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Archive for August, 2012

Buying a New CAD Workstation? Know Your Software System Requirements

August 30, 2012 3 comments

Where do you begin your quest for the right workstation? This particular hardware search should start with your software.

Let’s be real: Nobody relies on just one application over the course of a day. We’re all bouncing between disparate tasks and windows. But for the majority of CAD professionals, there is one application — or maybe a couple — that consumes the bulk of your hours at the desk. What’s the app that dominates your day? Got it? Now hit the web site of the software developer and find the minimum and recommended system requirements for your killer app. AutoCAD users can find this information at http://usa.autodesk.com/autocad/system-requirements.

Minimum is the Starting Point Only

In most cases, an application’s minimum requirements set an extremely low standard, as the software vendors begrudgingly must address the least common denominator of the installed base. We don’t recommend you follow these guidelines, but it’s worth making a note of the minimum graphics, system memory and CPU requirements. On the other hand, it’s highly likely that any new workstation on the market today will meet or exceed these numbers.

Certified Hardware

More interesting is the list of recommended or certified hardware. For SolidWorks, Dassault Systèmes (as of this writing) specifies a minimum of 1 GB RAM, but suggests 6 GB. Well, if you go with 1 GB, you’ll be sorry — even 6 GB isn’t necessarily the best choice, depending on your budget, and especially given the incredible amount of gigabytes/dollar that can be had today.

Similarly, Autodesk isn’t going to stop you from running a PC gamer graphics card, but the company will tell you which cards are optimized for performance and built for reliability when it comes to supporting AutoCAD or Autodesk Inventor.

Increasingly, the only CAD-certified graphics cards are professional-brand NVIDIA Quadro and AMD FirePro. That’s because software developers have consistently seen the fewest bugs and problems with cards that, like the system overall, have been exhaustively tested and tuned for professional workstation applications. In fact, the major CAD software developers will help you address issues related to running a Quadro or FirePro card, but they dedicate no support cycles to fixing bugs on consumer-class hardware.

Author: Alex Herrera

AMD’s Accelerated Processing Unit: Will It Make Your New CAD Hardware More Affordable?

August 22, 2012 1 comment

AMD FirePro A300 SeriesIt’s about time. After a hiatus from its role as a viable alternative to Intel for workstation-class CPUs, AMD is back. Instead of its traditional server/workstation focused Opteron line, this time the company is — quite wisely — choosing to target the market with a combination CPU/GPU part, what AMD refers to as an Accelerated Processing Unit, or APU.

New to the market are two, professional-caliber versions of its recent “Trinity” part, workstation-branded as the FirePro A300 and A4320. And while having two such parts represents a drop in the workstation bucket, as compared to Intel’s position, any new competition should only help CAD professionals find better products — or at least better deals on those products — in the future.

A New Strategy

While AMD has never given up plying its professional-brand FirePro GPUs in workstations, the same can’t be said for professional-brand CPUs. After a promising start and a firm foothold in the market, AMD’s CPUs are today, for all intents and purposes, absent in workstation platforms.

The company’s Opteron processor began making significant inroads into workstation platforms back in the mid-2000s. With Intel’s offerings at that time looking comparatively poor, Opteron steadily picked up workstation OEMs, but the end of 2003 having all major suppliers in tow with the exception of Dell. That increased OEM presence translated directly to increased market share, up to 4% of the overall market in mid-2006, and to a more  10% of dual-socket workstations shipped.

Then came the steady, inexorable decline, which by the end of 2011 left Opteron without any major OEM on board and virtually no market share. Truth be told, it wasn’t like AMD was ignoring the workstation CPU market out of ignorance or incompetence. Rather, it was a case of triage. The company knows full well it doesn’t have the wherewithal of its chief rival, Intel, and accordingly it’s always had to be careful about which markets it targets and which it doesn’t.

Competitive Pricing

And that begs a question: why now does AMD think it should invest its time and money marketing CPUs for workstations, when it didn’t before? It’s not like Intel’s CPUs are struggling like they were back in 2005. Heck, more than ever, AMD is looking for arenas to sell CPUs that don’t directly compete with Intel. No, AMD’s renewed interest in workstation CPUs has more to do with its competitive positioning in GPUs than CPUs.

