Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Help Yourself...Clean up Your System for Better Autodesk Program Performance!

 We’re all guilty of sticking to old habits, but with the advance of technology in our design platforms, some things you might have done in the past are no longer necessary – and can cause more problems than they save. This series of tech tips are here to help you understand the differences in working in old environments such as our old Windows network, and new locations such as loud-based document management systems, including BIM Collaborate Pro, ProjectWise and Sharepoint.

Understanding How Autodesk Programs Use Temporary Files and Space

Microsoft Windows was first released in 1985, as a first “graphical interface” for the “disk operating system”, better known as MS-DOS. Many of the foundational aspects of DOS remain, such as a computer’s need to have one program be the focus of the computer at the time. The system has evolved to allow other applications to remain running and active, which created the need for “temporary files” to stay open in the background.

Autodesk programs such as AutoCAD and Revit have used background files for a variety of purposes:

  • AutoCAD files previously used their own file locking files to prevent more than one user from accessing a file at a time. While the early vestiges of DOS incorporated “restricted access” to files, it was not until AutoCAD 2000 that Windows took over the file locking service through the operating system. The previous DWL file simply tells the system who has the file open. The files are intended to be deleted every time the program is closed…until it crashes.
  • AutoCAD also has a series of backup files that are created, which use .BAK, .AC$, and .sv$ extensions. While there should always be one backup file (.BAK), the automatic save (.sv$) and temporary (.ac$) files should be deleted when AutoCAD is closed…until it crashes. These autosave files are typically stored in a C:\users\username\appdata\local\temp folder.
  • Vertical toolsets and Civil 3D create even more temporary files that are associated with functions of the features in the program – such as other types of temporary files that could be stored in your local c:\temp folder and project folders.
  • Revit has its own infrastructure of temporary and access files since the project model can allow multiple users to safely access one file (unlike AutoCAD). If the model is based on BIM 360 (BIM Collaborate Pro) or Autodesk Docs, then “cached” versions are copied locally so the user is not dependent on accessing the cloud 100% of the time. Caching also improves file performance by storing and updating the local copies via the Desktop Connector application.
  • In addition to the Autodesk programs, other applications can add variety of temporary files that can quickly fill up a hard drive and cause out of memory errors.

How do you know when you need to clean up? It’s easy – get in the habit of doing it on a regular basis to avoid issues in the first place. Do this at least every one to two weeks. But if you start to get errors such as files being out of date, not saving, changes disappear, and files take a long time or do not open at all. Let’s look at how to complete these tasks quickly and easily.

Hard Drive Maintenance

The best way to handle system clean up is to us the Disk Cleanup tools that come with Windows. This tool takes care of your hard drive and makes sure the overall system is as clean and functional as possible.

To perform a disk cleanup, follow these steps:

Before starting this task, make sure that you have closed any open applications, saving your work as needed. Items on the hard drive that are in use may not be able to be deleted or removed, so always close your applications first.

Open the Windows File Explorer tool. When the program appears, make sure the address bar and view is set to This PC – here’s an example that your system should look like:



You’re looking for the main hard drive on your system. Our computers, for the most part, use one hard drive as the storage device. You can see this under Devices and Drives – the PC Name and Drive letter C: are indicated, along with the available free disk space:



An early habit you need to learn is to change or edit something, place your cursor over the object and click the right mouse button. Context sensitive menus, based on what you have selected, will appear, and provide a list of tools and actions you can use on the device you have selected:



Be aware that this menu will appear differently based on the applications you have installed on the computer. At the bottom of the list, click Properties, which will always appear there. A new dialog will appear:



The General tab provides the key information we need, including the overall capacity of the hard drive in gigabytes, the used space and free space. Keep in mind we always want to make sure that we never go below 20% of the capacity in free space – so cleanup helps us with this habit. The Disk Cleanup tool is displayed on the General tab and is the only tool you need to use for this step. Select Disk Cleanup to continue:



A list of all items you can remove from the system is displayed. Scroll down the list to review the list, and the bold options are the key ones to select:

  • Downloaded program files
  • Temporary Internet Files – to make sure your internet runs efficiently, clean these files often.
  • Directx Shader Cache – if you don’t do a lot of rendering, you can delete these files
  • Delivery optimization files
  • Downloads – this one can go either way – if you are downloading files from other sources, make sure that as soon as you download the file, you move it from your c:\users\username\downloads folder first if you need to keep the files. Don’t hold on to or store files here – in other words, move it or lose it.
  • Recycle Bin – files you’ve already deleted
  • Temporary Files – this is the main one you want to clean up
  • Thumbnails

 As you select these folders, the description explains what the files are used for, so you can better understand their function on the system. Once you have selected the items to clean up, click OK. You will get a prompt asking you if you are sure – select Delete files to complete the step. A status bar will appear and display the progress. Once this step is complete, you will see a difference in the free space for the system. Click OK to leave the properties dialog.

