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Building the system: BIM hardware and software requirements

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One of the most popular queries concerning BIM surely must be “What hardware do I need?” The short answer may sound glib, but arises from the crux of BIM’s abilities, present and future: more of everything is needed, specifically processor speed, memory and hard drive space. Much like the directive for the creation of the 70s television hero, The Six Million Dollar Man, you have to rebuild your system better, faster, stronger. The 3D aspect of BIM necessitates more capacity and usage power. BIM models require more hard drive space than CAD drawings do, and the processes for model and plan rendering require increased processor speed and RAM.

The need for more
One of the most popular queries concerning BIM surely must be “What hardware do I need?” The short answer may sound glib, but arises from the crux of BIM’s abilities, present and future: more of everything is needed, specifically processor speed, memory and hard drive space. Much like the directive for the creation of the 70s television hero, The Six Million Dollar Man, you have to rebuild your system better, faster, stronger. The 3D aspect of BIM necessitates more capacity and usage power. BIM models require more hard drive space than CAD drawings do, and the processes for model and plan rendering require increased processor speed and RAM. To complicate matters, there are other variables: how many people will need to use the BIM software and access the project? Enough to necessitate the need for a dedicated BIM server? Consequently, the “long” answer to the hardware question will have to remain incomplete, as specific requirements will vary with the brand and version of software chosen. Nevertheless, there are fundamentals to keep in mind.

As an example, if one looks at the requirements for Autodesk® Revit®, as found on their website, a quick glance reveals they break the installation requirements into four scenarios, comprised of a combination of these elements: minimum requirements vs. recommended requirements, and usage on a 32 bit system vs. a 64 bit system. To differentiate between the minimum and recommended requirements, it looks as if the recommended requirements follow the “more is better” creed. For instance, looking at the system requirements for 64-bit Autodesk Revit Architecture, 3 Gigabytes of RAM is listed, along with use of a Pentium 4 1.4 GHz or equivalent AMD processor. The next entry, for the recommended system requirements, suggests 8 Gb RAM and use of a dual processor, the Intel Core 2 Duo 2.40GHz or equivalent. This is a sizable difference in hardware capabilities, with the recommended requirements taking advantage of the benefits of 64-bit technology.

32 bit vs. 64 bit
The chief difference between a 32-bit and 64-bit system is the amount of memory it can address. A 32-bit system is limited to 4 Gb of RAM, while a 64 bit system can reference substantially more (into the wholly impractical billions of gigabytes; current consumer microprocessors can’t even take advantage of something that size).) Accordingly, for a setup that requires, or recommends, 8 Gb of RAM, a 64-bit system will be necessary. This is where BIM’s deployment of a multi-user design team comes into play — if you plan to have several designers access the project, a dedicated server that can accommodate RAM access of at least 7 to 8 Gb is ideal — you’ll find you need the extra RAM to keep things moving at a reasonable speed. To take full advantage of the 64-bit system, however, you need to run software written specifically for it. Otherwise, the benefits might be negligible. Both Windows and Mac operating systems are available in 64-bit versions.

Single, dual and quad core processors
Processor speeds have come a long way in a few short years. Central Processing Unit (CPU) -intensive software, like BIM, and the increasing need to simultaneously run several memory and processing-hogging programs, such as anti-virus software, highlight the advantages and need for multi-processors. Most operating systems and office software run just fine on and single processor chip. For BIM, though, particularly if you need a dedicated BIM server, a dual processor would be highly recommended. As with 64-bit systems, to notice the increased system benefits you need to use software written specifically for a dual or quad processor.

The bottom-line on BIM hardware requirements is to ascertain your firm’s needs while adhering to, or surpassing the requirements of the BIM software you select, providing a solid foundation on which to build your system.

by Wayne Engebretson

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