Posts Tagged ‘AMD’

Are Intel’s CPU-integrated GPUs Good Enough for CAD? (Part 1)

July 11, 2012 1 comment

Intel had been promising that its latest generations of graphics-enabled CPUs would make CAD professionals think twice about paying extra dollars for a discrete graphics card on their next workstations. And it appears those promises are holding true … not in dramatic fashion, but valid nonetheless.

The thought of CPU-integrated graphics is a new proposition for buyers of professional-caliber looking to speed their CAD workflows. Prior to Intel’s Westmere generation, released in early 2010, virtually ever workstation shipped with a professional-brand graphics add-in card installed. The vast majority have been Nvidia Quadro models, with a minority share of units bearing AMD’s FirePro brand.

Westmere’s CPU+GPU combination first raised the question — could integrated graphics perform well enough for CAD duties to allow buyers to save some cash on the add-in card? The answer in 2010 was generally “no.” Performance was not up to snuff, even for entry-class CAD use, and as a result, most workstation OEMs still required the presence of a Quadro or FirePro card in any machine leaving the factory. That choice made sense, as the last thing HP or Dell would want for their professional customers is a poor graphics experience that might turn them off workstations altogether.

But then came 2011 and the launch of the Sandy Bridge generation of die-integrated graphics. With Sandy Bridge, Intel more than anything else focused performance improvements in graphics. And for the first time, the company began actively marketing its graphics for professional use (the “P” prefix in the P3000  signifying “professional” grade). The combination of Intel’s posture and Sandy Bridge’s substantially improved graphics were enough to get OEMs like HP to (for the first time) allow buyers to choose integrated graphics and pass on the graphics add-in card.

Now, Sandy Bridge’s graphics can’t compete head-to-head with Quadro or FirePro … it’s not intended to. What it is intended to do is provide competent graphics for CAD professionals who don’t have the highest demand for performance and whose budgets are especially tight. How did Intel do on its goals? Well, a look in the past few quarters at the add-in card attach rates for low-end systems and the distribution of the add-in cards sold should give a clue.

Professional Graphics Class

Professional graphics unit share history, by class. (Source: Jon Peddie Research)

Anecdotally, OEMs are reporting that, while attach rates remain quite high, they have dropped with Sandy Bridge. And those reports seem to be validated by shipment numbers seen for professional graphics add-in card segments, specifically the low-cost Entry 3D segment. That segment sees steady gains over the years, for a logical reason … as average street prices fall and capabilities climb, the Entry class satisfies more and more of the workstation community. But then right around the start of 2011 — precisely when Sandy Bridge comes out of the chute in workstations like HP’s Z210 —Entry 3D shipments start to flatten and then decline (albeit modestly).

Next week, I’ll continue this discussion by explaining why Entry 3D sales more indicative than other segments of a possible erosion from integrated Sandy Bridge graphics.

Author: Alex Herrera

GPU-Accelerated Transparency for 3D CAD with Creo Parametric 2.0 and AMD FirePro

June 27, 2012 1 comment

Order Independent Transparency (OIT) in computer graphics programming terminology denotes any technique that can correctly render overlapping semi-transparent objects without having to sort them before they are being rendered. Rendering semi-transparent objects has always been a problem because the blending operation is order dependent: when a semi-transparent fragment is rendered, the underlying color (i.e. the background) is crucial for the final color to be correct.

OIT is a new option that can simply be enabled in Creo Parametric 2.0. With OIT, Creo Parametric 2.0 allows for pixel accurate rendering of overlapping semi-transparent objects without having to sort them before they are being rendered, providing up to 10 times performance of blended rendering in PRO/Engineer Wildfire 5.0 compared to when rendering transparency in Creo Parametric 2.0. This translates into less time waiting for your model to render and increased productivity over the long run.

This technique is easy to implement and add to an existing rendering pipeline: everything can be rendered as usual, semi-transparent or not. The technique here is fully implemented on the AMD FirePro professional graphics board, which totally frees the CPU from multiple render passes or face sorting. OIT only works with FirePro cards.

OIT assembles a pixel-accurate representation of the model and its surrounding geometry while maintaining user interactivity and visual quality. This creates a more practical transparent 3D viewpoint to continuously work within, helping improve the sense of design intuition and aid in better decision-making throughout the product development stages. It is also very accurate since the actual sorting that happens on the GPU is done per fragment.

The technique has a very low impact on the existing rendering pipeline and is therefore very easy to integrate in an existing rendering engine. As far as performance goes, the results speak for themselves: it achieves up to 10x faster frame rate compared to face sorting and regular blending.

