Recently you may recall I was evaluating the graphics performance with the Hewlett Packard (HP) EliteBook 8740w mobile workstation and said that I’d attack the NVIDIA Quadro 5000M workstation graphics card with Civil 3D. That is exactly what I set out to do.

NVIDIA Queadro GPU and AutoCAD Civil 3D 2011 Surface Display

I loaded up Autodesk Labs’ Point Cloud Feature Extraction and ran through the application and some of their samples in order to see how well a dense point cloud was handled.  While the Labs offering was cool, and the Quadro GPU took care of the cloud very nicely, the performance was not quite on par with what I expected. My reference graphics card, the NVIDIA Quadro FX 2700M performed in similar fashion.

So I continued on my evaluation and loaded a very detailed surface model, for which I set the visual style to a number of modes. While detailed, the performance again was not inspiring. What gives? The Quadro 5000M is one mean card. During previous tests with NVIDIA’s Quadro graphics cards where Direct X and OpenGL were the subjects, the Quadro performed exceptionally well when OpenGL was available to Civil 3D. This was never more evident than during surface views and object selections.

An Informative Call with NVIDIA

Realizing that something had to be wrong, I once again contacted Sean Kilbride, NVIDIA Technical Marketing Manager for Workstation Products, and requested some assistance. Sean listened to the issue and nailed the problem with his first question: “Did you install the NVIDIA Performance Driver?”

Sean gave me a brief rundown on what has changed and why. AutoCAD uses an in-application display driver we all know as Heidi. Heidi develops the graphics information as generic instructions, and hands off this display information to the graphics card drivers. While this is handled acceptably for most calls to the average graphics card, NVIDIA realized that the process could be refined tremendously for NVIDIA products. They developed a new driver to replace Heidi that would then more efficiently hand off the graphics information directly to their NVIDIA graphics cards, such as the Quadro 5000M. NVIDIA calls this the “NVIDIA Performance Driver for AutoCAD”.

I explained to Sean that historically, there was never an additional driver to install unless they updated the Quadro drivers. He explained that NVIDIA has always packaged the drivers into one clean install, however about a year ago, with the release of AutoCAD 2011, certain changes needed to be made that precluded the new driver from being installed simultaneously. NVIDIA decided to make the driver available on their website.

The NVIDIA Quadro and Quadro FX Performance Driver for AutoCAD 2009 – 2011

The NVIDIA Driver search page

While the mean beast of a laptop has already been sent back to NVIDIA, and the adjusted results with it, I suspect we will get another shot at the new Quadro mobile graphics cards. When that time comes, Civil 3D will be the first up at bat.