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Thursday24 July 2014

You can use bim on Macs — but it’s not always simple

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For offices using Apple machines, getting up to speed with bim will need careful thought… and maybe some hardware upgrades

The mandatory use of bim (building information modelling) on UK government-funded projects is only two years away, and many practices are already ahead of this timetable. But one sector has a potentially tougher route to implementation than others: the Mac users.

For Mac-based practices, the choice of native bim software is limited — and the best way forward may depend on your starting point.

Hugh Davies

Hugh Davies, Co-founder of IT consultant Lomas Davies

ArchiCAD has been around for a long time. Now on version 17, it remains available on OSX as well as Windows and the two versions are virtually identical. ArchiCAD for Mac currently requires OS 10.6, 10.7 or 10.8; support for 10.9 is likely to be imminent, while 10.6 will be dropped in the next version. Machines with 64-bit multi-core processors, at least 8GB of RAM and a video card with 512MB of VRAM are recommended.

Another option is Vectorworks Architect. System requirements are broadly similar to ArchiCAD so there is little to distinguish these two contenders based on your current Apple hardware. Their respective software feature sets and examples of use are likely to be the significant deciders.

In terms of numbers of licences deployed, Autodesk’s Revit is probably the dominant choice of bim software in the UK market. However, unlike ArchiCAD and Vectorworks, it is not available on the Apple OSX platform. The immediate solution here is to use Apple’s Boot Camp solution to partition your hard disk and install Windows. The hardware requirements are broadly the same as those for ArchiCAD and Vectorworks, but there are couple of other points to consider.

Apple Store, 5th Avenue, New York

The Apple Store on Fifth Avenue, New York: let’s hope it was designed on Macs.

Installing an extra OS requires a lot of hard disk space. Resizing the partition later is not practical so my general advice would be to set up the hard disk 50% OSX and 50% Windows. In order to get enough disk space in each system I would suggest having at least a 1TB hard disk installed. Smaller disks can easily be upgraded in Mac Pros, but upgrading an iMac (or Mac Mini) is best done by an Apple agent. The additional cost of this in practice may well rule out some of your older machines.

Bim software licences are often much more expensive than the hardware on which they are run

The second area to examine is the graphics card that is installed. Autodesk tests and certifies some as suitable for use with its products, but the list isn’t exhaustive. None of the cards recommended on Autodesk’s website are available for Mac, though the list of those that have been tested successfully with Revit includes some that are. This should give you confidence that your Mac will perform adequately as a Windows Revit workstation. If in doubt, test using a demo copy before you buy the licences!

Another significant contender for bim software is Bentley’s AECOsim — again, only available on Windows. The requirements are broadly covered by compliance with Revit, as above, but Bentley has a requirement for graphics cards that support Microsoft’s DirectX technology. As this is not used by OSX applications, you may have to rely entirely on testing of a demo copy on a Boot Camped Mac.

It’s worth remembering that bim software licences are often much more expensive than the hardware on which they are run, so don’t compromise the performance of your software.

If you are using OSX native applications, don’t skimp on upgrading your Macs. And should the use of a Boot Camped machine be your initial choice for bim, you should see it a short to medium-term solution that eventually leads to new, carefully specified Windows hardware.

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Readers' comments (10)

  • Who's paying this guy, he never has a good word for Macs, and now suggests they should be thrown away.
    I have been using ArchiCad on Macs for years. It looks better than Revit to me. It can do loads more than too.
    Macs will run ArchiCad almost without wondering about which graphics card, how much disc space & etc.
    Come on BD, we expect a less biased reporter, or is he just writing advertising copy.

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  • I don't know who is paying this guy but I think we all know more about IT than he does.

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  • Nothing new, Macs are not designer for serious engineering work despite what the so called I-Gurus want us to believe.

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  • We use Revit on Windows 7 with Parallels Desktop for MacOSX. We're just using MacMinis with 16Gb of Ram and it runs fine. It also means that all the additional features you need to pay for with Windows (pdf writers for instance) come as standard with the Mac. Bit fed up with the constant windows 7 updates though!

    I don't know anyone who uses Bootcamp on a Mac, Parallels is much more efficient, like having two PC's with one keyboard, mouse and monitor.

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  • Marc Thomas

    I have never understood why any suggestion that an Apple product is less than perfect provokes accusations of bias and rude comments like "who is paying this guy".

    The point of this article is that the number of OSX native BIM applications is limited. If ArchiCAD or VectorWorks Architect meet your needs then you're fine.

    However, if your BIM projects require, for reasons of scale or complexity, the use of multi-discipline tools such as Revit or AECOsim, you have to consider what is more important, hardware/OS design or the best performance for the application? The application is the primary consideration in this case, so choose accordingly.

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  • I'm with David Berridge. This guy's columns are like IT Class 1.01. Message for Hugh Davies: Hugh - we're way ahead of you !

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  • Our office uses Mac and PC's, and I have no axe to grind, nor am I a Mac evangelist. But it's true that Hugh Davis's column has consistently displayed a prejudice against Macs, and this has been apparent for years. I regret to say that he should step down in favour of someone who can comment on IT matters without such an obvious built-in bias against a massive sector of the Architectural world.
    Ian Sutherland McCook
    1 Architects Ltd

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  • I'm not sure that Hugh is really switched on to BIM. The problem has been that Revit is a market leader by virtue of the immense marketing power of Autodesk and has a Windows platform. However, as a BIM authoring platform, it is a clear second rater. Bentley has always been much more sophisticated a 3d engine, and ArchiCad has been into BIM since it started way back in the mid '80's, on Mac and later, Windows.
    Frankly, I can't understand any design conscious organisation, or IT organisation that thought more of its users than its own job security, that would dream of specifying a Windows platform over a Mac one!

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  • "Resizing the partition later is not practical" - This is simply wrong, a quick look on the web will show you how this can easily be done.

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  • Very sad.....this artical is biased, and Architects, who are not familiar with BIM get the wrong message. It seems, Autodesk is paying money to push their complex BIM portofolio across the UK...

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