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Best current options for portable/multi-location computing?

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My current arrangement is one that's aimed at minimising costs. I work from home, and my main machine is a refurbished mac pro. It doesn't need to be portable. I don't even have a laptop - I have a tablet which I sometimes use to take to meetings and so on.

 

I'm on mac and rather reluctant to switch to Windows unless I really have to.

 

My thinking so far in not owning a laptop has been that I get more computing power for the money if I stick with a desktop. A laptop is not that useful for the bulk of my work because I like to work with multiple monitors, use a 3dconnexion spacemouse, etc. Most of the time I am tied to a desk position anyway.

 

However... I am now investigating the possibility of a workspace outside the home. Probably a fixed desk in a shared workspace. Ideally I'd like to retain the ability to work in either location. I'd probably keep my multiple monitor setup at home, and invest in another set of monitors at the workspace. As for the 'computer' bit of the setup, options seem to be:

 

A) Keep my existing desktop (refurbished mac pro) at home and get another desktop solution for the other workspace. In other words simply duplicate rather than making the computing power portable

 

B) Replace the existing desktop with a new laptop, which travels between the two locations, I guess plugging into a dock of some kind at each.

 

C) Some other arrangement I've not thought of.

 

Here are my questions:

1) In broad terms, what's likely to get me the best computing power to cost ratio - option A or B? Is it likely to be the case that getting a capable enough laptop ends up more expensive than two similarly capable desktops (where size, weight etc don't matter)?

 

2) Using a laptop am I going to run into problems using multiple external monitors?

 

3) I've seen some stuff about external GPUs, but don't know much about them. My understanding is that they can up the performance of an otherwise less capable computer. Is that right? I saw a bit of discussion about using them one in conjunction with a mac mini, for example. Are they relevant to getting decent performance in Vectorworks, anyway?

 

4) Is there any mileage in a solution where I invest in middling-performance computing, put the money into an external GPU and have this as the thing that travels with me between locations? So, it plugs into a desktop at each location if I go with option (A), or I go with option (B) but using a less expensive laptop supplemented by the external GPU when I need to do heavy VW work? Does this make any sense at all?

 

Any thoughts or comments are welcome!

 

Edited by line-weight

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I have pretty much the same conundrum coming from a background in FormZ on Refurbished Mac Pro 5.1 machines I had never really considered Laptops as viable machines for 3D work. 

 

However the new Macbook Pros seem powerful enough and I read good things about the VEGA graphics cards. But all things considered can a mobile set up be enough these days as a primary computer. 


 

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I just had my company buy me a brand new MacBook Pro. Results below. I will say - I can do lots of 3D Building/Construction stuff, and some rendering stuff on this with very few issues. The Civil stuff, Site Modeling and 'berm' creation have been pretty slow. If you are a civil engineering or Landscape person, not sure this tiny laptop is for you. In any event, i'm churning along fairly well with my basic stuff.

I've been running VW on a laptop for years. It's a total trade-off. It's fantastic to stand on a foundation pour, look at a laptop and make corrections. It's not fun waiting for a site model to render. All Night. I'm getting ready to buy a desktop just because of the Site Model stuff i'm getting tasked with.

Also - TO BE CLEAR - 

I have absolutely zero idea what any of the numbers in the Cinebench window are. But they apparently are important to those who care about this kind of stuff.

Macbook Pro. CalDigit dock, 4K LG 40-something inch display.

 

Screen Shot 2019-08-08 at 2.10.36 PM.png

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Hopefully not hijacking @line-weight thread too much, thats very similar to the machine I'm looking at but hopefully going for the VEGA 20 card. something like a 7% cost increase for what seems to be a big jump in mobile graphic card performance. 

 

The Cinebench stuff doesn't mean a lot to me either just as long as its a high number compared to what you have or what else your looking at for the same £ i suppose its  a useful gauge 

 

My day to day is exhibition design. See image of the type of thing and please excuse the render capabilities/quality (hence migration to vectorworks / C4D) the models are fairly simple and real world construction is predominately sheet materials and timbers so the level of detail in the model is more about getting these sorts of images out. appreciate that doesn't really describe my entire workflow but hopefully gives an idea; so in folks opinion, what i I would say on the simple to medium end of the complexity scale is a laptop viable for me? The thing that generally hampers models I currently work with is furniture imports form Autocad / 3dS. 

 

The final spanner in the works is our competitors are getting better and better with photorealistic renders and its the standard customers expect so we're also looking at C4D to be used pretty much just as a renderer once the subscription licences are available. My current idea would be to set it all up on the laptops and do the number crunching on a heavy spec PC (the new mac pro is just going to be way too much money) or use 3rd party service render farms. 

 

I don't really want to get into PC vs Mac debate re the laptop, I prefer the stability I have experiences with OSX and the rest of the team is already on Mac. I'm more looking for the experienced vectorworks communities validation of my thought process, unless I'm way wrong and need enlightening (hopefully answering @line-weight too)


Thanks in advance 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I also don't know much about what the numbers really mean but I ran same test on my refurb mac pro out of curiosity - looks like @tekbench's laptop comfortably outperforms it.