OIT comparisons (GPU-accelerated Transparency)

Benchmarking graph showing 900%+ faster viewport
performance with Creo Parametric 2.0 OIT
accelerated transparency mode.

How It Works

The technique is based on the usage of an A-buffer, a simple list of fragments per pixel, in its simplest form as a linked list of fragments per pixel. First, all primitives are rasterized to the A-Buffer, writing some color value and some depth value (Red-Green-Blue-Alpha-Depth), one index buffer (RAT) is used to keep the number of fragments in this pixel. Finally, a full screen shader pass will sort that A-Buffer according to the depth value and do the blending for each fragment according to their sorted indices.

With and without OIT

OIT fixes visual artifacts caused by inaccurate “depth sorting” of the geometry that often happens in the older “blended mode”. This means some parts of the object are being rendered incorrectly with the old blended mode technology

With and without OIT

OIT also removes “jagged” triangles or distorted “banding” typically seen on objects that are used within the older “blended mode”.

Glass Effect with Fresnel

Some new effects that used to be very difficult to render correctly are now being made easy like glass effect with Fresnel.

Viewport performance with OIT enabled has been measured to increase up to ten times versus OIT disabled with transparency visual quality dramatically improved with pixel-accurate transparency rendering, solving visual artifact problems and z-ordering issues seen without OIT enabled. AMD developed the OIT implementation for PTC and the Creo Parametric 2.0 community, showing the company’s commitment to the market as an innovator – not just a product company.

For more information, visit the AMD FirePro website.

Dell Releases Four New CAD Workstation Models

May 30, 2012 3 comments

Spring has arrived, and the annual release of new CAD hardware is as dazzling as the blossoms on the trees outside. This season marks new beginnings, and the sense of renewal makes the CADspeed editors feel like digging into the latest releases and watching our hard work grow into something new and spectacular.

We found much to admire in Dell’s latest CAD hardware release, which comprises four new models featuring Intel microarchitecture and eight-core CPUs for multithreaded applications; generation three PCIe I/O support for improved visualization performance with next generation graphics; and up to 512 GB quad-channel memory for running large data sets in memory. They also offer the new NVIDIA Maximus technology, which allows users to run visualization and simulation tasks simultaneously. A range of professional-class graphics cards from AMD and NVIDIA is available, up to the AMD FirePro V7900 and NVIDIA Quadro 6000.

Systems are certified to support a variety of high-end design and engineering applications from companies including Autodesk, Dassault Systemes, PTC, Siemens PLM Software, Adobe, and ESRI.

System Specs

The Dell Precision T7600 is the most powerful and expandable workstation in the line, designed for working with massive data sets such as those integral to video, animation, engineering, simulation, and scientific analysis. It reportedly features some of the highest-performing CPU stacks, power supplies, and graphics power for a dual-socket system. It offers as many as two Intel Xeon E5-2687W 150-W processors with a total of 16 computational cores, a 1300-W, 90% efficiency power supply, up to 600 W of graphics, and up to four full x16 graphics slots.

The Dell Precision T5600 is designed for space-constrained environments that need substantial compute capability. The dual-socket workstation is built to support complex 3D modeling, creating film and video content, and performing complex engineering and analysis work. It features up to two Intel Xeon processors, each supporting eight processing cores, 128 GB of quad-channel ECC memory, and two power supply options of 635 W or 825 W.

The Dell Precision T3600 is built to carry mid-range workloads, offering a balance of performance and scalability for mainstream 3D, CAD, computer-aided-manufacturing, and digital content creation. Key features include Intel Xeon processor E5-1600 or E5-2600 family, two power supply options, and up to 64 GB 1600-MHz ECC or non-ECC memory.

The entry-level Dell Precision T1650 is designed for users who don’t need high-end power but understand the benefits and importance of running professional applications on a professional workstation, according to Dell. It will offer certified performance for professionals working with 2D CAD drawings and basic 3D models, editing photos, or developing web content. It will feature next-generation Intel Xeon processors, up to 75 W for graphics and new ISV and graphic certifications.


  • Dell Precision T7600 pricing starts at $2,149
  • Dell Precision T5600 pricing starts at $1,879
  • Dell Precision T3600 pricing starts at $1,099
  • Pricing for the T1650 pricing starts at $649

Author: CADspeed editors

Share Your FirePro Graphics Experience and Win a AMD FirePro V5900

February 13, 2012 Leave a comment

Nothing gets us more excited at CADspeed than the idea of free hardware, so check out AMD’s Experience FirePro! Sweepstakes from February 13-27, 2012. AMD wants to hear unbiased reality from end users — from the single designer using PhotoShop CS5 to the multi-person CAD shop using a range of DCC and CAD/CAE apps.

