64 Bit Dilemma

  1. There is a valuable discussion taking place on the Laser Scanning Forum concerning 64 bit and OS.
  2. Faraz Ravi from Pointools notes that point cloud processing will benefit from the move to 64 bit, but there are issues.
  3. It seems that Windows 7 is stable and a better bet than Vista.

I don’t know if you have been following the discussion on the Laser Scanning Forum concerning the move to 64 bit processors, as well as whether to go with Vista or Windows 7, but it is certainly worth reviewing if this is a current topic in your shop.

It is really interesting to see the range of opinions – from “don’t go there” to “we upgraded and have not had any issues”. Kind of scary in a way. Seems to be individual machines can react differently depending on minor configuration settings. Almost 30 years into the PC era and this is what we are still dealing with – sad.

I checked in with Faraz Ravi at Pointools for a little expert opinion. First of all he points out that point cloud processing is actually an application that would benefit from 64bit processing and more ram. 32 bit apps can only address 4gb of RAM, and that includes the graphics card. One of the people who made the jump upgraded to 8 gig, and of course saw significant performance improvement.

The potential issue is with the components that may be part of an application. It’s an all or nothing situation. Meaning every bit of binary has to be compiled for 64 bit. If you have any 3rd party dlls these either have to be upgraded by the supplier to 64 bit or that functionality will have to be left out.

This is the case for Pointools. Some of their 3rd party dlls are 32 bit and Faraz is having to cut out that functionality, at least for now in his planned 64 bit release. It would seem that everyone would want to take advantage of 64 bit processing, but I guess it is a scheduling thing.

Concerning the OS, most of the recommendations are to go to Windows 7 and skip Vista. This is what I have been hearing in general, and from although I have not used 7, I have not been impressed with Vista. The good news is you can download 7 and use it for free until next spring, plus the Vista drivers do work with 7.

Any other thoughts?

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4 Responses to 64 Bit Dilemma

  1. We are running QT Modeler 64-bit version on both Vista x64 and Windows 7 x64. The performance difference is huge. The 64-bit versions of both operating systems are very stable and seem to be superior to the 32-bit versions. When we migrated to the 64-bit version of QT Modeler went from loading in hundreds of thousands of points to billions of points, and fly through the point cloud with performance equal to Google Earth. It cost us less than $2000 to upgrade our Dell T7500 to 48GB of RAM, and it was worth every penny. We have noticed only performance improvements (albeit minor ones) with other 32-bit geospatial software packages, such as ArcGIS, ENVI (they have cursory 64-bit support), ERDAS IMAGINE, and Definiens eCognition. Given that high-end workstations from manufactures such as Dell ship by default with 64-bit operating systems I hope it is only a matter of time before 64-bit is the new standard. Let’s hope the software vendors can migrate everything over. I just noticed that even Office 2010 is going to be 64-bit.

  2. Doug Newcomb says:

    I processed multiple return lidar point data for the State of North Carolina for forest canopy heights about a year ago. The entire data set is about 800 GB as ASCII x,y,z. I processed it in 5 chunks, the largest chunk was 379 GB and took overnight to process. Processing a 90 GB file takes about 2 hours. The software and OS? 64 bit GRASS running on 64 bit Centos Linux. Cost: $0 Native 64 bit GRASS has been available on 64 bit Linux since 2004-2005.

    If you install a 64-bit variant of linux (Fedora, Ubuntu , Red Hat, etc), about 99% of the software is already 64-bit. The Openoffice.org suite went 64-bit a couple of years ago. The only software that I can think of on a 64 bit linux system are proprietary things like the Flash plugin to Firefox.

    I guess my point is, if you step out of the Windows/commercial software world 64-bit computing is already commonplace.

  3. Dave F. says:

    I have to concur with the switch to the 64bit version of QT. We are running on a Dell T7500 workstation with 36GB of Ram running Vista and the difference between the 32 bit version and the 64bit is not even comparable. What would make the difference is if the hardware vendors would make the switch as well as vendors such as TerraSolid.

  4. R.Mandli says:

    As I was reading this discussion, I couldn’t contain my desire to share an alternative solution that works very well for us. We made the decision a while back that Windows was not the best environment for development of our cutting edge LIDAR product line. We have been developing our software in the 64 bit Apple Macintosh environment for the last 2 years using OS X and Java. We can run on everything from the lowliest Mac mini to the high end Xserves. Most of our data reduction is done on 24 inch iMacs with a second 24 inch monitor connected for increased workspace real estate at cost of about $2K per hardware seat.

    Speed of point cloud display has never been a major issue as it is instantaneous. We focus mostly on processing point clouds to extract assets and to create database files for the analysis of structural clearances. This past summer we collected mobile lidar that included over 3 trillion points. The point cloud is viewable immediately after capture and post processing is used only to clean up the slight GPS issues.

    Of course, there are those times that we have to use Windows for checking our deliverables, but we have PC emulators on our Macs that do a great job of that. Our software is based on Java 6 so it works well in Windows too, but it is quite a bit slower.

    The path we have chosen isn’t for everyone but it has worked well for us. Our priority is productivity and this configuration of hardware and software has allowed us to accomplish that.

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