Sunday, April 30, 2017

NVIDIA Quadro P5000 for AEC VR; Best Architectural Experience Yet

LHB has been using virtual reality (VR) a lot over the last year and I am heading up that effort. We are using it for everything from internal design review to public meetings, groundbreakings and grand openings.

VR at Grand Opening for Duluth Transportation Center

VR Across Disciplines

While architecture is the main use case, we have used VR for multiple civil projects (urban street & utilities project and a historic bridge restoration project) and fairly complex pipeline projects (pump stations).

For more on our urban street project and our use of the Quadro P5000, check out these two NVIDIA links:

VR Model of Urban Street and Utilities Replacement Project

Graphics Card is the Bottleneck for VR Experience

We use various VR hardware and software; Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Enscape, Fuzor, Revizto, Regardless of the combination of these, the bottle neck in performance is the graphics card (GPU). I have used several NVIDIA cards for VR, for example:

  • GeForce GTX 980
  • GeForce GTX 1070 (in my Alienware laptop)
  • GeForce GTX 1070 x 2 SLI (in our VR Lounge)
  • GeForce GTX 1080
  • Quadro P5000

The Quadro P5000 has produced the absolute best experience in VR for our complex projects. When we got this card I expected the improvement, if any, to be moderate. I was amazed at the significant improvement, even over the SLI'ed setup in out VR Lounge (more on this later).

When I first realized the difference, I had these two systems setup right next to each other:

  • HTC Vive powered by a Dell Percision 5810 with the Quadro P5000
  • HTC Vive powered by an Alienware Area 51 with the GTX 1070 x 2 (SLI)
I tested the same large complex model; a school with complete structure, MEP and a detailed food service model. The SLI'ed setup was choppy and uncomfortable compared to the P5000, which was very smooth and responsive.

Clearly the magic of the P5000 comes from the GPU's Pascal architecture, 2560 CUDA cores and 16 GB of GDDR5X memory! Yes, you read that correctly, 16 GB of on-board memory.
NVIDIA Quadro P5000 Specs
Another great thing about a VR Ready Quadro-based graphics card is that many large computer manufactures do not offer consumer grade hardware, such as the GeForce cards, with their lease programs. Given many medium to large AEC firms buy via lease programs, getting a VR capable card meant ordering a computer without a graphics card and then buying the graphic card separately. This complicates things, including service/warranty programs.

Even though the Quadro P5000 card has a high MSRP compared to the GeForce GTX cards it is often the case that hardware and software are much less when purchased as a package from Dell, HP, etc.

Fuzor Leverages NVIDIA Features to Maximize Performance

We have been using Fuzor a lot with the HTC Vive for its nice array of in-VR user features. For the NVIDIA Customer Story listed above, the folks at Kalloc Tech gave me this list, which highlights the NVIDIA features directly supported by Fuzor:
  • Features which only work on NVIDIA cards
    • VR SLI support using NVIDIA VRWorks, where each video card renders one eye.
    • Multi-projection support from NVIDIA VRWorks, where a single NVIDIA Pascal series card can render two eyes simultaneously.
    • Fast and accurate light analysis reports using NVIDIA OptiX raytracing.
    • Multi-threaded rendering using DirectX11 Driver Command Lists for faster performance.

  • Features which work on any card, but were created by NVIDIA
    • PhysX for avatar walkthrough, vehicle driving, refit collision, clash detection, and filtered scene queries for many different features.
    • NVIDIA ShadowWorks for high quality ambient occlusion.

Thus, for the dual GTX 1070 (SLI) cards in our VR Lounge, there is one card for each eye in the Head Mounted Display (HMD). But, even this setup does not keep up with the Quadro P5000!

A Look at the Hardware

I want to share my experience setting up the Quadro P5000, which replaced a GeForce GTX 1080 in a Dell Precision 5810 (this is the computer we take on the road). With this information in hand, anyone can jump right in and start leveraging the full potential of this card for VR.

As seen in the image below, the form factor of the P5000 and 1080 is pretty much the same.

Quadro P5000 and GeForce GTX 1080 Have Similar Form Factors

The biggest surprise I had when opening the P5000 is when I noticed there was no HDMI port on a VR Ready graphics card; compare the two images below. More on this in a moment...