How to Enter

You can either:

  1. Post a message on Twitter that describes your experience with reliability, stability and compatibility for any recent* FirePro graphics cards. Be sure to include the hashtag #FireUserCAD in the message.
  2. Post a comment to the FireUser Blog describing your experience with reliability, stability and compatibility for any recent* FirePro graphic cards. This comment can be as short as one sentence or as detailed as a paragraph or two.

Comments and Tweets should represent real experiences — good, bad or indifferent.  As long as your experience references a recent* card, you are using an up-to-date driver, and you say what app(s) you are using, we want to hear what you have to say.

Examples of tweets that describe the quality, graphics card and software:

FirePro V7900 is fast, stable in CREO/Elements Pro + Keyshot workflow. Can’t live without Eyefinity #FireUserCAD

FirePro V4900 is performing as expected in SolidWorks 2011 running a 2 million polygon model #FireUserCAD

Driving 6 HD displays for studio broadcasting using Viz Engine and FirePro V9800. Glitches not an option.  #FireUserCAD

My new FirePro V5900 is outperforming my Quadro 2000 and shows no artifacts in CATIA #FireUserCAD

Once I cleared out old drivers and installed latest versions, FirePro V7800 started performing well in Maya 2011 #FireUserCAD

What to include if you comment:

Comments on FireUser can of course be longer and provide more detail including the applications you work in, how you have stressed the card and if you have any direct comparison using another card with these applications.

* Recent eligible graphic cards

Eligible graphic cards for the sweepstakes include the FirePro V3800, FirePro V3900, FirePro V4800, FirePro V4900, FirePro V5800, FirePro V5900, FirePro V7800, FirePro V7900, FirePro V8800 and FirePro V9800.

Official Rules

You can download a PDF copy of the official rules.


Remote Graphics and the Professional CAD Workstation, Part 4: Sustainability

October 11, 2011 3 comments

Sustainability and Remote GraphicsWe’re talking about remote graphics in this series. We’ve outlined the potential benefits for CAD users, the reduced hardware costs and the security advantages. This post will wrap up this discussion with some details about sustainability as well as some final comments.

Remote Graphics = Greener and More Sustainable

Ever notice the noise and heat in an office with just 5-10 CAD workstations? Imagine a big CAD firm running 100 workstations? Using remote graphics you replace the energy-hungry, heat-producing, noise-polluting workstations with quiet, cool thin zero clients. That translates to reduced AC costs and reduced stress in the workplace. Moreover since you can now use one rack-mounted workstation/graphics card for every 4 workers, you also reduce overall power consumption and costs. That is what sustainability is all about.

What About Microsoft’s RemoteFX?

You would think that with all of the marketing hype around RemoteFX (e.g., the FirePro 7900P/9800P and Nvidia Quadro/Tesla), that this would be a great solution for the CAD user — with claims of support for up to 25 users!  But alas, this is not a CAD solution.  Because the RemoteFX 3D display adapter driver in the virtual desktop is based on DirectX, it will not support OpenGL or OpenCL, so that eliminates most professional CAD/CAE applications.  Even for the  AutoDesk DirectX-accelerated apps, the hypervisor creates a virtual graphics driver. This means there are none of the CAD-specific optimizations typical in certified FirePro or Quadro drivers.

So while a great solution for general office use, full-motion video and very basic DirectX 3D apps, RemoteFX is not a viable solution for the professional CAD 2D or 3D market.

Remote Graphics Will Not Replace Your High-End Professional Workstation — Yet

I started this blog with somewhat of a strawman idea about using remote graphics to replace professional CAD workstations.

The real question is not if you should replace all of your high end workstations, but rather to examine when and where it makes economic and performance sense.

For the true CAD power user, remote graphics is not there yet in terms of matching performance with a dedicated local workstation with a top-of-the-line FirePro or Quadro-based graphics card.

But for users working on 2D drawings or moderate complexity 3D models:

  1. If you are a large company about to install new workstations or replace end-of-life existing workstations, you should carefully look at remote graphics as a way to significantly reduce costs and improve the ambient work environment.
  2. If you have real IP security issues where you need to tightly control what CAD information leaves the office, then PCoIP hardware on the remote graphics card and the zero client translates to heightened security for all users.  For the user who works with moderately complex CAD, a 1:1 remote graphics setup will not save costs, but it will increase security.

