattage, will support expansion in the future

OS Windows 10 Pro OEM – The new supported standard, if you don’t upgrade now you may be forced into it soon

That’s everything you need for a complete build!  The case comes with all necessary hardware and fans, the power supply has all the cables, and the CPU has it’s own cooler and heatsink.

Need monitors?  I’m a big fan of the 24-inch Dell Ultrasharp because of the positioning flexibility.  It’s easy to setup your dual monitor view in any configuration.  Ergonomics are a big deal if you’re sitting in front of monitors for 8+ hours a day.

Solidworks in 4K

I was recently awarded with a pair of 4K Acer B286HK monitors at work for my Solidworks workstation.  I was told there was an ordering mix up and they couldn’t be returned.  Not sure if that was the complete story but I was not going to complain.

Right off the bat, Solidworks looks great in 4K.  Assemblies look crisp and detailed, drawings appear sharp with annotations and dimensions crystal clear.  It took a few days to adjust to a higher DPI and I ended up making a few tweaks along the road to reduce eyestrain.  I wanted to share what I had learned to make things easier for other users going through the same transition.

First, adjust global scaling for Windows.  This seems like a necessity for all 4K monitors.  The actual text scale without increased scaling is a recipe for headaches and eye strain.  I settled on 175% after experimenting with a few different scale factors.  You can adjust this in Windows Display Settings – make sure you restart Windows afterwords.  This scaling adjusts text and program scaling globally but there are some strange scaling issues when programs don’t follow Window’s lead.

4K Display Scaling

 

Second, scale your Solidworks icons to make them usable.  I am a fan of the tiny icons without text but there’s a limit to how small I will go.  The adjustment for this is right at the top of the screen in Solidworks.

4K Solidworks Icon

 

Third, make sure both of your monitors are running at the same resolution.  The DisplayPort cables included with the new monitors were on the short side and one of the cables couldn’t reach from my desk to my tower on the floor.  For a week I was running the second monitor with a DVI cable and could only display a 1080p image through the cable.  The consequence was terrible graphics glitches in Solidworks due to the resolution mismatch.  My Solidworks viewport would flicker and have strange image buffer artifacts.

Lastly, buy longer DisplayPort cables ahead of time and avoid issue number three.

 

 

Building a Solidworks PC – 2016 Edition

Solidworks Icon

EDIT: This article has been updated in Building a Solidworks PC – 2017 Edition

Another year, another release of Solidworks.  2016 will bring a mix of incremental upgrades (an updated move triad!) and a few new features. This article is an update from my workstation build last year.  Not a whole lot has changed regarding a workstation build but it’s time to start considering Windows 10 and a beefier CAD GPU.  Overall there have been minimal performance relevant changes in 2016 and most of the hardware remains the same.

The core of a good Solidworks workstation is still a fast CPU, lots of RAM, and a Solidworks approved workstation graphics card.

Solidworks performance is limited by the CPU and unfortunately only runs single-core for everything except simulation and rendering.  An Intel i7-4770 processor will provide good performance for the price even if you’re using only a single core on the chip.

16GB of RAM is a minimum and important for dealing with large assemblies.  This stuff is cheap and can easily be expanded in the future.

A basic CAD workstation graphics card should be sufficient and won’t hinder performance.  They key here is stability and performance with Solidworks which is why you want something like the Quadro K4000.  Workstations graphics cards are essentially glorified gaming cards but they have extremely stable drivers.

Those are the important bits, the following list covers the complete build.  All components are from Amazon because they have fairly competitive prices and good customer service.  Shop around though, your experience may vary.

The system price at time of writing is is $1880.  Part prices are not listed here because they seem to change week to week.  Expect the system price to trend downward in the next few months.

Processor – Intel i7-4770 – good performance for the price

Motherboard – MSI Z97 PC Mate LGA – feature-rich motherboard to provide flexibility in the future, has a fancy BIOS and will support up to 32gb of RAM

Graphics CardQuadro K4000 – you’re paying for stability here

Memory – Kingston 16GB – fast and cost effective

Storage – Samsung SSD 840 EVO-Series 500GB – a nice solid state drive for speedy performance, I think it’s important to stick with a name brand here to ensure good performance over the life of the drive

DVD LG Electronics 24X – sigh, can’t quite escape physical discs yet.  With writing feature for all of your documentation purposes.