GeForce GTX 1080; 1 HDMI, 3 Display Port, 1 DVI

Quadro P5000; 4 Dusplay Port, 1 DVI

The next image shows the GeForce GTX 1080, which is about to be removed.

GeForce GTX 1080 in Dell Precision 5810

Here is the Quadro P5000 seated and powered.

Quadro P5000  in Dell Precision 5810
Both cards require an adapter to properly power them. This cable came with the GTX cards, and was already in some of our Dell computers but was not in use as the Quadro M2200 GPU did not need this much power.

Required Power Adapter for Both

DisplayPort to HDMI 1.4 or DVI to HDMI 1.4
Back to the no HDMI port issue... the NVIDIA website lists two tested Video Adapters;

  • Accell B086B-004B-2
  • Bizlink KS10046-A07

This is the one I ordered from Amazon: (see the next two images). This is required for full transmission of audio and video.

I started with multiple adapters I had on hand; DP > DVI > HDMI. This worked, but there was no sound.

DP to HDMI - Required Video Adapter for P5000 (not included)

DP to HDMI - Required Video Adapter for P5000 (not included)

LHB's VR Lounge

In our Duluth office, we remodeled an underutilized space to create a VR Lounge. The large "lounge" space adjacent to the "play area" allows others to see what the VR user sees on the large 4k screen on the wall. The "play area" is in an alcove, which is perfect as it naturally keeps people out of the way of the line-of-sight sensors.

LHB VR Lounge - Large 4k screen on wall

LHB VR Lounge - Lake Superior Visible from Here!

LHB VR Lounge

LHB VR Lounge with Built-in HTC Vive Sensors; Dual GTX 1070's

VR in the Media

We have received a lot of attention from the media given our extensive use of VR and recent presentation on VR at the Minnesota AIA Convention.

The image below is reporter Melissa Colorado from Twin Cities NBC affiliate KARE11 trying the HTC Vive in our Minneapolis office. Check out this link for her story:

The ABC affiliate in Duluth, MN, WDIO, has done two stories on our use of VR recently:

Minneapolis Start Tribune article: Virtual reality brings architect's blueprints to life

Finally, check out this ARCHITECT Magazine article, Michael Kilkelly, in which I was interview for:


At the end of the day, if a large complex project is not comfortable for staff or your client, they are not going to spend much time using it. Given all the other challenges of keeping drivers and software up to date, having this high performance, engineering-grade, graphics card is simply wonderful. I have felt a lot more comfortable getting in front of clients, the media and even the Minnesota Lt. Governor Tina Smith recently!

For some additional reading on this topic, check out this AEC Magazine article which gets into more technical details on the Quadro P5000's big brother, the P6000 (with 24 GB of memory):

Fun stuff.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Autodesk Uninstall Tool

Uninstalling an Autodesk product can be tricky as there are a lot of components installed. In the image below, within Windows Control Panel, I filtered the view for 2017. This lists everything with "2017" in the name, which still may not be everything associated with the product.

Here I would have to select each item and uninstall one at a time. This means you have to be sitting at the computer otherwise things pause...

  • FYI: when doing it this way, I like to work backwards. Uninstalling minor things like the material library first and Revit itself last. Sometimes add-ins will not uninstall if Revit is not present.

Autodesk provides a quick any easy way to uninstall one of their products. In the Windows Start menu they offer an Uninstall Tool as seen below.

Notice in the next image, the various products are grouped. Checking the highest level item automatically checks all the sub-items.

Once started, each sub-item is uninstalled automatically. The progress can be seen with the green check marks and a red blinking arrow next to the item currently being removed.

As you can see this still does not uninstall third-party add-ins. For example, the CTC BIM Project Suite and ElumTools add-ins shown in the first image would still need to be uninstalled manually in the Windows Control Panel.

Here is a short video showing what the progress looks like.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Revit Ceiling Placement Bug - Fixed in Revit 2018

There is a odd bug that worked it's way into Revit not too long ago... while in a reflected ceiling plan view, there is a rather common situation in which you cannot place a ceiling. When there is an exposed end of a wall which defines the perimeter of the room, as pointed out below, then you cannot place a ceiling using the Automatic Ceiling option.