Ever since the CPU duo began building and marketing combination, all-in-one CPU+GPU parts (first with Intel’s Westmere in 2010, followed by AMD’s first Fusion parts), a unique opportunity fell into the AMD lap.  As we’ve been pointing out for some time now, AMD now finds itself in the rare position where it can make a compelling, competitive case over both its chief rivals, Intel and Nvidia. Intel’s reputation for performance graphics has been poor, and despite the company’s largely successful attempt to boost its graphics profile (with 2011’s Sandy Bridge and 2012’s Ivy Bridge), AMD still owns the undeniable edge over Intel in graphics. Nvidia, meanwhile, which could argue graphics supremacy, doesn’t have x86 technology, making it impossible to compete in the new CPU+GPU segment.

Pitching an ISV-certified, professional-caliber version of Trinity to workstation OEMs can be convincing, especially given which end of the market that part could play. The dominant and still fastest growing segment of the workstation markets is the Entry class, particularly the low end of that class … precisely where the cost-effectiveness of the integrated part can appeal. The capabilities of parts like Trinity and GPU-integrated Ivy Bridge aren’t record-breaking, but they’re too good for workstation-shipping CAD professionals too ignore … especially those on tight budgets.

And given Intel virtually owns the market, OEMs like Dell and HP ought to welcome an enthusiastic re-entry by AMD. After all, no business wants to be beholden to one supplier, even if it’s a supplier of essentially infinite volume, like Intel.

What Does It Mean for CAD Professionals?

So after doing some comparison shopping, will you end up with a workstation with neither Intel nor Nvidia inside? Maybe, maybe not. But either way, you’ll be much more likely to get the machine you want at a lower price, regardless of whose brand is on it. Because while Intel’s been doing an impressive job as of late delivering the type of hardware professionals demand, any competition is  welcome competition. And that not only benefits OEMs like HP and Dell, it should only help when it comes to keeping down IT costs for CAD.

Author: Alex Herrera

New Accelerated Processing Units for CAD from AMD

August 15, 2012 1 comment

AMD launched the AMD FirePro A300 Series Accelerated Processing Unit (APU) for entry-level and mainstream desktop workstations. Featuring AMD Eyefinity multi-display technology, the AMD FirePro A300 Series APUs are designed for CAD and media and entertainment (M&E) workflows.

AMD FirePro A300 Series APUs combine CPU and GPU functionality on a single chip to blend workstation performance and application-certified compatibility required to help keep design professionals productive in their work.

“Design professionals demand workstation-class tools that enable productivity and flexibility in their workflow, and the AMD FirePro A300 Series APUs enable workstation integrators and OEMs an exciting new computing platform on which to design and build powerful, entry-level desktop workstation configurations,” said Matt Skynner, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD Graphics.

According to the company, the AMD FirePro A300 Series APUs are the first single-chip processors capable of delivering the workstation-class visual computing performance required for advanced professional design workflows. The introduction of AMD FirePro A300 Series APUs is designed to allow OEMs and workstation integrators (WSIs) greater flexibility, enabling new workstation designs that help save space, are energy efficient, and have low heat and noise levels without compromising true workstation-class performance and reliability.

Performance

AMD FirePro A300 Series APUs were developed for the entry-level and mainstream workstation segments, providing a blend of CPU and GPU performance and industry-leading features to keep design professionals efficient:

  • Support for AMD Eyefinity Technology for enhanced efficiency and immersive, multi-monitor productivity;
  • AMD Turbo Core technology, where CPU and GPU performance are dynamically scaled depending on workload demands, effectively providing a more responsive experience;
  • Support for horizontal display resolutions up to 10,240 x 1600 pixels, enabling large desktop spaces across multiple high-resolution display devices for advanced multitasking;
  • Support for Discrete Compute Offload (DCO), allowing additional compute capability by using discrete AMD FirePro GPUs in parallel with APU graphics for extended GPGPU performance;
  • 30-bit color support to enable image and color fidelity for advanced workflows such as color correction and image processing when using displays capable of 10-bit-per-channel operation;
  • Dedicated UVD (universal video decoder/VCE, or video CODEC engine) media encoding hardware for faster “fixed function” GPU processing of H.264/MPEG4 files and other motion media formats when using compatible software, to free up CPU resources for other tasks.