Case – Corsair Carbide Series 200R – a nice clean case that’s easy to work on

Power Supply – Rosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 550W – Solid power supply with more than enough wattage, will support expansion in the future

OS Windows 10 Pro OEM – The new supported standard, if you don’t upgrade now you may be forced into it soon

That’s everything you need for a complete build!  The case comes with all necessary hardware and fans, the power supply has all the cables, and the CPU has it’s own cooler and heatsink.

Need monitors?  I’m a big fan of the 24-inch Dell Ultrasharp because of the positioning flexibility.  It’s easy to setup your dual monitor view in any configuration.  Ergonomics are a big deal if you’re sitting in front of monitors for 8+ hours a day.

Building a Home Theater PC

VLC

I’ve always favored a dedicated home theater PC (HTPC) in my living room instead of relying on a smart TV or stream box.  I enjoy the functionality and flexibility of a Windows PC over restrictive and sometimes clunky streaming hardware.  It’s nice to seamlessly switch between streaming Netflix, consulting episode guides on Wikipedia, and watching clips on YouTube.  A PC also gives you access to a large catalog of streams beyond the normal services and it simplifies the experience.  You can navigate between many different networks and content providers within one browser, forget about switching between slow dedicated apps.

HTPCs used to be simple and inexpensive.  A low end processor with a little bit of RAM was all you needed.  All of the difficult work that is normally handled by the processor, such as video decompression, is instead handled by a dedicated graphics chip on the motherboard or integrated into the processor.  This is termed “hardware acceleration.”  Media players such as VLC and Flash based media streams all knew to task the graphics chip with the video decompression.

Then YouTube ruined everything.  Early in 2015 YouTube switched to an HTML5 video player.  While this seems like good progress the HTML5 player has one large flaw, it does not support hardware decompression.  The player relies on the processor to all video decoding and is very taxing for any processor.  People immediately found their YouTube videos stuttering and skipping, myself included.  Playing any 1080p video would choke my CPU.

It’s extremely frustrating to have a home theater PC that cannot play a lowly HTML5 YouTube video.  At the time of writing my old HTPC was 5 years old.  I decided to update and put together a new low cost HTPC that could tackle anything.

Here’s what I put together:

CaseSilverstone HTPC Case – One of the most important parts of the build.  You want something small and attractive but also low-key.  The case should have some flexibility and be easy to work on.  This case meets all criteria.

ProcessorAMD A10-7850K – Quad core processor to tackle any and all decoding and decompression.  I thought it was overkill when I started and used a dual core processor instead – that was a mistake.  I switched to the A10 here and haven’t looked back.  YouTube 1080p 60 fps streams are smooth and clean.

CoolerArtic Alpine 64 – Normally I’m happy with stock CPU coolers but in this case the AMD supplied fan has a bit of a whine and a distracting tendency to change speeds.  This cooler is inexpensive and silent.

MotherboardMSI FM2+ Micro ATX – Solid Micro ATX board with support for the processor.  Great BIOS for easy setup.

MemoryCrucial 4GB DDR3 – Single stick of 4 GB.  This should be sufficient but there’s room for expansion in the future.

Hard DriveKingston 120GB SSD – Quiet, snappy, and inexpensive.  Perfect for the OS but think about a larger 3.5″ disk if you plan on “downloading” a few TV series.

BluRay DriveLG BD-ROM Drive – Optional but nice if you still have some physical media in your catalog.

Power SupplyCorsair CX 430W – Good budget power supply with modular cables to reduce clutter inside the case.

OSWindows 7 SP1 x64 – The old standby here, I prefer it over Windows 8, plus there’s talk of a free upgrade to Windows 10.

All in, you’re looking at about $530 for a complete build.  I was able to save a lot of money since I was upgrading my old HTPC.  I spent about $220 just upgrading the guts of the system with the new motherboard, processor, and RAM.  Mission accomplished and I should have a rock solid HTPC for the next few years.

