What Are the Pros and Cons of Mobile CAD Computing?
Almost two decades ago, only a privileged number of business executives and professionals had the ability to work on laptops while waiting to board an airplane. Laptops which were available in those days were heavy, and network connections required the use of wireless dialup modems which were plugged into ports on a laptop.
Since then, the availability of Wi-Fi Internet access and smartphones has made it possible for the average person to work from almost anywhere. It is not unusual to find people working on mobile computing devices at airports, on trains, and in restaurants.
Because the trend to work anywhere has grown significantly, many hotels, restaurants, and businesses provide free Wi-Fi service in order to attract customers.
Most computing tasks performed with mobile computing devices are not CAD related. For this reason, many mobile computing devices such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones do not provide the amount of computing power that a mobile CAD workstation requires.
The purpose of this article is to determine the Pros and Cons of mobile CAD computing. In order to define the Pros and Cons, it is necessary to address these topics:
- What sets mobile CAD computing apart from ordinary mobile computing?
- How does a mobile CAD workstation compare with a desktop CAD workstation?
- What are the Pros and Cons of a mobile CAD workstation?
What Sets Mobile CAD Computing Apart From Ordinary Mobile Computing?
CAD computations are CPU intensive, and in order for them to perform 3D renderings and animations, they require both a powerful CPU and GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). For these reasons, ordinary laptops or tablets lack the computing power that CAD workstations have. Even an entry-level low-end mobile CAD workstation will have many of these attributes:
- A multi-core CPU with several levels of cache and processor clock speed approaching 3.5 GHz,
- At least 16 GB of DDR3 RAM,
- A high performance GPU with at least 8 GB GDDR5 RAM,
- At least 500 GB of storage (preferably with SSD),
- Built-in Gigabit Ethernet LAN, many USB ports, DVI and HDMI output ports.
Because of these attributes, a good entry-level mobile CAD workstation will cost at least $2,000, and could cost over $10,000, depending on how the workstation is configured. Although most mobile CAD workstations are not used primarily as fully-fledged CAD workstations, mobile CAD workstations require sufficient computing power in order to read, display and review CAD drawings. They also need to communicate in timely fashion with a CAD development environment.
How Does a Mobile CAD Workstation Compare with a Desktop Workstation?
A typical, fully-fledged desktop CAD workstation will sport many of these features:
- High performance processors from 4 to 18 cores, with base clock speeds near 3.5 MHz, 2.5 MB core of last level cache, and DDR4 registered DIMM support for up to 32 GB of RAM.
- Graphics GPU with up to 12 GB of memory as in the NVidia Quadro K6000 graphics card. A high performance GPU is necessary for 3D animations and rendering.
- Up to 24-inch LED display with minimum high-level resolution of 1280 x 720. Typically, a top performance workstation supports multiple displays.
- SSDs (Solid State Drives) instead of hard drives, or combination of SSDs and hard drives.
Many CAD organizations find it more cost effective to utilize virtualized CAD workstations, cloud computing, and hardware virtualization.
Obviously, a mobile CAD workstation cannot compete with a top-end CAD workstation in terms of performance. The cost of packing the computing power of a top-end desktop CAD workstation into a mobile CAD workstation does not make good economic sense in terms of hardware maintenance and upgrade cycles.
What Are The Pros and Cons of A Mobile CAD Workstation?
- Mobility and Portability: A mobile CAD workstation provides mobility and the ability to work from many locations. A desktop CAD workstation does not provide this benefit.
- Computing Power: A mobile CAD workstation cannot provide the computing power of a desktop CAD workstation in a cost effective manner.
- Virtualization: It is not too difficult to use virtualized hardware and virtualized workstations in a secure, localized distributed computing environment. It will be more difficult to fit a mobile CAD workstation from a remote location into a secure, localized network environment without degrading the performance of the network.
- Security: Mobile CAD workstations are more likely to be lost or stolen, and they do not operate under the strict security guidelines of a CAD development environment. Therefore, mobile CAD workstations are more likely to introduce malware or viruses into a CAD development environment.
- CAD design and development work: Because of the security issues mentioned, it may not be prudent for mobile CAD workstations to have full access to the data libraries and repositories which are available to design engineers who work with desktop CAD workstations. Furthermore, mobile CAD workstations may lack the computing power to participate efficiently as a node in a localized, distributed computing network. Mobile CAD workstations are probably more useful for retrieving and reviewing CAD drawings rather than functioning as a node in a localized CAD network.
The market for mobile CAD workstations continues to grow, at least in the near term. One obvious reason for this growth is that CAD engineers and managers desire the flexibility to work anywhere and at any time. If the growth trend continues, it will be necessary to pack more computing power into mobile CAD workstations in order to bring their performance closer to that of desktop workstations.
There will be challenging IT-related problems to be solved if many desktop workstations are replaced by mobile CAD workstations. Some of these problems are:
- The high level of security required in a CAD development environment may be compromised by the presence of many mobile CAD workstations,
- Because mobile CAD workstations are more likely to be lost or stolen, they could create security risks to the CAD development environment.
Using mobile CAD workstations will increase the cost of hardware maintenance and upgrade cycles.