Upgrading hardware and software together increases creativity and productivity

By Tom Huston, Contributor

The price of replacing outdated software and hardware, and the time required for deployment, customization, and staff training are some of the most common reasons for management to delay potentially mission-critical upgrades. If your old hardware and software are still producing decent results, managers argue, why invest in changing them?

But is the cost of upgrading really higher than the price you’re paying by continuing to work on outdated machines and antiquated applications? Especially if your business depends on using compute-intensive software such as AutoCAD, SOLIDWORKS, or Adobe Premiere Pro?

And if you do decide to upgrade, does it make the most sense to upgrade both software and hardware simultaneously, or does installing new software and sticking with the same three-to-four-year-old system usually suffice?

The case for a two-year PC refresh cycle

“Enterprises should establish a PC refresh program that is not based on ‘old thinking’ industry practices established many years ago,” said Jack Gold, an industry analyst and president of J. Gold Associates. “We strongly recommend companies immediately move to a refresh cycle of two years for their corporate PCs.”

Using outdated computer systems not only poses security threats but also causes a variety of IT problems. For example, if you’re using an old computer that only supports a 32-bit operating system, you can’t run other software designed for a 64-bit OS, which can be problematic in companies with graphics-intensive applications.

A typical organization’s power users also tend to be among its highest-paid workers, responsible for getting products to market and developing its most essential intellectual property. For them, a two-year refresh cycle makes sense, granting them more processing power and therefore more time to complete projects, iterate faster than competitors, and be more creative within the constraints of a fixed timeline.

Adopting newer hardware and software guarantees increased productivity, reduced equipment downtime and maintenance, better security, improved data sharing, and better utilization of the latest resources. All of that translates into huge impacts for a business.

Let’s take a look at three different case studies that compared newer software and hardware configurations with their older legacy counterparts:

Adobe Premiere Pro on a Dell Precision T7600 vs. Tower 7910

Jeff Greenberg, a postproduction consultant and Adobe expert, took a 5-minute, 4K video and pushed it through various tests. The tests included two different workstations and two different versions of the video-editing software. The study compared a Dell Precision T7600 from 2012 running Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 with a Dell Precision Tower 7910 with dual Intel® Xeon® E5-2697 v3, 2.6 GHz, 14 core (28 virtual) processors from 2014 running the new Adobe Premiere Pro Creative Cloud.

The results showed that merely upgrading the Adobe Premiere Pro software resulted in a 15 percent increase in rendering productivity and a 207 percent increase in output productivity. Using the newer hardware and software together, however, increased rendering productivity by 36 percent while output productivity by 321 percent.

“Everything was snappier,” Greenberg said. “Editorial felt sharper and more precise. Maybe it was the removal of something as small as 100-millisecond lag, but everything flowed faster on the new system.”

Comparing AutoCAD 2010 to 2015

David Cohn, technical publishing manager at 4D Technologies, conducted a study comparing AutoCAD 2010 and AutoCAD 2015 running on a Dell Precision T1600 and a newer T1700 workstation with a 3.1GHz Intel® Xeon® E3-1220 quad-core CPU, respectively. He found that the same drawing task took 10 hours and 11 minutes when using AutoCAD 2010 on the older Dell T1600 workstation; 6 hours and 33 minutes when using AutoCAD 2015 on a Dell T1600; and only 5 hours and 19 minutes using AutoCAD 2015 on the new Dell T1700.

Using AutoCAD 2015 on the Dell T1700 yielded the greatest productivity boost, a 48 percent time reduction in editing and rendering CAD files, and an overall productivity improvement of 92 percent. In other words, the same task can be completed in nearly half the time when using newer software along with newer hardware.

Comparing SOLIDWORKS 2012 vs. 2015

Recently, Rob Rodriguez, founder of Axis CAD Solutions and a SOLIDWORKS expert, carried out a study using SOLIDWORKS 2012 and SOLIDWORKS 2015 on older and newer hardware: Dell Precision T3600 with Nvidia Quadro 2000 graphics card and Dell Precision Tower 5810 with Nvidia Quadro K2200 graphics card.

The study revealed that only upgrading the software resulted in a 13 percent time reduction in editing and rendering CAD files and a 16 percent productivity gain, while upgrading both the software and hardware offered a 29 percent time reduction and a 41 percent productivity gain.

“A 41 percent productivity gain means that a user can complete 8 hours’ work in 5 hours and 41 minutes,” Rodriguez said. “The more complex the modeling task, the greater the potential productivity gain [by upgrading both hardware and software together].”

Upgrading the system

Upgrading to new hardware or software brings two major concerns: keeping the cost down and transferring your precious data and applications to the new machine.

While most kids don’t love to receive hand-me-down clothes from their older siblings, the basic principle can work well in the tech world. You can group your users into different categories and buy new, powerful hardware and software for only those users (such as CAD designers and engineers) who need high-end workstations, and pass down their previous machines to users in other categories (such as those in admin roles). This way, everyone gets a new, or at least a more powerful, workstation.

Based on the real-world results of these studies, the greatest productivity boost can only be gained by upgrading both the software and hardware together. By translating the metrics above into actual savings for your business, extended over time, and the decision to postpone a hardware upgrade makes increasingly less sense.

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