Revit 2017 Cannot Place a Ceiling in this Room

Given the many other more complex conditions within a given room, this may not be an obvious problem to many designers.

Surprisingly, this is still a problem in Revit 2017, and 2016 I think. The only way to place a ceiling in this room is to switch to Sketch Ceiling mode. Thankfully, this issue is now fixed in Revit 2018.

Revit 2018 Fixes the Ceiling Placement Bug

Here is a short video showing the problem in 2017 and the fix in 2018.

Of course this condition exists in a room within my Commercial Design Using Autodesk Revit textbook used by high school, college and university students all around the USA, so that is fun for them, their instructors and myself as I received a few questions about this!

  • By the way, instructors/professors using my books in their classes can email me anytime with questions. My email address is located in the Instructor's Guide on the SDC Publications website (see link pointed out in image below); accessible by instructors only, of course (notice they can also request a free exam copy!).

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Autodesk Insight 360 - Walls; Part 6

In the first two posts on Insight and walls, we looked at how conceptual and schematic wall constructs are applied when mass elements and Revit's wall elements are used. Those  posts can be found here:
In this post I want to highlight how Revit's materials can be used to define the thermal properties of a wall's construction.

In the Energy Settings > Other Options dialog, checking Detailed Elements tells Revit to use the thermal properties associated with each material used in the wall assemble.

Notice, the default Revit materials have a Thermal asset associated with them as seen in the image below. Also notice, the combined total of the wall assembly, based on thermal properties and the thickness of each layer, is listed in the Edit Assembly dialog. In this example, the selected wall type has an R value of about 32.

Before creating the EAM, as a test, I made sure and set the Schematic Types wall construction to an uninsulated wall, and no override in the Schematic Types section. This way we know the value within Insight is coming from the Material's thermal properties.

Below is a slightly more detailed model I used for this example.

This is what the EAM looks like. The jagged lines represent the thermal zoning... if you look closely you will see there is a below and above the ceiling. The EAM understands a space is not occupied when it's height is less than a specific value (5'-0" I think).

For the first example, I changed the thickness of the walls Rigid Insulation layer to 1" (it was 3"). When compared to the previous Edit Assembly image, notice the R value has changed from 32 to 23.

When pushed out to Insight we see the BIM Setting is properly positioned in the R-23 vicinity.

Back in Revit, I changed the Rigid Insulation thickness to a rather unusual 8", per the image below, which equates to R-53, to see what that looks like in Insight.

In this case, the BIM Setting is all the way to the right, which is to the right of the R-38 input.

I am told there are some limits to the rage for inputs when using materials to define a wall's thermal resistance, and in some cases the run will fail and send you an email explaining as much.

Earlier, I mentioned the EAM is tracking occupiable and unoccupiable spaces within the building. When an EAM is first created, Revit also creates an Analytical Spaces schedule as seen in the final image of this post. When your Revit model has Rooms/Spaces, their names and numbers are also listed with each sapce. In this case, the rows lacking this information are the plenum spaces (or mechanical shafs, plumbging spaces, etc.).
  • FYI: due to these extra spaces, the total area listed would not match the building area.

Revit 2018.0.1 Hot Fix and 2017.2.1 Update

Hot off the press, the Autodesk Desktop App lists a Hot Fix for Revit 2018 and an Update for Revit 2017 as seen in the image below.

Here is a previous post about updates: Looks like the Autodesk link has not been updated yet.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Autodesk Insight 360 - Walls; Part 5

In the post we will explore the way Window to Wall Ratio (WWR) is derived when both Revit walls and mass elements define the Energy Analysis Model (EAM). In the previous two ports we looked at each separately.

The image below shows the model used in today's post. The same model with walls from the previous post along with the a mass element added to represent an addition.
Building elements with a mass added to represent an addition

To use both Revit elements and masses in the EAM the Energy Settings dialog must be accordingly as shown in the image below.

Tell Revit to use masses and building elements to create the EAM

Also in the Energy Settings dialog, the WWR can be set. This only applies to the mass element.

Seeing WWR for mass elements
The image below is the EAM as seen in Revit. The walls and windows are explicitly defined by the Revit elements, while the mass element has 40% glazing applied to the three exterior sided.