Author: Tony DeYoung

Remote Graphics and the Professional CAD Workstation, Part 3: Security and Service

October 4, 2011 3 comments

We’re talking about remote graphics in this series. We’ve outlined the potential benefits for CAD users and the reduced hardware costs, and now we’re going talk about the benefits for the heavy-duty 3D users.

Why Would You Need Remote Graphics for Heavy Duty 3D CAD?

Security Advantages of Remote Graphics for CADIn a word: security. With remote graphics solutions that include hardware accelerated PCoIP technologies (like the RG220), all transmissions are encrypted 128-bit AES. The data resides on the server and graphics card and never is at risk for theft (inadvertent or intentional) from the local machine. If the projects your company handles are super top secret, the IT admin can enable user authentication and peripheral (USB) authorization or even opt for zero clients without USB ports.

Think about engineering companies who do projects for government or large defense manufacturers. These sites might have hundreds of user and security truly matters.  Remote graphics give high performance, but eliminates many security issues.

For highest performance, one remote graphics card is mapped to one thin client.  The levels of performance in this kind of 1:1 scenario is basically about 90% what you can do on a FirePro V7800 (the pre-Cayman architecture).  So to be realistic about expectations, this is not top of the line performance, but it is more than adequate for many 3D projects. The big gain is security.

Reduce Time Servicing and Managing Systems

Imagine you have 100 employees doing basic CAD. With remote graphics, from a central location you can push out software updates, even while employees are working on the system.

For example, there is oil and gas company in Canada using the FirePro RG220 to push out computing set ups to remote oil prospecting sites up to 100 miles away. Because the cards use full PCoIP hardware display compression/security encryption, they provide fast connections with minimal latency that can tackle moderately complex 3D designs/GIS analyses.

In our final post, we’ll discuss sustainability advantages with remote graphics.

Author: Tony DeYoung

Remote Graphics and the Professional CAD Workstation, Part 2: Reduced Hardware Costs

September 29, 2011 4 comments

We’re talking about remote graphics in this series. We’ve outlined the potential benefits for CAD users, and now we’re going to get more specific.

The Remote Graphics 4:1 Advantage

Many companies are looking for ways to cut back on their IT spend and want to purchase hardware and software solutions that allowed them to do more with less. By implementing a remote graphics solution that is capable of supporting more than one user on zero clients, that’s fewer workstations and graphic cards you have to buy and support.

FirePro RG220 Remote Graphics card The FirePro RG220 Remote Graphics card for example, supports hardware-accelerated PCoIP compression and is capable of supporting up to four users on thin clients with a single professional graphics card and at least one quad-core CPU server running the Parallels Workstation Extreme 4.0 hypervisor.

At each users desk, in addition to keyboard, display and mouse, there is just a PCoIP-supporting thin or zero client that is mapped to the graphics card. And it doesn’t matter where these four individuals sit (well they do need to be within 100 miles). As long as they have a 10+ MB/sec network connection (sorry your 3G MiFi card won’t do the trick), they can use the remote computing solution.  For more complex modeling a 20-50MB connection is recommended (i.e., a standard office Ethernet LAN, Verizon Fios connection, or even my high-speed Comcast line).

Now obviously we aren’t talking about four users manipulating multi-million polygon 3D models and rendering.  That can tax a single high-end FirePro or Quadro card.  But in many engineering/CAD firms, many users are working on 2D AutoCAD DWG drawings or are working on medium-complexity 3D projects that would generally require the resources of a low-end 3D graphics card like the FirePro V4800.

Next up, we’ll outline the benefits for the heavy-duty 3D CAD user.

Author: Tony DeYoung

Remote Graphics and the Professional CAD Workstation, Part 1: Will It Work for You?

September 27, 2011 6 comments

Remote Graphics for CADThere is a growing demand for portability, energy conversation and cost savings in the CAD world — hence the movement to small form factor devices use of the cloud for review and commenting. But there still remains the need for complex 3D graphics, security and high performance computation.  Hence killer workstations and professional graphics cards like the FirePro or Quadro.

So how do you get the best of both?  Is it even possible and under what conditions?  This thought was exciting to me as I read all of the press releases talking about new remote graphics solutions tapping into professional workstation graphics cards.  So I decided to do some research beyond the marketing brochures in order to find out what is real today for remote graphics as a high performance and viable solution for professional CAD firms.

What is Remote Graphics for CAD?

In a nutshell remote graphics is the ability to have a full CAD computing experience — with display, keyboard and mouse — but the actual 2D/3D computing is done on a device that sits in the data center. The experience can be virtually (no pun intended) equivalent to a regular desktop workstation. In fact if you just sat down and started doing some basic CATIA work on one of these systems, you probably wouldn’t realize the workstation was missing from your desk until you went to power off the system, charge your phone or save files to a USB thumb drive.