Pricing and Availability

The AMD FirePro A300 Series APUs will be available in systems from a number of workstation integrators starting in August 2012.

AMD FirePro A300 Series APUs
APU Model TDP CPU Cores CPU Clock (Max/Base) AMD Stream Processors GPU Clock Unlocked
AMD FirePro A300 65W 4 4 GHz / 3.4 GHz 384 760 MHz No
AMD FirePro A320 100W 4 4.2 GHz / 3.8 GHz 384 800 MHz Yes

Author: CADspeed editors

AMD Introduces New Workstation Graphics Cards for CAD

August 8, 2012 1 comment

If you’ve upgraded to the latest CAD software applications and your workstation is feel a little, well, overworked, AMD just might have the answer you’ve been looking in its latest line of workstation graphics launched this week.

The AMD FirePro W9000 GPU features incredible increased memory bandwidth and greater multi-display support performance than the competing solution. Following closely are the AMD FirePro W8000, W7000 and W5000 workstation graphics cards, all built on the AMD Graphics Core Next Architecture, and designed to balance compute and 3D workloads efficiently for computer-aided design and engineering, and for media and entertainment (M&E) professionals.

The AMD FirePro W9000, W8000, W7000 and W5000 GPUs are optimized and certified for leading software applications enabling users to unleash their creativity by ensuring ultra-high geometry performance. The latest AMD FirePro workstation graphics cards can enable smooth handling of complex models and feature dynamic power management that enables great performance and efficient power usage.

Using AMD Eyefinity technology, the AMD FirePro W9000, W8000, and W7000 GPUs can drive up to six, 30” independent displays via Multi-Stream Transport (MST) hubs for maximum workspace utilization at ultra-high 4096×2160 resolutions.

“As professionals work with larger data sets that demand advanced visualization and complex models, they need a graphics solution that is fast, powerful, and reliable,” said Matt Skynner, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD Graphics. “Certified for today’s software applications, the new AMD FirePro workstation graphics cards bring a range of features and capabilities for professionals working in digital signage, broadcast graphics, CAD/CAE and M&E, delivering the ideal balance of power, performance and reliability at the right price point.”

With the latest AMD FirePro workstation graphics offerings, graphics professionals can create more complex models and interact with them in real time, helping improve workflows and boost productivity. Through GCN and GeometryBoost, the state-of-the-art AMD FirePro W9000 workstation GPU delivers 1.95 billon triangles per second, which is 1.5 times as great as the competitor’s most powerful workstation graphics card, and up to 83 percent greater memory bandwidth than the competing solution, for outstanding application responsiveness.

The AMD FirePro W8000 workstation GPU, features Error Correcting Code (ECC) memory support and offers category leading dual-precision compute performance, up to 2.2 times as fast as the competing solution. This helps professionals experience greater accuracy in calculations performed for structural and molecular analysis and computational fluid dynamics without impacting application performance. Not to be outdone, the AMD FirePro W7000 workstation GPU is up to five times as fast as the competing solution in single-precision compute performance, while the AMD FirePro W5000 workstation GPU is the most powerful mid-range workstation graphics card ever created, delivering significantly better resolution, memory and display output performance than the competing card.

The AMD FirePro W9000, W8000, W7000 and W5000 workstation graphics cards are optimized and certified for leading workstation applications. Additionally, these new AMD FirePro cards support PCI Express 3.0 and AMD PowerTune and AMD ZeroCore Power technologies for dynamic power management.

