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Posts Tagged ‘Multi-Threading’

Intel’s Ivy Bridge Processors Hit the CAD Workstation Marketplace

June 13, 2012 1 comment

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.

Author: Alex Herrera

The Best Hardware Configuration for SolidWorks CAD Software

November 10, 2011 3 comments

SolidWorksOptimizing 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.

The recommended RAM for the current SolidWorks versions is 6GB. That should be your starting point. For more information on how much RAM you need, here’s a great resource on the SolidWorks forums.

CPU

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.

Disk

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?)

Graphics Cards

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.

Find the Optimal Hardware Configuration for ArchiCAD

August 23, 2011 5 comments

One of the most common questions our tech staff gets from customers is “What is the best hardware config for ArchiCAD?” It’s easy to go overboard and buy the most expensive of everything, but many times less expensive components are almost just as good. The “optimal” configuration is almost as fast as the “best” configuration, with a more attractive price tag.

Let’s review the priorities:

CPU

The processor is still the most important component of your config. Since ArchiCAD supports multiprocessing, we recommend 4-core processors. 6 and 8 cores are significantly more expensive while providing little benefit, so 4-core is the most optimal choice. Pick something from the middle range — prices rise exponentially with performance.

RAM

ArchiCAD supports 64-bit. To see the benefits of this, you need at least 8GB of physical RAM. While most of the times ArchiCAD will use significantly less than this, since RAM is now cheap there is really no reason to economize here. There are times when you will run multiple copies of ArchiCAD or run other applications simultaneously.

Hard Drives

ArchiCAD stores cached data while it operates, so there is a lot of file I/O going on while working in ArchiCAD — not just when saving files. Therefore hard drives are a key — and often overlooked — speed factor. With the price of solid state drives coming down considerably in the past year, they might be a sensible investment. You don’t need a huge SSD. You are better off with a smaller (say 128GB) SSD combined with a large conventional hard drive. You will install the system and ArchiCAD on the SSD, but you will store files on the conventional drive.

Video Cards

ArchiCAD uses hardware acceleration in both 2D and 3D. That said, while the importance of hard drives is often underrated, video cards are often overrated. In general we can say that it is more important to have a recent video card than a particularly high-end video card. It’s not a bad practice to replace the video card at the half of your computer’s lifespan.

When you buy a new card, it’s important to have enough video RAM. We currently recommend 1GB. Drivers are key for optimal performance. If you want to have a peace of mind about drivers, you might consider going with a “professional series” video card — at a much heftier price. You can find a list of recommended cards in our knowledge base.

Monitors

Screen real estate is a huge productivity factor. Here we have only one recommendation: The bigger the better. You can also hook up two monitors, if your video card supports that.

Author: Gergely (Greg) Kmethy, Team Leader, Technical Support, Graphisoft

Optimize AutoCAD Civil 3D Performance: Hardware, Operating System and Workflow Upgrades

July 25, 2011 2 comments

AutoCAD Civil 3D 2012Many AutoCAD Civil 3D users are aware that upgrading to a 64-bit operating system, preferably Windows 7 and Windows Vista (in that order), will give the biggest return on investment when looking at improving performance.  Other opportunities to improve performance also exist.

One is multiple or multi-core processors.  For the most part, AutoCAD Civil 3D runs as a single process, which means it will not utilize more than one processor, even if they are available.  The exception to this is rendering, where multiple or multi-core processors can result in as much as a 250% decrease in render time.  Though Civil 3D does not take advantage of multi-core processing, having multiple processors can still be beneficial since it enables you to run processes, such as anti-virus and firewall software, as well as other applications—such as Outlook—on separate processors and provide a more dedicated processor for AutoCAD Civil 3D. If you are a user who multitasks throughout the day and runs several applications at the same time, you may see added benefits in multiple or multi-core processors.

When contemplating hard drives, you should consider the data transfer rate.  Faster data transfer rates will help decrease the time it takes to open Civil 3D, as well as load and save drawings that are stored locally.  In addition, a faster transfer rate can increase performance when utilizing the hard drive for virtual memory, especially with 32-bit operating systems.

