Question from my father who is looking to explore alternatives to Manifold:
"I am an independent environment consultant who is a heavy user of GIS for spatial data crunching, geo-referencing self-digitised maps, terrain modelling using LIDAR and analysing GPS field data. I have a workstation 8 core Intel i7 3.4 GHz, 16 Gb of RAM, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 570 running 64 bit Windows 7 ultimate and dedicated HDs for system and cache files. For many years Manifold GIS has been my software of choice due to intuitive GUI, wide range of functions, programmability, natively 64 bit and low price. However, the current version (Manifold 8) is now 4 years old and is now very slow for many tasks. See here for a recent vector processing comparison where Manifold comes out 40x slower than ArcGIS. While Manifold has an impressive suite of surface rendering and analysis functions it is so slow in processing LIDAR data that is almost unusable for anything other than very small data sets. Manifold is CUDA enabled for a limited set of terrain processing functions (see the manual > “index” > “N” > “NVIDIA”) but not the actual rendering. One reason why the next version Manifold 9 is taking so much time may be because the big chunks of software are being coded for CUDA which everyone acknowledges is difficult. Manifold’s loyal user base has been promised the massively faster and improved Manifold 9, but there has been no sign of this new release in 2 years. I, like many Manifold users, are beginning to despair of any development of the software. To protect my business and keep ahead of the game I am being forced to look for other GIS solutions.
An alternative to Manifold would have to have the following:
- Run natively in 64 bit and so address large amounts of RAM (ie < 4Gb and typically 16Gb and above).
Able to use the GPU for image/surface intensive processing eg CUDA on Nvidia graphics cards.
Terrain modelling and LIDAR processing capabilities, be able to ‘drape’ vector and raster map components and do 'fly throughs’ for video presentations.
- Be a stable release.
Manifold 8 professional with ‘surface extensions’ costs $590 (£370). None of the options that I have seen so far seem up to the job. These include:
- ArcGIS – I have just been quoted £1495 + £425 per annum to access upgrades and another £2,495 for the 3D Analyst extension.
- QGIS – Seems only to support 32 bit in the stable 1.8.0 Windows version, buggy, and lacking in-house digital terrain mapping features.
- R's spatial packages – this option seems to be too fiddly and static for what I want to do.
Looking forward to responses from people who have faced similar dilemmas – what's the best solution out of these options or should I go for something else completely?"