Cleaning Up Your Cloud - Autodesk Docs/BIM Collaborate Pro

Autodesk introduce cloud-based computing for their products a few years ago beginning with Buzzsaw, and are now at the Autodesk BIM Collaborate Pro/Autodesk Docs products for all projects that are primarily based on their software (including AutoCAD, Revit, Civil 3D, Plant 3D and more). At different points in the project, it’s important to perform maintenance on your local system to make sure your system performs at its maximum potential.

To clean up your Autodesk Docs files, follow these steps.

For this first step, you must have the Autodesk Desktop Connector application running, and be signed in to your Autodesk account. You can check this by looking for a white “A” icon in your system tray of the lower right corner of your screen:



If you are not signed in, right click on the icon, and choose Sign In:


After signing in, from Windows File Explorer, locate the Autodesk Docs shortcut – expand it to show a list of all the projects you are assigned to in you business’s project hub. In this case, the example is showing a training project that we want to make sure is cleaned up and current:



Double click on your project – the Project Files folder will appear. Right click on the folder to see the maintenance options:



The two primary tools to use are Free Up Space and Sync.

Sync forces the latest version of the files between your local hard drive and cloud are synchronized – this step should always be performed prior to using Free Up Space.

Free Up Space will remove the local copies of any Revit or CAD files in the project folder. This forces Revit and AutoCAD to download the latest version of the files from the cloud the next time the files are opened.

A couple of rules about this step – this tool will only run on folders and files that you have permissions to access and edit. You can also choose to sync individual files.

Run the Sync command first by selecting that option. A dialog will appear in the lower right corner of the screen, indicating your files are being transferred to the cloud. After the sync has completed, the files in the folders will indicate they are synced with the cloud project files:


Next, right click on the folder and select Free Up Space



A confirmation dialog will appear:


If you return to the folder, the files will now show as online – this indicates that the local copy has been removed, but when you open the file from Revit or AutoCAD, the latest synced version in the cloud will be downloaded again and become the current local copy.

Advanced File Cleanup for Autodesk Docs

If you are a more advanced user, and you are having other issues with project files, you can manually clean up the temporary files that are created with Autodesk docs. Before performing this step, make sure that all changes have been synced, and all Autodesk design applications are closed. You will also need to make sure that Windows File Explorer is set to show hidden files. If you are unsure of any of the steps for performing this task, do not try it alone – contact Autodesk support for assistance.

Sign out from the Autodesk Desktop Connector. Make sure ALL programs are closed (except for this File Explorer).

From Windows File Explorer, browse to these locations (add your username and the version of Revit)

  • C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Autodesk\Revit\Autodesk Revit 202x\CollaborationCache
  • C:\Users\username\AppData\Local\Autodesk\Revit\PacCache
  • C:\temp

Delete as many of the folders and files as possible – should any of the files say they cannot be deleted, skip these.

Reboot your system using the SHIFT+Restart option to force a hard reboot of the system. Be aware that a prompt to Continue to Windows 10 will appear – you must select this to continue.

Log back into Windows and check the c:\temp location to see if any additional files can be removed.

Log back into the Autodesk Desktop Connector and resume use of the applications.

Additional Links and Information

For specific directions from the Autodesk Knowledge Network, check out these links:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/search-result/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/How-to-delete-temporary-files-in-Windows.html

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/revit/troubleshooting/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/Collaboration-for-Revit-Finding-local-copies-of-files.html

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/desktop-connector/learn-explore/caas/CloudHelp/cloudhelp/ENU/CONNECT/files/Get-Started-with-Desktop/GUID-714E0D68-6B13-4034-B742-5A91E19EA5B3-html.html

Summary

Using these methods will prevent a project from becoming populated by duplicated and unmanaged versions of the files. Use versioning and the compare tool to review what’s in the files, the sets to replace your old archiving process, and transmittals for sharing – you’ll enjoy a well-formed and managed project.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Help Yourself...Seriously! How To Get Better Autodesk Product Support Online - The System Basics

Several years ago a small group of Autodesk Expert Elites got together with Autodesk and Directly, a third party technical support management site, to help Autodesk resolve more of their open support cases. This program leveraged decades of product experience to provide relevant responses to most support question types. There are some limits - such as we can't reach out to the client during the case and use tools like Zoom or Teams to remote into a system and get more detail. In these cases, we escalate the case to the Autodesk agents, that are allowed to provide this service at a higher level of support.

But it's never easy - there's always a better way to provide these solutions. It's really dependent on the information provided by the user to make sure we understand what is exactly happening on someone's system. Think of visiting your doctor - they're going to ask you a ton of questions before they recommend or prescribe anything, so the more accurate and detailed the responses, the more relevant the solutions will be. And it requires a lot of patience on both ends.