Beyond hardware and operating system changes, there are tactics you can implement to improve the performance of your day-to-day work in Civil 3D.  These include

  • Using code set styles with no fill or a solid fill. Stay away from hatch patterns.
  • Avoid using the option to grid clip profile views until producing construction documents.  When working with pipe networks, turn off hatching, pipe cleanup and masking until producing construction documents.  Using the option ‘Display as boundary’ is also optimal.
  • Use single-label components versus multiples.
  • When working with surfaces use 1) external point files versus COGO points, 2) surface snapshots when possible, and 3) Level of Detail (LOD) display
  • When working with corridors, turn off rebuild automatically and don’t display regions you aren’t working with. Additionally, create cross sections in a separate drawing.

This combination of operating system, hardware, and workflow adjustments can help to optimize your experience working with AutoCAD Civil 3D.

Authors: Karen Weiss, Transportation and Land Infrastructure Industry Marketing Manager, Autodesk; Jason Hickey, Senior Support Specialist, Autodesk

OpenCL Will Rock the CAD World, Part 4: What You Should Do About It Now

June 2, 2011 2 comments

So far in this series, we’ve talked about why you want OpenCL, how it works, and how it will affect your CAD workflow. The question remains: what should you do about OpenCL right now?

Avoiding the VHS vs. Betamax War

OpenCLArguably one of the most important elements of OpenCL is that it is an open standard, not controlled by any one vendor and not limited to one kind of graphics cards or CPU. Microsoft has DirectCompute. Nvidia has the proprietary GPU-only CUDA.  But OpenCL is vendor neutral with incredible momentum and the only solution that is designed for the next generation of heterogeneous computing coming from Intel and AMD.

Heterogeneous Computing Makes OpenCL Even More Relevant

Heterogeneous computing is the new term you will hear to refer to integrated CPUs and GPUs on a single die  (e.g., AMD’s Fusion APUs or Intel’s Sandy Bridge). This is the future of mobile, handheld and desktop computers.  The APU design is both more power efficient and solves the problem of data transfer latencies between the CPU and GPU.

This shift in processor design makes OpenCL even more relevant and ubiquitous. Because GPU and CPU are on the same die, there is no bandwidth or bus latencies when transferring data between CPU and GPU. OpenCL code runs full throttle.  For additional performance, add in a discrete workstation graphics board. Any OpenCL-savvy application will automatically and seamlessly take advantage of the additional compute power.

What’s a CAD User to Do Now?

Chances are you already have a workstation graphics card in your desktop or mobile workstation. What you want are applications that take advantage of OpenCL.  The best way to accelerate this is to contact your preferred CAD/CAE software vendor (e.g. ANSYS, Autodesk, CEI, Dassault, ESI, Intelligent Light, MCS, Siemens to name a few) and ask them when they will be adding OpenCL for new features or to accelerate existing features in their application.  Most of the significant players are already working on it, so your voice just helps them get their products to market faster.

I’m going to be following the upcoming AMD Fusion Developer Summit very closely. Much of this conference is focused on OpenCL, so I am expecting to see some interesting announcements and demonstration that show off OpenCL capabilities.  I’ll post updates as I hear them.

Author: Tony DeYoung

OpenCL Will Rock the CAD World, Part 3: How It Will Affect Your Workflow

May 31, 2011 3 comments

The first post in this series discussed why you want OpenCL. The second post described how it works. This post discusses how OpenCL will affect your workflow.

Below are some “compute” examples of where OpenCL will impact the CAD workflow:

  • Linear algebra
  • Signal/Audio/Image Processing/Video
  • Finite difference method app
  • Finite-element solving and direct solvers
  • Finite particle Method FPM and airbag simulation
  • Constraint Solving
  • Contact search / contact analysis for nonlinear simulation
  • Post-processing
  • CAD modeling engine
  • Boolean operation, interference and clearance calculation
  • Model tessellations
  • Hidden-line removal
  • Graphics visualization and rendering
  • Injection molding flow simulation
  • Cloth simulation
  • NC tool positioning and material removal simulation
  • Robotics and plant automation with robot tool path planning
  • Data sorting and database operations. See PostgreSQL with OpenCL.
ANSYS FLUENT

Internal combustion engine modeled using ANSYS FLUENT. Image courtesy of ANSYS.

