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.
We’re talking about what you can do with the older CAD hardware systems after an upgrade in this two-part series. The first section reviewed possible internal needs. Now we’ll look at what to do with hardware systems that are surplus or simply too outdated to be reused.
Note: before donating or recycling old computer equipment, consider your data security needs. If your CAD data is proprietary or classified, take steps to make sure you don’t inadvertently transfer information along with the hardware system.
3. Donate It
If you really have no use for an old machine or two around the office, call your local nonprofit organization or school district. Sometimes tech schools also accept old computers to use in labs or as training tools. Many organizations have minimum donation standards, so be sure to ask to make sure your potential donation truly meet their needs. There’s no point donating a machine that will only be a burden, not an asset.
Many charitable organizations, like Goodwill, take your old computer parts and sell them to raise money. Look for a company in your area.
4. Recycle It
It’s important that you do not throw your old computer parts into the trash. Computers include many hazardous chemicals that should not end up in landfills. Many states have a law about the disposal and recycling of electronics.
Find a reputable recycler in your area that will dispose of the electronics properly. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of organizations that accept computers as donations or for recycling on their website. If you don’t know of any local organizations that accept computer systems, start here.
Make a Plan for Your Old CAD Systems Too
Some PC manufacturers have their own donation programs. Dell, for example, works with a foundation that provides computers to disabled children (www.dell.com/recycling). We recommend asking manufacturers or retailers if they have an in-house donation or recycling program when you are planning your software and hardware upgrade, which can simplify the logistics for your IT team.
What do you do with your old CAD systems after a hardware upgrade? Let us know in the comments below.
Author: Cadalyst Staff
Exponential growth in the capabilities of CAD software eventually will require companies to upgrade CAD hardware systems so an organization can benefit from the new design functions. The overall goal of any upgrade should be to maximize these benefits to improve the company’s workflow (and the bottom line).
Here at CADspeed, we’ve helped you plan a CAD software and hardware upgrade with your IT department with this philosophy in mind. But once the upgrade is complete, what should you do with the older CAD hardware systems?
First we’ll look at the possible internal needs within an organization.
1. Not All CAD Operators Have the Same Needs
The truth is, not every CAD user may need the latest and greatest hardware. Many organizations have employees performing different levels of CAD work. High-level users obviously should be the first in line for upgrades. Will their older machines work for users who aren’t doing 3D rendering or CAE work?
Naturally, the entire CAD department needs to work together on projects, so prevent obvious conflicts that could occur on different operating systems or software versions, for example. You want your team to be as efficient and effective as possible. The point is, take a good look at how your CAD department functions and make sure your CAD hardware systems are meeting your needs.
2. Non-CAD Employees
Older CAD hardware still may have a lot of life left in it for non-CAD users. Systems that were cutting edge only three or four years ago for CAD may be still be perfectly usable for other staff members who won’t ever open a CAD file. Managers, administrators, support staff and assistants could extend the life of older systems, which are still perfectly capable of running less-powerful software.
For example, if you have employees who use mainly email, web browsers and basic office programs, older CAD systems may run these less-intensive software applications without any problem. Take a look at your entire organization, not just the CAD department.
Author: Cadalyst Staff
What’s the difference between a workstation or consumer-grade PC, and why should you care? Well, ten to fifteen years ago, no one had trouble distinguishing between one and the other. Workstations were very expensive, high-performance, proprietary, 3D-equipped RISC or UNIX boxes. PCs were lower-cost, lower-quality toys that couldn’t handle 3D.
But all that has changed.
Economy of Scale
Spurred on by technological advances funded by the huge economies of scale in the broader PC markets, workstation OEMs such as HP, Sun and SGI got out of the component-making business, leaving that to independent hardware vendors (IHVs) such as Intel, AMD and NVIDIA. As a result, workstations today share technology with PCs and enjoy the economy-of-scale benefits that come with mass-market production.
That raises the question: If the guts of the PC and the guts of the workstation are the same, why pay a premium for the latter? Interestingly, those exorbitant workstation premiums of the past are long gone. Yes, you can still spend your entire system budget on a single high-end graphics card, but today’s entry-level system — which more than 80% of desktop workstation buyers choose (according to Jon Peddie Research) — can sell for only about $100 more than a similarly configured PC.
Independent Software Vendor Certification
Although you don’t have to pay much of a premium for a workstation, there are compelling reasons to do so. There’s a whole laundry list of benefits to be had, but at a minimum you’ll get independent software vendor (ISV) certification, meaning your CAD software developer has tested the hardware and vouches for its reliability, and in most cases, you’ll get a professional graphics card as well.
“It is important that CAD users select an ISV-certified workstation to help ensure that the demanding applications they depend on run smoothly, right out of the box,” said Greg Weir, director of Precision Workstation Product and ISV Marketing at Dell. “[ISV-certified hardware] comes with supported drivers to help eliminate issues and increase performance after the point of sale. This intense level of testing and development between an OEM and the ISV only comes with workstations.”
Not All Graphics Cards are Created Equal
In contrast to the graphics cards sought by gamers, professional graphics processing units (GPUs) enable special rendering modes unique to CAD in general, and often to your specific application as well. Drivers from AMD and NVIDIA optimize the quality and performance for common tasks such as rendering AutoCAD Smooth lines and Gooch shaders. Try to render the same visuals on noncertified, gamer-class hardware, and AutoCAD will turn off hardware acceleration, dropping your rendering to a relative crawl.
Many such entry-level models incorporate integrated graphics processing — that is, no discrete graphics card. Although in our opinion this option is not adequate for most CAD applications, it does offer improved graphics performance compared with a standard PC. According to Wes Shimanek, workstation product manager at Intel, “If you have been buying a PC to do CAD, you’ll want to rethink that investment and consider [a workstation]. This system offers you better performance for similar dollars to the PC you have been using.”
Price and performance generally increase as you climb the workstation ladder, and so do heat, nose and power consumption. These metrics, which were of low or no concern years ago, are top of mind today.
We’re all looking to cut costs and go greener; electricity is used by your new machine, of course, but also in cooling the office space that the machine heats up. Remember the heat output of a workstation impacts the company’s overall utility bills. If you multiple that effect by the number of workstations in the office, it can have a measurable influence.
Although it might be easy to dismiss the concern over noise, we all know that nothing puts a damper on your productivity like the incessant whir of all those fans moving air through that desktop chassis. So how do you quantify the noise? Big buyers are actually measuring decibels now, before even checking out price tags and performance specs.
But for the rest of us without access to acoustics chambers, the basic premise is straightforward: the more watts the machine consumes, the higher your electric bill, the more heat is produced, and the greater the air flow necessary to cool it, meaning more noise.
Where’s the greatest power consumption? For anyone who’s peered inside a chassis and seen the big heat sinks and fan sinks (with an active fan on top of the chip), you know the CPUs and GPUs are notorious problem areas. Über-clocked CPUs and GPUs consuming more than 150 watts mean more fans and more noise.
Testing a Workstation
Now every OEM is paying attention to more effective chassis design to optimize air flow and cooling, and these efforts are noticeably reducing noise. However, system noise is difficult to ascertain unless you can try out the unit yourself, so if unexpectedly high noise or power consumption is a major concern, see if you can buy at a brick-and-mortar store to more easily test it out and return, if necessary.
Otherwise, just keep in mind that choosing the fastest CPUs and GPUs — and opting for a dual processor for either — will drive up power consumption quickly, and chances are more noise will follow.