The incessant pace of progress and innovation for workstation technology never slows.
Less than a quarter after every major workstation OEM launched a full trio of models based on Intel’s Sandy Bridge-EP (a.k.a. Xeon E5), the industry leader in CPUs has already released its follow-on processor generation, code-named Ivy Bridge. And subsequently, we are now seeing the first Ivy Bridge workstations hitting the market, including Dell’s Precision T1650 and HP’s Z220.
How Does Ivy Bridge Affect the CAD Workstation Market?
What benefits can Ivy Bridge offer to those plying their trade in CAD? Well, there’s the usual broad-based boost in performance that any good generational upgrade will provide, as Intel expects a 20 percent performance improvement for general computation from Ivy Bridge (though of course mileage will vary by application). But there’s more appeal for this upcoming product family than just the usual generation-to-generation performance bump. Because while that appeal extends across applications and usage models, there are a few special nuggets of technology in this generation that will pique the interest of workstation-wielding CAD professionals.
Intel’s lead in silicon process manufacturing continues to grow, and the benefits of Ivy Bridge should prove an ideal vehicle to showcase that lead. Just as competitors are getting their 32 nm process, with Ivy Bridge Intel’s jumping a full generation ahead with a 22 nm process that allows for millions more transistors in the same silicon area.
That’s a win for workstation buyers especially, as they represent a professional community that certainly care about CPU performance, but demand a lot more. First off, a shrink buys room for more cores, and we’ll eventually see some Ivy Bridge SKUs with eight or more cores (not at first launch, but later in the product lifecycle). Far from being one-trick-ponies, today’s MCAD professionals have to be jacks-of-all-trades — a competitive market, tight budgets and tighter schedules all demand it. Drawing is just one piece of the daily workflow, complemented by a host of other critical compute tasks, from simulation to styling. And chores like finite element analysis and computational fluid dynamics multi-thread quite well, making 50% more available cores a serious weapon in driving computation time down and achieving the ultimate goal — boosting productivity.
Improved Integrated Graphics
The extra silicon space also allowed Intel to dial up the performance and functionality of its integrated graphics hardware. For example, Ivy Bridge’s P4000 GPU populates more on-chip graphics engines and supports advanced features like hardware tessellation, a proven tool that can deliver finer, more realistic 3D surfaces in less time. With its range of upgrades, Ivy Bridge can claim full DirectX11 support that its predecessor could not. And with more of those bigger, faster graphics engines, Intel can claim a 30% increase in performance for Ivy Bridge’s graphics over Sandy Bridge’s. And that means CAD professionals on a budget can now more seriously consider choosing a low-cost CPU-integrated graphics solution like the P400.
Support for Three Monitors
But looking beyond performance, Ivy Bridge’s graphics is going to provide another big draw for the MCAD professional: native support for three monitors. While the mainstream is now just discovering the benefits of dual monitors, many mechanical designers are already using three: for example, one for drawing, one for simulation and one for visualization. Prior to Ivy Bridge, a desktop with three high-resolution monitors mandated at least one discrete add-in graphics card. But with this generation, a cost-conscious MCAD user could go three-wide and stick with base platform graphics.
MCAD Users: Same Performance, 50% Fewer Watts!
With more cores to speed CAD simulation and ultra-realistic rendering, as well as a 30 percent graphics improvement, Ivy Bridge promises to be a tide that raises all boats, as all workstations — deskside or mobile — will benefit. But there’s one unique advancement debuting in Ivy Bridge that’s a particular boon to the MCAD pro on the go. You see, Ivy Bridge’s 22 nm technology introduces a revolutionary new transistor structure called TriGate that offers the same performance at 50% fewer Watts than Sandy Bridge’s 32 nm.
And that’s allowing leading vendors HP, Lenovo, Dell and Fujitsu to introduce new mobile workstation models that dramatically extend battery life at the same performance level, or deliver far more performance, with the same battery life. Either way you look at it, it’s a win when computation demands are high. And few corners of the computing world demand more performance/Watt than mechanical designers trying to accomplish demanding design work on the road.
This post reflects industry analyst Alex Herrera’s views and does not necessarily reflect the opinions, product plans or strategy of either Dell or Intel.
Processors for CAD Hardware: Find the Balance Between Multiple Cores and Increased Single-Thread Performance
Several years ago processor vendors began backing away from a sole focus on cranking up clock frequencies and otherwise striving to squeeze every last possible bit of performance from single-thread processing. That path was heading down the road of diminishing returns and leading to other problems, most notably excessive power consumption and thermal output.