So how do we make this smoother for your typical Autodesk support questions? It's easy - if you're the user posting the question, follow this checklist:

1. Get your software information together first. For Autodesk products, access the program Help page - every one includes a question mark "?" in the upper right corner of the program window. When you select this, you will see the name of the program at the bottom of the drop down menu (it usually says Autodesk Revit, Autodesk AutoCAD, etc. or something similar). Selecting this option will open a dialog, that includes the software version, build number, and versions of any supported vertical tools such as AutoCAD Architecture, MEP, etc. You should see a dialog similar to this:


In this example, the core AutoCAD version is shown, along with AutoCAD Architecture and AutoCAD MEP. Each of these now require separate updates, so make sure you check all three.

This information is critical - we get countless cases where users or their IT departments are not keeping up with the updates, or have not tested them to make they don't cause issues with other applications. But with Autodesk products, the overwhelming number of cases we receive are related to the program simply being out of date, or not the same as other users in the same company or project. These are critical issues that every company needs to address - at a minimum, all users should be on the same build.

2. The computer you are using matters - if it's 10 years old, makes a grinding noise on startup, or is still running Windows NT, it's the problem. But there's a ton that goes on with a computer that every user should be aware of. The key information we need in order to correctly diagnose a case should always include this information:

- The version of Windows - you should be on Windows 10, with version 11 coming out soon. While 7 and 8.1 are supported, they are in  a short life span and are no longer supported by Autodesk (starting with the 2022 versions). You can find the current version of Windows by using File Explorer to locate "This PC" - right click on this icon and select Properties. The right side of the dialog will display a lot of critical information, including the operating system (OS) data:



- The processor and amount of RAM that is installed on the computer - the same dialog for the OS also shows this information under the Device Specifications.

- The size of the hard drive, and amount of free space. It also helps to know if it's not a solid state drive that was used in older systems. To get this, select This PC again - File Explorer will show all installed drives and the total/free space:


When it comes to hard drives, here's a critical item to know - the amount of free space is critical. For example, Revit projects can take up to 10x the size of the file in temporary file space. Add all of the Revit models that are opened, making sure to include the size of the linked models, drawings and more - and you will run out of space quickly if you don't keep up with this. Personally, I don't like for a computer running Autodesk products to have less than 100gb (gigabytes) of free space available. Don't short your computer by buying a smaller hard (500gb or less) - you'll wind up losing time and money when you don't have enough space. Adding a second drive to handle data is also not always a good idea, as the programs typically want to be installed on the C: drive, and adding a D: or second drive can cause configuration issues unless you're knowledgeable about working in this type of environment. Stick with 1TB or larger solid state drives and you'll be good.

- The manufacturer, model and driver version of the graphics display adapters on these systems is also important. Errors with these due to non-supported cards, including old or outdated drivers is a frequent issue. This shows up as graphics on a screen not displaying correctly, crashing when opening or editing views and and other types of fatal errors. To locate what you have installed, from the Windows Search bar, type Device Manager (You can also access this via Settings - when the dialog opens, type Device Manager in the upper left corner of the dialog). When the dialog appears, select the Display Adapters - a list of all adapters will appear that are installed (correctly) on the system:

 


Every Windows-based computer includes a built-in graphics adapter when a system is built - but in most cases, they are not designed to handle the more intense graphic requirements for most Autodesk software. That's why you usually will have a second video display adapter, if the system meets the Autodesk system requirements. 

To make sure you have a display adapter that is supported by Autodesk, along with a recommended driver, see this list in this link:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/certified-graphics-hardware?siteID=123112&id=18844534&results=1&stype=graphic&product_group=3&release=2018&os=524288&manuf=all&opt=0

If your device is not listed, it doesn't mean it won't work - but in most cases you want to make sure you keep your device drivers up to date. Here's a link with directions for updating this hardware:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/autocad/learn-explore/caas/sfdcarticles/sfdcarticles/How-to-update-your-system-to-the-latest-certified-video-driver-s.html

Overall - when running Revit, always check the system requirements to make sure your computer meets the needs of the program and version you are running. You can find this information based on product and version from here:

https://knowledge.autodesk.com/support/system-requirements

- Every computer should have some form of antivirus and firewall protection installed. In most cases, this is managed by an IT department or service provider. If your system permissions are restricted (meaning that you can't install or update software yourself), then it can cause some specific failures to occur. In this case, we need to know what manufacturer you are using for the antivirus, such as Norton, McAfee or others, and whether or not you can make changes to this software if needed. In most cases, it is the system firewall that can block access to folders, files and sites needed for Autodesk products to run correctly. Microsoft created this video to help you understand how to find out what types of system security you have installed:

https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/videoplayer/embed/RE3Fq1Y

If you're not comfortable with getting or providing this information, let your support person know so the case can be escalated to an Autodesk agent for a more secure access and connection.

Wrapping up - don't be embarrassed or worried if you don't know this information. In most cases, users really don't have an idea about what's in the computer or how it works. The goal of any good support system is to help you solve your issues, and they can usually walk you through all of these steps to make sure we have as much baseline information as possible. The same rule applies for any support organization you are working with, whether it's your own internal IT department or a software vendor such as Autodesk. 

Hopefully this helps you get the most out of your support - next up, we'll talk about more specific program issues.

Thanks - David B.