FRED Pre-Sales FAQs

What is the recommended computer configuration?

While we don’t recommend a specific manufacturer or model, the following items should be considered when selecting a computer to run FRED:


  • FRED only runs on Windows. We recommend Windows 7 or newer (XP is no longer supported).
  • FRED performs multi-threaded calculations on up to 4 threads while FRED Optimum supports up to 63 threads.  Any number of threads beyond the limit for your version of FRED are not used.
  • Many components of FRED, such as BASIC scripting calculations and model updating, are not multi-threaded. Therefore, high-speed processors are advantageous.  In many scenarios, performance is better for a smaller number of fast CPUs compared to a larger number of slow CPUs (e.g., 16 cores at 3.2 GHz vs. 24 cores at 2.4 GHz).
  • We recommend between 16 and 48 GB of RAM to avoid buffer overflows that may occur when working with large raytraces.
  • Sometimes, buffering cannot be avoided (e.g., when you need to trace more rays than can be processed with the available RAM).  For this reason, it is beneficial to have a system with a high disk I/O. This stands for input/output, which is the speed of data transfer between the hard disk and the RAM. A solid state drive (SSD) is also recommended.
  • While FRED does not leverage GPUs for computing, the user experience and model editing are much improved with a quality graphics card. Photon Engineering has had reliable performance with NVIDIA NVS series graphics cards.

What is “optical engineering software”? How is it different than lens design software?

“Optical engineering software” picks up where lens design software leaves off. With optical engineering software, the analyst merges the optical elements with the mechanical components to build a complete, integrated model. Frequently, this is the first time in the product development process when the optical and mechanical parts are combined, making it easier to identify mismatched elements, incorrect separations and/or locations, inconsistent dimensions such as “the same lens has to be in two places at once”, etc.

This integrated model serves as a basis for performing “real world” analyses on the performance of optomechanical systems. For example, FRED is routinely used to analyze and quantify:


  • Formation of ghost images in imaging systems
  • Formation of damaging ghost images in laser systems
  • Stray light levels in sensors
  • Interference effects in coherent systems
  • Irradiance, illuminance, intensity, luminous intensity and color image calculations for illumination systems
  • Lit appearance modeling
  • Signal levels and throughput calculations
  • Baffle, light shield and surface treatment analyses
  • Thermal self emission calculations


No product should be released to market without thorough system-level assessment by FRED Optical Engineering Software!

Why is it important to work in a 3D virtual prototyping environment?

It’s critical to conceptualize and capture the entire optical/illumination system early in the design process. Good designs are built from the ground up with the intent of manufacturing a product. The only productive way to do this is to create a 3D CAD model that considers the optical elements as well as the mounting and mechanical structures that may obstruct or interfere with the light propagation path. The ultimate power of virtual prototyping is the capability to test a total system concept quickly without spending time and money on multiple iterations. FRED’s 3D WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) CAD interface is perfect for virtual prototyping.

Why use a 3D CAD environment? Aren’t spreadsheet-based products just as good?

If you are trying to use a spreadsheet interface to do 3D virtual prototyping, ask yourself this important question: When I need to manufacture my new concept, will my CAD department use a 3D CAD interface or a spreadsheet-based product to create the manufactured model?


It might be faster in some instances to work in a 2D spreadsheet environment, but you are sacrificing detail required to fully manufacture the assembly and losing the 3D visual understanding of how parts are placed in the system as a whole. Using a spreadsheet interface is usually a non-intuitive process that has problems providing the full visual 3D global picture. Instead, what you usually see are “snapshots” of 2D sections that prevent you from easily finding problem areas in 3D space that need to be addressed before creating the finished product.

Why is FRED superior for exporting CAD models?

Spreadsheet-based products are known for exporting poor CAD models. Most of these products use exact surface equations to model optical components, which are then exported as wireframe models or second order patches of higher ordered surfaces. These models allow for high raytracing speeds and are effective in reducing optimization time, but real surface data is needed to convert these surfaces to the NURB information that CAD systems need.


Also, it often takes more time to convert a model from spreadsheet, surface-based systems into a complete manufacturable CAD model than it takes to create an entire optical design! Isn’t it a better idea to use a 3D CAD program such as FRED that exports exact solid and surface geometry at manufacturing tolerances to alleviate this tiresome and problematic step? Furthermore, FRED exports both the optomechanical subassemblies and a full ray set, which details the footprint of the beams through the optical assembly. This feature is perfect for checking ray set or beam impingement on mechanical structure through the optical path.

Other equivalent software programs are very expensive. Does FRED’s low cost mean that it is less capable?

Photon Engineering is a lean, experienced firm with two main lines of business: consulting services and FRED Optical Engineering software.  We do not divert resources into unprofitable business pursuits, nor do we have a “top-heavy” management.  By concentrating on what we do best, we can keep the development costs down and the value to our customers up.

Make no mistake, FRED is a comprehensive, full-featured optical engineering software application in daily use by our own consulting group, national laboratories, universities, major aerospace and defense contractors, product development companies, and professionals worldwide. Compare its features with those of any other software on the market and you’ll see that FRED is both cost-effective AND capable!

Are there different versions of FRED? Are there any extras or add-ons that I will have to buy?

Our business philosophy is not to “nickel and dime” our customers with add-ons and extra features that can drive up the purchase price. We believe that it is misleading to attract potential customers with a low initial price and then make them pay extra for the critical features they need to get their jobs done. However, we also understand that some customers may need certain high power features and that not all customers’ needs are the same. Therefore, we offer two editions of FRED: FRED Standard and FRED Optimum. FRED Optimum has all the features of FRED, but supports 64-bit architecture, has a built in optimization functionality, and multi-threads on a maximum of 63 CPU cores. For more information about both products, visit our FRED Software product page.

How often are updates made available?

FRED is under constant development. Some of our users simply can’t wait to get the latest and greatest version, so we provide several developmental versions that showcase new features we are working on between official releases.


Official releases occur two or three times a year.  These releases are thoroughly tested in-house and by our beta-testers.

Does Photon Engineering do custom FRED development?

Yes!  New features in development are driven by the requests and needs of our customers, and many features included in FRED were funded as consulting projects.  However, our standard policy is that we typically do not develop “exclusive” features. All new features are immediately available to all of our customers.

What does the name FRED stand for? Is FRED an acronym?

In truth, FRED is just a name. It is neither an acronym nor an abbreviation! FRED was the original development name of the software when Steve and Rich started working on it in the early 1990s. Rich had worked with an engineer who used the name FRED the same way mathematicians use “x” as the name of a variable. Something “clicked”, and Rich started using FRED as the name for anything that didn’t have a name! When it came time to release the first commercial version of FRED in April 2001, they couldn’t think of a better name, so the FRED development project became FRED Optical Engineering software.