BY LEN HORDYK, L.A.T. | CEDAR SPRINGS LANDSCAPE GROUP

Having used SketchUp and Shaderlight for many years creating large models, I have had the benefit of testing both on various PC’s. Over that time I havehad a number of PC’s custom built,  talked to lots of heavy SketchUp users and read all the SketchUp forums. I’d like to to take a moment share my own discoveries with you.

If you’re using SketchUp for creating landscape models with lots of vegetation, you’ve likely experienced times when working in your model becomes painfully slow. If you’re using rendering software like Shaderlight you may also have noticed it takes a long time and your computer is virtually unusable for anything else while the rendering software is running. It may be time for an upgrade or it may be time to get a new one if your PC is more than 3 or 4 years old.

Basic Components of a PC

It may be helpful to understand which components of the computer that your software uses most and what affects its performance. I will try to be as low-tech as possible:

  • CPU (central processing unit) also called processor – this is the brain of your PC, It interprets and executes program instructions.
  • Video card (also called graphics card) – this is what generates the graphics on your display (screen).
  • Memory (RAM) – this component stores things that your computer is working on in the short term so your CPU can quickly access it when it needs it.
  • Hard Drive – this is for storing and retrieving data.

Although each of these can affect performance,some software programs rely more on one component than others. Understanding which one(s) should help you decide what you need to upgrade, or if you need to start over. As general rule, SketchUp relies mostly on your video/graphics card, while Shaderlight uses your CPU (processor) when rendering.

How Does Your Computer Rate?

You can see how well your PC can perform by checking your computer’s Windows Experience Index Rating. This will show you where your PC is weak, although it may be a bit misleading. To check this on your PC:

  • Click on your Start button

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  • Then right-click on Computer and then select Properties.

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  • Under System you will see your rating.

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  • Click on Windows Experience Index to see the breakdown of the main components and their score.

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The highest score you can have in each category is 7.9. Although your rating can tell a lot about your PC’s performance, a high score does not always mean it will perform well with SketchUp and Shaderlight.

Understanding Video Cards and Why It’s Important

There are two main categories of video/graphics cards: Gaming cards and Workstation cards. Gaming cards may score higher but they are designed for computer games. Workstation cards are designed for 3D modeling and generally perform much better for programs like SketchUp. Although SketchUp uses all of your computer’s main components, it relies heavily on the video card, especially for larger models. Rendering software, on the other hand, relies on processor speed more than anything else.

Build a PC for Running SketchUp and Shaderlight

Here are some suggested guidelines for a good PC to run SketchUp and Shaderlight. I would recommend having this built for you because it is unlikely you could find anything off the shelf at your local computer store that would come close:

  1. CPU (Processor): Look for a PC that can run dual CPU’s and use quad core CPU’s (min 3.0GHz). This will make rendering much faster and it will allow you use your PC for other tasks while rendering – cost: $120 x 2 = $240
  2. Video/Graphics Card: Investing in a good video card is worth every penny sodon’t cheap out here. Look for a workstation video card like the NVIDIA Quadro K2000 ($400-500) or, if you can afford it, the K4000 ($700-900). Gaming video cards do not work as well for SketchUp, even if they are high end. Integrated video cards (built-in to the motherboard) are not good for SketchUp at all.
  3. Memory (RAM): Nowadays you should be running no less than 8GB of RAM.
  4. Hard Drive: Always go with a Solid State Drive (SSD) as they have a much faster writing and reading speed than regular hard drives. 240GB – $150, 512GB – $250.

If you plan to upgrade your PC, go with a balanced setup of all the components. One weak component may lead to a bottleneck in your system and can reduce the effectiveness of your stronger pieces, reducing overall performance. Time is money and no one wants to waste time waiting for a sub-par PC to perform your day-to-day tasks.