 

418380873_ScreenShot2019-08-09at09_13_22.thumb.jpg.35c84376e7569fec3d271de1155e12d8.jpg

 

Reading through the thread about eGPUs, the impression I get is they don't provide great benefit as far as VW performance is concerned... is anyone able to comment on whether that is a fair conclusion?

Edited by line-weight
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Just as a comparison value between desktop and laptop: For the price of the marked MacBook Pro you get a (Windows PC) with the multicore performance of the top computer in your screenshot. (While the single-core performance would be about the same.)

 

A desktop will give you no improvement for site models. Single-core performance is crucial. Laptops today are as fast as desktops at these tasks. I would rather recommend you to optimize your models. Use max. 5000 points as model data. Simplify modifiers with curves etc. Even terrain models of very large areas need only a few seconds to update, if you handle it correctly.

 

Now to the original question:
The idea with the external graphics card seems impressive at first glance. Unfortunately, the cases are so expensive that it's hardly worth it in your case.

Important for the decision is what exactly you do in Vectorworks. If you render often, you need a lot of multi-core power. That's where you're most limited with a laptop. If you're doing other things on the go, a gaming laptop with a good graphics card will do. Depending on the size of your models, you may need a better graphics card.

For a clearer recommendation, we need information about your current computer. Graphics card, processor, RAM, etc. Then we need to know how busy your RAM is when rendering etc. and your VRAM is when viewing in OpenGL. We also need to know which tasks you intend to do at home and on the go. 

Edited by herbieherb
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2 minutes ago, herbieherb said:

Just as a comparison value between desktop and laptop: For the price of the marked MacBook Pro you get a (Windows PC) with the multicore performance of the top computer in your screenshot.

 

A desktop will give you no improvement for site models. Single-core performance is crucial. Laptops today are as fast as desktops at these tasks. I would rather recommend you to optimize your models. Use max. 5000 points as model data. Simplify modifiers with curves etc. Even terrain models of very large areas need only a few seconds to update, if you handle it correctly.

 

Now to the original question:
The idea with the external graphics card seems impressive at first glance. Unfortunately, the cases are so expensive that it's hardly worth it in your case.

Important for the decision is what exactly you do in Vectorworks. If you render often, you need a lot of multi-core power. That's where you're most limited with a laptop. If you're doing other things on the go, a gaming laptop with a good graphics card will do. Depending on the size of your models, you may need a better graphics card.

For a clearer recommendation, we need information about your current computer. Graphics card, processor, RAM, etc. Then we need to know how busy your RAM is when rendering etc. and your VRAM is when viewing in OpenGL. We also need to know which tasks you intend to do at home and on the go. 

 

Basic specs of my current machine can be seen in the cinebench screenshot above.

 

My main priority is to be able to work fluidly in VW, in OpenGL (or whatever may succeed it in the future) in 3d, with increasingly complex models. On my current machine I generally do fine, until I import overcomplex elements into the model.

 

I don't do *loads* of renderings but I do sometimes (and perhaps will tend towards doing more), and certainly it would be nice if they could happen a bit faster than they do at present.

 

If I got a laptop it wouldn't really be in order to do things 'on the go' - it would be a strategy to allow me to work in two different locations, at each of which I'd plug it into a dock hopefully associated with at least 2 monitors.

 

So the calculation comes down to whether getting 2x desktops would get me better performance than 1x laptop, for the same money.

 

I'm reluctant to move away from mac.

 

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@line-weight same scenario for me. I need the ability for two locations to work from home. I have a refurbished 5.1 at home but its getting old and I'm loathed to spend more money on it as its a mid 2010 when on paper at least the latest Macbook pro outperforms it in every-way. 


What I don't want to do is spend £3k on a laptop and find out that in 2-3 years its entirely unusable and has no expansion (thanks apple)

 

 

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Same.

 

My strategy until now has always been to buy macs used - because it's seemed much better value than buying new. I went through a few versions of the mac mini before getting my current refurbed mac pro a few years ago.

 

I'm also interested in the possibility of getting a 'trash can' mac pro, used. They don't have the upgrade-ability or expansion possibilities of the cheese grater ones, but if the comparison is with a laptop then that becomes less significant. Am also wondering if more of them will come up for sale, accompanied by a price drop, as people move to the 'new' cheesegraters.

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1 hour ago, line-weight said:

I'm also interested in the possibility of getting a 'trash can' mac pro, used.

 

Generally the Trash Can Hardware is 6-7 years old and not very interesting,

as even standard iMacs are faster today.

On the other hand, if you have Monitors and input devices at each location,

my Trash Can is a pretty mobile device in its original packaging.

 

It is always easier to get more power by Desktops.

If you need real mobility, you may want and need a real laptop though.

As a laptop forbids desktop GPUs with 400 Watt peeks, mobile GPUs will

always mean some restriction.