  • FYI: of course the mass element does not know how there will be a parapet so the wall area and WWR are off a little.

EAM in Revit

When pushed out to Insight 360 we see the BIM Setting matches what we saw back in Revit.

Results as seen in Insight 360

In addition to what was defined within Revit, Insight allows the overall WWR to be adjusted for each N/E/S/W face. Simply adjust the sliders to define a range until you are more confident in a specific value. While defining a rage, the Cost/EUI listed is the mean value.

One final note... as a test to see if I could, this entire post was created from my iPad. Everything, except the screen captures. I added the mass element in Revit, created the EAM and used Insight 360 all on the iPad.

The EAM in Revit shown on an iPad

Monday, April 24, 2017

Autodesk Insight 360 - Walls; Part 4

In this installment we will continue to look at how Revit determines the Window to Wall Ratio (WWR) when creating the Energy Analysis Model (EAM) and how that relates to the BIM Setting in Insight 360.

Using the same super simple model from the previous posts, I added three 6 foot square windows as seen in the image below. Notice the east and west facing walls have no windows. Additionally, the north face (not the clothing products) is represented by two separate wall elements.

Here is a quick 3D view with the windows on the south facing wall.

When the EAM is created, we see the modeled windows are now what is represented (compared to analytical windows added to the mass geometry in the previous post). The image below shows a window selected. Notice it is listed as an Operable Window here, whereas the window for the mass element was a Fixed Window. For Revit elements (i.e. Walls, Windows, Curtain wall) a Window family is always listed as an Operable Window and a Curtain Wall is listed as a Fixed Window. I am not sure this makes any difference once in Insight (If I find out I will update this post).

With the EAM pushed out to Insight, we see the BIM Setting (triangle symbol) for the Eastern Walls shows a 0% WWR as we would expect based on the Revit model shown above.

The Southern Walls cost range shows a BIM Setting of 18% which is correct (333sf of wall and 72sf of window), and this calculation does not include the parapet. Awesome.

Finally, the WWR for the Northern Walls is the sum total of both walls and the single window. Hovering the cursor over the BIM Setting lists the actual value.

That's all for today... the next post will cover WWR for a mix of Revit walls and Mass elements. Stay tuned for that...

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Autodesk Insight 360 - Walls; Part 3

In the previous two posts on Insight 360 and walls, we looked at how conceptual and schematic wall constructs are applied when mass elements and Revit's wall elements are used. Those  posts can be found here:
In this post I want to highlight how Revit determines the Window to Wall Ratio (WWR). Early on in a project this value does not matter on the Revit side, as there is a dynamic input for WWR for each face (N,E,S,W) of the building. Thus, this input can be changed within Insight irrespective of the Revit model and it's settings.

First, let's see how we define WWR when using mass elements. I am using the same mass model from the "Part 1" post. In case it was not clear in that first post, the entire building is represented by a single mass element. That is interesting when you consider the Energy Analysis Model (EAM) resulted in separate vertical walls in the same plane; Exterior Walls and Underground Walls due to the Ground Plane setting in the Energy Settings dialog.

If we want to set a baseline value of 40% (per ASHRAE 90.1) we can do so in the Advanced Energy Settings dialog. Notice the related Target Sill Height and Glazing is Shaded options.

When the EAM is created, we see the analytical windows are added. In this selected example, the window is 201sf and the remaining above-grade wall is 302sf - thus, 40% of the wall is window. None of the below grade wall is considered in this equation.

When this EAM is pushed out to Insight 360, we see the BIM Setting for the four WWRs is 40%.

  • TIP: Notice how the BIM Setting always aligns with zero on the vertical scale.

The great thing about Insight 360 is we can dynamically adjust the WWR without needing to go back into Revit and make changes. In the image below, the Western WWR was adjusted to be 95%, which resulted in the Energy Cost Mean changing from $2.13 (sf/yr)  to a less efficient $2.25 (sf/yr).

  • FYI: The $2.13 value was based on a WWR range between 0% and 95%, and the $2.25 is based on a single input of 95%.

Quick closing tip... if you prefer EUI (kBth/sf/yr) over Cost (dollars/sf/yr), simply click on the circle in the upper left corner.

I have a few more posts in mind related to walls, so please stay tuned...