 Product
 Target Market
 TFLOP
 Memory Size
 SRP

AMD FirePro W9000

High-performance CAD engineers, media designers, digital signage professionals

4 TFLOPs single precision

1 TFLOP double precision

6GB of high speed GDDR5 memory

USD$3,999

AMD FirePro W8000

High-performance CAD engineers, media designers, digital signage professionals

3.23 TFLOPs single precision

806 GFLOPs double precision

4GB of high speed GDDR5 memory

USD$1,599

AMD FirePro W7000

Mid-range solution for CAD engineers, media designers, digital signage

2.4 TFLOPs single precision

152 GFLOPs double precision

4GB of high speed GDDR5 memory

USD$899

AMD FirePro W5000

Mid-range solution for CAD engineers, media designers, digital signage

1.27 TFLOPs single precision

80 GFLOPs double precision

2GB of high speed GDDR5 memory

USD$599

Find out more at the AMD website.

Autodesk 360, Part 3: Collaboration Between Fixed and Mobile Locations

August 1, 2012 8 comments

In Part 2 of this series, I showed you some of the functionality of Autodesk 360. We are now going to look at how we collaborate using Autodesk 360, using a fixed location (PC on a network) and a mobile location (iPad on a remote site with Wi-Fi).

Your Documents Are Synced, What Happens Now?

You’re logged in with your Autodesk ID and you have synced your documents from your fixed location (PC on the network) to the cloud (Autodesk 360).

Logged into Autodesk 360.

Logged into Autodesk 360.

Using AutoCAD 2013 In A Fixed Location

As mentioned in Part 2 of the series, all of the Autodesk 2013 product range now include an Autodesk 360 tab on the ribbon interface. We will be using this in a fixed location when you are already logged in. Click on the Online tab on the AutoCAD 2013 ribbon interface.

The Online ribbon tab, after log in.

The Online ribbon tab, after log in.

So, right now, you will have your Autodesk 360 browser window open (it works best in Microsoft IE9) and your AutoCAD 2013 is done and uploaded to Autodesk 360 ready to go. That is your fixed location all set.

Using Autodesk 360 In A Mobile Location

So now we need to think about the mobile location. I am running Autodesk 360 and AutoCAD WS on my iPad, so let’s check this out.

I first use my browser on my iPad (normally Safari by default) to logon to Autodesk 360. Once I am logged in, I can browse my documents in my Autodesk 360 folders. In this case, it is the AEC Plan Elev Sample Drawing, already loaded in Autodesk 360. I know this is a default sample drawing, but for speed’s sake, use this as the drawing you have just loaded up from AutoCAD 2013 to Autodesk 360, using the Online tab in AutoCAD.

Autodesk 360 (logged in) with sub-menu highlighted.

Autodesk 360 (logged in) with sub-menu highlighted.

I can click on the button shown and on the sub-menu, I can open up the drawing from Autodesk 360 using AutoCAD WS on my iPad.

Upon clicking on the Edit in AutoCAD WS option, I am prompted to install AutoCAD WS on my iPad from the App Store, if I haven’t done so already.

If AutoCAD WS is already there on the iPad, you just load up AutoCAD WS and the new drawing will be there in your drawing list, as shown below (drawing is at the bottom of the list).

AutoCAD WS, with the loaded drawing highlighted in the list.

AutoCAD WS, with the loaded drawing highlighted in the list.

You can now open the drawing in your mobile (remote) location on your iPad and edit the drawing accordingly based on whatever data you have at that location. You can now see the value of AutoCAD WS on a mobile device, as per my first series of articles about AutoCAD WS.

AutoCAD WS, with the loaded drawing ready for editing.

AutoCAD WS, with the loaded drawing ready for editing.

If you refer back to Part 2 of this series, I show you how to use Autodesk 360 to work with updated drawings and how you can collaborate with your stored documents in Autodesk 360. With the addition of AutoCAD WS on a mobile device (in this case, the iPad), you now have the ability not only to collaborate, but design on the fly, using a mobile device and show the document changes in Autodesk 360 as you go. This leads to faster implementation of your design on site or on the factory shop floor.

The cloud is here and it is now. Autodesk are moving forward fast with this technology and it WILL revolutionize the way we work with not only CAD, but all the documents used in the design process such as specifications, OEM manuals and the like.

As I said in Part 2 of this series, it will allow us to embrace the mobile CAD movement and start to mobilise the CAD office/function in ways we never thought possible.

Stay tuned for Part 4 of this series, where I will show you how changes in documents and drawings are synchronised using Autodesk 360.

Author: Shaun Bryant

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