NX Nastran

Finite element analysis of a helicopter crank mechanism using NX Nastran from Siemens PLM Software.

The greatest impact for CAD and designer productivity will be workflows where there is a tight coupling between visualization and compute or optimization and visualization. Examples are simulation-based optimizations and design studies on full vehicles (from automobiles to aeronautics to yacht design).

The Holy Grail of Rendering: Real-Time Ray Tracing

I’m a visual guy attracted to shiny spherical balls that reflect the environment off of their surface, i.e., ray tracing. OpenCL is a formidable tool to accelerate any ray tracing application by at least an order of magnitude. To me perhaps the most interesting right now is Caustic Graphics and OpenRL (Open Ray Tracing Library), their standard for writing ray tracing applications that execute across heterogeneous compute platforms. OpenRL uses OpenCL to take advantage of any GPU in the system (add-in board or APU) to accelerate ray tracing.

Ray Tracing

Ray Tracing

As a note: Apple developed OpenCL (before submitting to the open standards Khronos Group).  Apple is already a major investor in Imagination Technologies, which recently bought Caustic Graphics.  My conclusion: it is only a matter of time before you see the benefits of OpenRL/OpenCL on iOS devices.

Next I’ll discuss what you should do about OpenCL right now.

Author: Tony DeYoung

OpenCL Will Rock the CAD World, Part 2: How It Works

May 20, 2011 6 comments

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

OpenCL Will Rock the CAD World, Part 1: Why You Want It

May 18, 2011 8 comments

OpenCLMost 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).

The next post in this series will discuss how OpenCL works.

Author: Tony DeYoung

Hardware for the CAD Professional, Part 3: Processors

April 13, 2011 16 comments

In part 1 of Hardware for the CAD Professional, we reviewed the basics of system requirements. In part 2, we defined some commonly used terms. Now let’s look at processors in your hardware and how they can affect your workflow.

Processors, Cores and Background Processing

The heart of your system is the processor, and these days that processor might beat with more than one heart. While the headlong advance towards higher and higher processor clock speeds has waned somewhat, multi-core processors have become much more sophisticated. At the same time, more applications are supporting multi-threading, including the most capable design and visualization software packages. The move to 64-bit operating systems has been fueled by the ready accessibility of processors that will run such software and take advantage of its support for a larger memory model.

Active graph of multiple cores in application

Active graph of multiple cores in application

Watching an active graph of multiple cores in application is informative in that you can see tasks being assigned to and finished by each of the operative cores. Some applications, including AutoCAD, use some multitasking if multiple processors are available, but only in limited ways — for example in handling the interface and on-screen display. Visualization products such as Autodesk’s 3ds Max make more extensive use of multitasking and multicore processors. Often the cache size of the chip, bus speed, and dual vs. triple channel memory has a greater impact on performance than an application’s multitasking abilities — at least at present.

What Should I Buy?

Since multitasking and 64-bit operating systems have become the norm for CAD and Visualization software, it certainly makes sense to have one or more multi-core processors in any new system that you anticipate purchasing. When it’s time for me to purchase a new system, I tend to get whatever is the fastest and most capable processor available at the time of purchase. This ensures that I have a speedy system at present and that it won’t be obsolete for a longer period of time. As I see it, you can put in the money now and reap the benefits, rather than paying sooner when your system becomes too slow for the work you’re doing.

Before purchasing a new workstation, do your research on processors — what’s coming, when it’s expected, and what features and benefits does it bring. Also have a look at the socket it uses — will it allow upgrading processors in the future without having to purchase a new motherboard?

Next, how much RAM do you need?

Author: Ron LaFon

How GPC-Based Accelerator Technology and Multi-Threading Support Can Improve TurboCAD and DoubleCAD Performance

April 6, 2011 Leave a comment

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.

Multi-Threading Support

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

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