Growth of Multi-Core Processing
Single-thread performance hasn’t been forgotten, but the dominant thrust has shifted to parallel processing, with Intel moving from dual-core to quad-core and now hex-core processors. Factor in the dualsocket configurations available in mid-range and higher workstations, and today 12 processing cores in a single machine can easily be had.
What Does Multi-Core Processing Mean to the CAD Professional?
Multi-core approaches have proved to be a great way to gain theoretical speed-ups, but for CAD professionals who have practical computing demands, how well reality tracks theory depends on their application. Some CAD software programs, including AutoCAD and SolidWorks, do limited multitasking if multiple processors are available — for example, in managing the user interface and on-screen display. And rendering software, whether running on the CPU, GPU, or both, tends to use multiple processing cores.
Given this, most CAD pros will want to find the right balance of multiple cores and increased single-thread performance, the latter enabled by Intel through a combination of architectural improvements in its CPU design and its Turbo Boost Technology 2.0, which delivers an (often temporary) increase in CPU clock speed.
What Should You Buy?
Although an oversimplification, it’s generally fair to say that if CAD modeling chews up more hours than anything else in your day, you should allocate more of your workstation budget to buying a fast processor. If you spend most of your time rendering, you should invest more of the budget in more cores, or in many cases, a more powerful GPU if that’s what your application needs. Read on.
Where do you draw the line on how much of your budget to allocate to the CPU? Again, there’s no universal answer — sorry, there never is — but keep in mind that the upward climb on this (or nearly any) product spectrum follows a path of diminishing returns. So once you’ve decided whether to favor most cores or fastest cores, try to get a sense of where the “knee” is in the price curve. That is, where do you start paying a lot more to get a comparatively small return? That’s likely to be your sweet spot, tempered of course by the constraints in your overall budget.
Optimizing hardware for SolidWorks is essential for getting the most out of this heavy-hitting CAD application, as we’ve discussed on CADspeed previously. So we were thrilled when the SolidWorks forum addressed this very issue recently on their forums.
The key to getting the most out of SolidWorks, or any CAD application for that matter, is ensuring your hardware can handle the workload. Remember that your situation is unique. In simple terms, two users using the same software on the same system may have very different perspectives on their workload efficiency if one is using 3D rendering and the other is not. Consider your needs first and foremost.
On the flip side, if you know you need new hardware, simply buying the most expensive machine may not pay off in the long run either. Think in terms of your productivity while shopping for a new workstation to get the most for your budget, hopefully with a little room to grow for those inevitable upgrades.
That said, here’s a summary of the recommendations straight from SolidWorks themselves.
RAM (Random-Access Memory)
The amount of RAM you need depends less on SolidWorks and more on the number of applications you run at the same time, plus the size and complexity of your SolidWorks parts, assemblies and drawings. SolidWorks recommends you have enough RAM to work with your common applications (i.e., Microsoft Office, email, etc.) and load your SolidWorks documents at the same time.
Processor speed is another key factor when selecting the right hardware for you. It’s hard to sort through all the different options though, so we recommend testing a system with your actual models. SolidWorks also offers a helpful Performance Test, which offers a standardized test for determining performance of your major system components (i.e., CPU, I/O, video) when working with SolidWorks datasets. Even better, when you complete the SolidWorks Performance Test, you have an option to share your score with others. This gives you, and other community members, a sense of where a system stands relative to others. Nice!
Note that SolidWorks and some of its add-ons (PhotoView 360) have some multithreaded capabilities, so the application can use the second processor or multiple cores. But SolidWorks says that rebuilds are single threaded and therefore rebuilds generally will not be faster with multiple CPUs or cores.
The size of your hard drive or solid-state drive should be based on the disk space you need. Take a look at all your system’s components: operating system, applications and documents. If you work primarily on a network, your needs may be different than those who primarily use their local drive. Don’t forget to develop a back-up plan for your data, if you don’t already have one. (You do have one, right?)
The very nature of CAD software requires a good workstation-level graphics card and driver. You are probably going to need at least a mid-range card, if not a high-end card, depending on the type of CAD work you do. For graphics cards, we recommend starting with the SolidWorks Certified Graphics Cards and System, because SolidWorks has done the testing for you.
Can’t get enough about hardware configurations for SolidWorks? Check out this great post from SolidWorks on their forums. Or learn more about the minimum requirements for SolidWorks.
The first post in this series discussed why you want OpenCL. This post will describe how it works.
