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

Hugh Davies of Lomas Davies writes on BD about the hurdles that Mac users are required to overcome when implementing BIM.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.


Hugh Davies is co-founder of IT consultant Lomas Davies.

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