So it is very nice that we have eGPUs now.

Same for AiOs which aren't upgradable.

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The question for me is whether spending X amount on a (lower-spec|) laptop + eGPU will give me any performance benefit over spending the same X amount on just on a (higher spec) laptop.

 

(That would assume that I cart the laptop and eGPU between locations. The alternative would be an eGPU at each location, and the laptop is portable)

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As priority is on mobile, I would go with a higher specced internal GPU.

The Vega option is plenty for VW for a few years. You can buy an eGPU

later when needed in a few years anyway.

I would wait a few weeks for the 16" MBP. There might be even better mobile

GPU options and a better keyboard.

(Could be that the base price will hurt though)

Even the latest generation with 8 core and Vega was astonishing fast

end reasonably cool without much throttling.

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There's also the mac mini of course... potentially small enough to carry between locations. And potentially a better spec possible for the same cost, compared to macbook pro?

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Mac Mini would be - if it only had a discrete mobile GPU option.

But it hasn't and Intel GPU aren't recommended for VW.

Jim W. tested the Mini. VW runs in OpenGL but isn't funny.

It would require an eGPU.

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...in which case I guess it becomes a cost comparison of mac mini+eGPU vs equivalent-spec macbook pro.

 

Of course, a laptop is more useful and more portable than a mini+eGPU, but at least the mini+eGPU setup gives some level of upgrade-ability for the future.

 

 

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8 hours ago, herbieherb said:

 

A desktop will give you no improvement for site models. Single-core performance is crucial. Laptops today are as fast as desktops at these tasks. I would rather recommend you to optimize your models. Use max. 5000 points as model data. Simplify modifiers with curves etc. Even terrain models of very large areas need only a few seconds to update, if you handle it correctly.

 

Yeah. I'm doing some reading on this. If I have a nice LiDAR point cloud, I'd like to use that level of resolution. But as you and @Benson Shaw have pointed out, it is a trade off. I'm testing things today by ramping down the number of points i'm using in my site model to a 'reasonable' level for the machine at hand.

It sounds trite, but the honest answer to the original question is:
"It totally depends". 
As for Windows OS vs an integrated Software/Hardware solution - It's not Apples to Apples. The overhead that the Windows OS hangs on hardware can vary pretty wide. Especially if you are using a fixed, non-auto updating version or a 'retail' version of Windows. When you're on a Mac, the closed garden rule applies, and you can often get better actual 'performance' out of your software with 'lower' benchmarks. Ive seen this over the last 25 years working very closely with both platforms on audio and video editing setups. I can say, without hesitation, that under no circumstances are straight benchmarks ever the whole story. Ever. It's all about the thousands of variables each system has to offer. Remember WindowsME? It was horrible. The worst garbage Redmond released upon the planet. Unless you cared about sample accurate timecode or digital audio. Then, it was the only option if you didn't want glitching and popping in your audio recordings. Benchmarking Pentium chips VS Athlon back in the day also showed that sometimes the 'less powerful' chip did what we wanted, better and sometimes faster. This was the case with CoolEdit2000 (remember that?!) to some level.
 

Per this - 

"However... I am now investigating the possibility of a workspace outside the home. Probably a fixed desk in a shared workspace. Ideally I'd like to retain the ability to work in either location. I'd probably keep my multiple monitor setup at home, and invest in another set of monitors at the workspace. As for the 'computer' bit of the setup, options seem to be:"

 

I do this exact thing. Except I use one big monitor in each location instead of dual. As of last week, I have moved to 2 laptops. One 2016 Macbook pro (very first model), and now one brand new Macbook pro (current model). At work, I use a Kensington 'expert mouse' trackball and a CalDigit dock with an LG 43" display. At home I have a Kensington 'expert mouse' trackball, a wad of USB cables, 4 empty coffee cups stacked on a drafting table and an ACER 4K Thunderbolt display. Prior to this, I would just shuttle my laptop between work and home. I designed a lot of AV systems that way. I did a lot of site work documenting AV systems and as-built scenarios all over the world. I did a lot of residential design stuff for personal use that way. I can't say I was held back in those circumstance. I had a nice 4 year run without being worried about my setup. Generated some very nice drawings with Heliodon tools, some surface textures and some, albeit rudimentary, site plans. Prior to the MacBook Pro, I used my old MacBook air until VW no longer ran on the CPU. And that was a fair lifespan for that laptop.

The good news about sticking with a Mac is the resale/eBay value is almost always where you can scrape some of your initial investment back. If you work that into the equation, you come up with a very clear answer:
"It totally depends".

I have no answer for you. Only things to consider and confuse. But FWIW, I'm working with 2 laptops in 2 work environments. And it's not too bad other than site model stuff or heavy duty rendering.

 

Edited by tekbench
Added the line about my macbook air.

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31 minutes ago, tekbench said:

you come up with a very clear answer:

"It totally depends".

 

 

👍

 

Thanks nonetheless for your comments and description of your setup though. Very helpful to have.

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