I’ll preface this post that it was originally written by one of our members who unfortunately has left the community. His information was very well written, so I found the original post using Google Magic so it could be re-posted here for the community.
In a nutshell, all 3d modeling software are single threaded since 3d model calculation is linear in nature and can then only be processed on a single thread at the time.
Most calculations necessary to produce a 3d model cannot be made into chunks, independent of each other and then sent to be solved by different calculators.
Simplifying to the extreme, let’s take a box with a hole in it as an example:
The box needs to exist in order for the hole to affect it. We could not tell one CPU to create the box and another CPU to create the hole in the meantime because the hole needs to know where the box is and use its dimensions and position as variables of its own calculations. Therefore the process of creating a hole in a box cannot be made parallel and thus cannot use multithreading.
Or consider the following: (2+2) - 1. You could send 2+2 to be solved on one thread and X - 1 on the other thread but the second thread would need to wait on the result of the first one to do its own thing. Therefore multithreading is useless.
SketchUp is not an exception: All 3d modeler out there are single-threaded as far as modeling goes. Some part of a 3d application (like physical simulations in SolidWorks for example) will be able to assign specific tasks to other threads but modeling per se will always be done as a single thread. Some other times, parts of the software that rely on the OS will be able to be multi-threaded by the OS itself.
It’s for that very reason anyone will recommend you go for the CPU with the fastest clock you can afford because a 3.4GHz processor will calculate a model faster than a 2.4GHz processor, regardless of how many cores each one has.
Rendering can and will take advantage of all your CPU’s core because it can just break down the entire resolution you are trying to render into an array of chunks and send each core a chunk, cutting render times by an order of magnitude equivalent to the number of cores available to the rendering engine. So a 6-core CPU will render faster than a 4-core equally clocked CPU.
Hope this helped! I’ll post some details on GPU rendering in another post.
Regarding Intel CPU types -
The i3, i5 and i7 are different beasts. Beyond clock speed, there are a number of technologies in the i7 that will affect performance like memory bandwidth (21.3GB/s for the i3 vs 34.1GB/s for the i7) and size of cache memory (3Mb on the i3 and 6Mb on the i7 for instance) and so on.
So a 2.4GHz clocked i7 might still perform much better than a 2.4GHz i3.
The important thing to note is that an i3 with a stock clock at 2.4GHz will underperform versus a (stable) overclocked same i3 at 2.7GHz and the reason is mathematical:
Let’s say your i3 can execute 1 billion of instructions (mathematical operations) per cycle. If your i3 runs at 2400 cycles per second, it will be able to make 2400 billions operations. If you up the number of cycles it does per second by increasing its clock speed (and assume it is still rock stable, which is not always the case when overclocking) to 2700 cycles per second, it will then be able to make 2700 billion operations, which is a substantial 12.5% increase.
But your i7, regardless of the myriad other reasons it could perform better, might be able to do 1.3 billion of instructions per cycle and is clocked at 2.4GHz (3120 billion instructions), it will outperform an i3 doing 1 billion instructions at 2.7GHz (2700 billion instructions)
So if you have the choice between let’s say two i7 CPUs, one clocked at 3.2GHz and one clocked at 4GHz, you will benefit from the faster clock in single threaded applications.
Remember: All benchmark numbers are to be taken with a grain of salt.
As far as memory goes, it all depends on the complexity of your models and if you render, on the quality of the material you’ll use. I tend to preach that memory is cheap. Maxing out what your board supports even if you don’t think you might need this much right now can be a wise decision.
As time goes by and your models age and get older, buying memory for it three years down the road might prove difficult and more expensive than if you buy it now. Don’t believe me?
Regarding using a system with a non-accelerated video card…
While SketchUp main tasks of triangulating your 3d model, grouping faces and managing components are all tasks that will solicit your CPU, what happens in the viewport will mostly solicit your GPU. Panning, Zooming and Orbiting operations will all take advantage of your GPU if you have a good one. SketchUp has a very good way of managing viewport performance though: viewport degradation. If you are stuck on an integrated chip, you will still be able to pan zoom and orbit at a ok speed because SU will turn off eye candy to perform these tasks (shadows, etc). The image quality will be much better with a decent GPU.
Some rendering engines will also benefits from a good GPU.
Right now some rendering engines only use the GPU to render the real-time preview since the GPU rendering part of the engine does not support all the maps and lighting settings their CPU offers. Either that or the standalone does it but the SketchUp pipe does not yet allow/make use of it.
Thea is an exception with their Presto mode. I have not tried it but it advertise an hybrid mode, making use of both CPU and GPU at the same time.
Others will eventually get there because it is the future. And it’s lightning fast
Regarding 3D Studio vs SketchUp…
3D Studio is single threaded for modeling just like all the others. It does use multi-threading for other tasks like rendering. But most (if not all?) rendering engines you can plug to SketchUp will multi-thread the rendering process.
As for your acquaintance preferences of 3DS over SU, I will not argue that. For me it’s like arguing which HB pencil is the best to draw hand sketches: Each to his own. It’s very rarely the tool that makes the artist but rather the artists that drives the tool. If you are more comfortable and therefore more efficient modeling in SU, so be it.
I’m also tempted to say: best tool for the job. If what you are trying to do is easier to do in one package than the other and you can afford both, then use the best tool for the job as most softwares supports common file formats that make interoperability possible.
Conclusion: SketchUp is a fast modeler. If you want to rig and animate characters, you might consider 3DS as a better choice. If you want to do ArchViz animations, 3DS might also be more suited to your needs. But if you want to create multiple construction documents from 3d models you created very fast and easily and show possible choices to your clients using dynamic components, not a whole lot of software matches SketchUp in my opinion.