That’s it!  Happy building.

Building an Autodesk Inventor PC – 2015 Edition

Inventor

The core of a good Inventor workstation should be a fast CPU, lots of RAM, and an Autodesk approved workstation graphics card.  This build is very similar to my Solidworks PC write up which has been very popular.

Like most other solid CAD packages, your performance is limited by the CPU and which only runs single-core for everything except simulation and rendering.  An Intel i7-4770 processor will provide good performance for the price even if you’re using only a single core on the chip.

16GB of RAM is a minimum and important for dealing with large assemblies.  This stuff is cheap and can easily be expanded in the future.

A basic CAD workstation graphics card should be sufficient and won’t hinder performance.  They key here is stability and performance with Inventor which is why you want something like the Quadro K2000.  Workstations graphics cards are essentially glorified gaming cards but they have extremely stable drivers.

Those are the important bits, the following list covers the complete build.  All components are from Amazon because they have fairly competitive prices and good customer service.  Shop around though, your experience may vary.

The system price at time of writing is is $1400.  Part prices are not listed here because they seem to change week to week.  Expect the system price to trend downward in the next few months.

Processor – Intel i7-4770 – good performance for the price

Motherboard – MSI Z97 PC Mate LGA – feature-rich motherboard to provide flexibility in the future, has a fancy BIOS and will support up to 32gb of RAM

Graphics CardQuadro K2000 – you’re paying for stability here

Memory – Kingston 16GB – fast and cost effective

Storage – Samsung SSD 840 EVO-Series 500GB – a nice solid state drive for speedy performance, I think it’s important to stick with a name brand here to ensure good performance over the life of the drive

DVD LG Electronics 24X – sigh, can’t quite escape physical discs yet.  With writing feature for all of your documentation purposes.

Case – Corsair Carbide Series 200R – a nice clean case that’s easy to work on

Power Supply – Rosewill 80 PLUS BRONZE 550W – Solid power supply with more than enough wattage, will support expansion in the future

OS Windows 7 64-bit OEM – The old standard here, I prefer it over Windows 8

That’s everything you need for a complete build!  The case comes with all necessary hardware and fans, the power supply has all the cables, and the CPU has it’s own cooler and heatsink.

Need monitors?  I’m a big fan of the 24-inch Dell Ultrasharp because of the positioning flexibility.  It’s easy to setup your dual monitor view in any configuration.  Ergonomics are a big deal if you’re sitting in front of monitors for 8+ hours a day.

Viewing CAD files in VR

vr

Virtual reality has suddenly arrived. Headsets such as the Oculus Rift and Valve Vive are near a consumer release and offer immersive VR experiences. While most of the hype has been surrounding VR video games there is a huge market for VR visualization of 3D CAD files. Conceptual factory layouts, machine assemblies, and architectural plans can all be visualized in VR prior to release.

Engineers and designers can use VR to evaluate the human interaction and ergonomics of conceptual designs. VR will be an excellent sales tool by allowing potential customers to visualize the scale and impact of a final design, something especially important in architecture.

Currently there is no native VR support for any of the major CAD packages but there is a simple workaround for viewing any CAD data in VR. While most native solid CAD files are almost impossible to interchange, generic 3D files like STEP can be opened by almost any 3D modeling program.

Video game engine packages such as Unity and Unreal are free to download and use and offer direct Rift and Vive support. You can use these packages as glorified model viewers by importing generic 3D files and using their direct VR viewing mode.

Here’s what the workflow looks like:

Native: Solidworks, CATIA, Inventor, Sketchup

Save as intermediate: .STP, .3DS, .STL, 3D .DXF

Import into VR Environment: Unity, Unreal

This workflow can export Solidworks, Inventor, CATIA, and SketchUp files to the Oculus or Vive. There are multiple intermediate formats to exchange the data, some experimentation may be necessary to find the best one for your CAD package. If you can’t find a direct exchange format you may have to use another 3D modeling package, such as Blender, as an intermediate. Blender has a ton of export formats including .obj and .fbx

Edit:  http://www.cad-vr.com/ has a detailed guide on viewing Solidworks files in VR.