The GPUs in present day graphics cards like the AMD FirePro/Radeon and Nvidia Quadro/Geforce lines are massively parallel, multithreaded, multicore processors with enormous computational power and high bandwidth. Traditionally these multicore processors have been used for graphics processing, leaving the CPU to do everything else.
More Computing Power Using Massive Parallelism
The paradigm shift with OpenCL is a non-proprietary, standardized (and familiar) language to divide up general-purpose computational code into parallel threads so the GPU and CPU can work in tandem to deliver new functionality or tackle large processing tasks.
One of the key elements about OpenCL is its ability to allocate resources to the GPU or multicore CPU depending on how much power is needed and how data intensive any given task is. An OpenCL CPU+GPU-based solution means you can get simultaneously high performance for a design as well as its analysis and simulation.
In business terms, what OpenCL means is that responsiveness and speed from existing servers to handheld devices, will improve dramatically. When algorithms are redesigned to use OpenCL, speed-ups of 10x are common, and speed-ups of 30x are not unusual. (See, for example, EDEM Simulation Engine.)
Next I’ll discuss how OpenCL will affect your workflow.
Author: Tony DeYoung
Most CAD users don’t have any reason to be familiar with how graphics languages like OpenGL 4 and DirectX 11 actually work. All that 99% of us care about is that our CAD applications and video cards support the latest versions so we can benefit from high-performance 2D/3D rendering and visualization.
In some ways the new OpenCL compute language isn’t any different. You don’t need to know anything about the inner workings to use it. You just know you want your hardware and software to support it.
On the other hand, OpenCL is a disruptive technology that will jostle market leaders and significantly alter hardware price/performance ratios. So it is worth learning what it does, where it will have the biggest impact and how you can benefit.
Why Do We Need a Compute Language for the CAD World?
Answer: Increasing model complexity
- Nowadays automotive models can contain up to 50,000 parts with 10 to 20 GB of data. The number of triangles can reach 40,000,000 polygons/model.
- In the mid-1970s a typical model of an automobile chassis had 5,752 node points,
2108 finite elements and 28,924 degrees of freedom. Today, a typical model of
an automobile chassis has 12 million node points, 7.2 million elements and 35
million degrees of freedom.
- In 2009 a computational fluid dynamics simulation of a racing yacht design
required a mesh of over 1 billion cells.
Simply put, model complexity is growing exponentially and faster than the ability of
our desktop or laptop machines to easily crunch the data (without running as
hot as the core of a supernova).
Author: Tony DeYoung
How GPC-Based Accelerator Technology and Multi-Threading Support Can Improve TurboCAD and DoubleCAD Performance
In the past year, the developers of TurboCAD have been taking advantage of hardware enhancements and overall processing power increases on the PC in order to significantly improve the performance of our CAD applications.
GPU-Based Accelerator Technology
We started by taking advantage of new, GPU-based accelerator technology that is found on newer graphics boards from manufacturers such as AMD/ATI and Nvidia. In order to do this, we integrated a relatively new graphics middleware, Redsdk, dedicated to display visualization and rendering available from the company, Redway3D.
With Redsdk now integrated into TurboCAD and DoubleCAD, we have seen overall speed enhancement over previous versions of these products of up to 60X in both 2D and 3D models. These speed gains in wireframe, hidden line, and shaded, draft rendering modes, let the user concentrate on their design without the disruption caused by slow zooms, refreshes and regenerations. The performance enhancement is particularly evident when working with larger sized models.
More recently, we’ve added multi-threading support to both editing of solid models and to draft and photorealistic rendering to our TurboCAD Pro product. Multi-threading takes advantage of multi core processors, so the turnaround time on calculations is much faster.
While TurboCAD has long supported multi-core processing, the ability to do multi-threaded processing across multiple CPU cores means that mathematically intensive processes such as photorealistic rendering and Boolean operations now take significantly less time. This improves the quality of CAD projects by quickly being able to view many different design iterations/schemes in less amount of time.
Performance is always an issue for CAD users. Your hardware’s ability to render complex designs on a display requires iterating through the pixels and calculating values for each of them. Large blocks of memory also are required to load images, perform filter operations and other high-end features. Additionally, when using these complex shapes, patterns, and images in a 3D application, it’s more difficult to achieve fast and reliable rendering. As hardware technology continues to improve, the CAD user can benefit in terms of speed, performance and advanced features.
Author: Bob Mayer, Chief Operating Officer, IMSI/Design