When Would You Really Want/Benefit from Remote Graphics?

If you are truly a 3D power user or if money, desktop space, green-ness and security are  total non-issues for you, then don’t even think about remote graphics.  It is not for you.

But as a CTO or IT manager responsible for outfitting several employees who work on less complex designs and models, or outfitting employees/contractors working on sensitive projects (at any level of complexity), current remote graphics solutions can help to:

  1. Support more CAD employees with less equipment
  2. Keep security tight on sensitive 3D/2D CAD projects
  3. Reduce time spent servicing and managing systems
  4. Reduce power and cooling costs

Sounds interesting, huh? Next we’ll discuss these benefits in more detail.

Author: Tony DeYoung

How to Keep Your Workstation Graphics Card Updated, Part 3: Rules of Thumb

August 11, 2011 2 comments

In this series, we’ve talked about why it’s so hard to keep your graphics card driver updated and what to do about it. In this post, I’ll give you my rules of thumb for updating.

The rule of thumb I use is to try out most updated certified driver from the list of apps that you are using.  So if AutoCAD 2011 is certified for v8.773, but  ANSYS 13 is only is certified to v8.43, try using v8.773. If you encounter an issue in ANSYS, I would recommend dropping back to the last working certified driver or the lowest common denominator certified driver.

What I Want to See from AMD and Nvidia

In the ideal world what I would like to see from AMD and Nvidia is for the Catalyst Control Center software (or Nvidia equivalent) to let me set a weekly or monthly update schedule to automatically check for updates.

It should also offer the option to check manually for when I don’t have a continuous Internet connection or am regularly behind a firewall. If the software finds a new driver version to download, it lets me know (as well as clearly letting me know what performance enhancements or bug fixes are included in the driver).  Most importantly, it would let me scan my system for applications that are ISV certified and indicates if they are or are not certified for this new version.  So at a glance I could see which of my critical apps are certified for the driver update. Then I can decide whether or not to update.

Hopefully I will see this kind of feature in a future Control Center update. Until then, I will keep checking the CAD website for driver update news. I also have an Outlook calendar alert set to remind me to check the AMD site every 3 months. I look forward to the next update and performance boost!

CAD/CAE ISVs Links for the Latest Certified Drivers

AutoCAD or any other Autodesk products


Creo Elements/Pro  (formally called Pro/ENGINEER—at V5 they rebranded it to this marketing name) & Creo Element/Direct (formally Cocreate)


HyperWorks 11:


CEI Ensight:

Bentley MicroStation:

(V7900 and V5900 are certified and will be posted here soon)

NX, Teamcenter, Technomatix, Solid Edge:

Side Effects Houdini

Know of other good resources? Add them to the comments below!

Author: Tony DeYoung

How to Keep Your Workstation Graphics Card Updated, Part 2: What Should You Do?

August 9, 2011 2 comments

My last post talked about why it is so hard to keep graphics card drivers updated. This post will help you figure out what you should do about it.

One option is to check the ISVs website to see what they post as the latest driver to use with their product. I will post several links to common ISV pages at the end of this blog series. However two caveats regarding checking the ISV’s website:

  1. Not every ISV posts the actual driver that they certify. They might just list the latest certified driver version and then you have to go to the AMD site to actually download it.
  2. The ISV may have certified a new driver, but be slow to actually list or post it, lagging behind by a few weeks or more.

What About Automatic Checking in the Application?

Autodesk AutoCAD, Inventor and Revit all support automatic checking. They have an XML that checks what the user is using and if it doesn’t match what Autodesk certified / tested then the user is notified. Also, these applications will notify the user if there is an updated driver that was tested/certified. This is a great per-application feature. Unfortunately this is not common practice for other software vendors. ( I encourage you to write to your favorite CAD vendor and get them to implement this!) So if you want to know what the latest driver is for your particular software, then you need to check the AMD website or the particular software vendor’s site.

Where to Get the Latest Drivers?

From AMD

For me the simplest thing is to go to the AMD website:

This page is updated every other week with the latest information on which drivers are certified for which versions of software using a particular graphics card.  So if it is on the AMD site, the ISV has certified that version of the driver for accuracy and performance.

AMD Graphics Card Driver Updates

From Nvidia

If you own a Quadro you can do the same thing from their list of certified drivers (although their page interface is a bit more confusing, listing every software version with every driver and card at once).

Nvidia Graphics Card Driver Updates

For the last post in this series, I’ll give you some rules of thumb for updating.

Author: Tony DeYoung