MCAD Tech News (#306)26 Apr, 2011 By: Cadalyst Staff
Entry-Level Workstations Get Boost from New Intel Xeon Processor E3-1200 Products
Chipset offers integrated graphics plus a list of features previously found only in high-end systems.
Editor's note: Through a sponsorship by Dell and Intel, Cadalyst editors bring you this feature, part of a special series of articles designed to educate CAD users and managers about the benefits and realities of professional workstations. Find even more information at the new CADspeed blog.
By Nancy Spurling Johnson
Last month, Intel launched the Intel Xeon processor E3-1200 product family, and this month the entry-level professional workstations based on the new chipset are making their way onto the market.
The good news for the CAD and engineering community is that the Intel Xeon processor E3-1200 product family brings desktop workstation–class performance within reach of those who previously might have found workstations too costly. We're already hearing about systems based on the Intel Xeon processor E3-1200 line priced as low as $500 or $600. Of course, you can pay much more if your work demands more power and your budget permits.
These entry-level workstations are worth considering, especially for mechanical engineers, drafters, or other manufacturing professionals just beginning a foray into 3D modeling — or those who are firmly planted in a 2D workflow but want to increase system response, productivity, and up time. The workstations are also said to be good choices for academia, finance, and even power office users.
Integrated Processor and Graphics
Optimized for use in lower-power, smaller-footprint systems, the new Intel Xeon processor E3-1200 product family's most noteworthy innovation is how it integrates the CPU and graphics engines on the same die for the first time in entry-level workstation product. Thor Sewell, business strategy director, workstation market at Intel, said, "That means visual and 3D graphics capabilities that were once only available to entry workstation users with discrete graphics cards will now be accessible to anyone with an entry workstation powered by the Intel Xeon E3-1200 product family with Intel HD Graphics P3000." Graphics are certified for AutoCAD, Autodesk Inventor, Adobe CS4, and other professional applications.
The 32-nanometer micro-architecture also enables cache sharing and supports Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0 for graphics and general power acceleration, recognizing when a workstation is underutilized and redirecting performance to where it can most benefit the user. Hyperthreading allows up to eight-way processing on a quad-core system.
The entry-level processors offer several features previously available only on high-end systems, including
- Intel Advanced Vector Extensions (AVX), which increases floating-point computation capabilities, specifically supporting 3D modeling and other complex applications;
- Intel vPro, which offers broad security features that make it easier for IT to manage workstations, both physically and remotely; and
- error-correcting code (ECC) memory, which automatically detects and corrects 99.9998% of memory errors, improving data integrity and system up time, especially for working with large and complex designs, according to Intel.
Sewell explained that as users transition to 64-bit applications, the increased memory demands result in more single-bit crashes. "ECC minimizes or corrects that, so there are fewer failures," he said. "Now you can work with larger models and assemblies without so much risk of system crashes and lost hours and data."
The new chips offer improved power efficiency as well, Sewell said. "You get processing and graphics power in 95 watts," whereas previously the processor alone was 95 watts and a discrete graphics card was another 100 watts.
Many workstations based on the new Intel Xeon processor E3-1200 product family will have undergone rigorous testing and will be ISV certified to support CAD and other professional applications — meaning the software developer has attested that the system is equipped to run that application reliably. Be sure to pay close attention to the certifications of any models you consider to ensure the best possible software performance.
Focused on Workstations
Looking back, technology research firm IDC has reported a base of 3 million workstation users in the United States, Sewell told Cadalyst. Half of those are using single-socket desktop workstations (divided evenly among entry-level and mid-range systems); 20 percent are using high-end, dual-socket desktop workstations; and the remaining 30 percent are using mobile workstations.
Rather than growing its share of the CPU market, where it already dominates, Intel focuses on efforts such as increasing the number of professional workstation users by upgrading them from less-lucrative PCs. Indeed, Intel reports that double-digit growth is forecast in the professional workstation market, and the Intel Xeon processor E3-1200 product family is designed specifically for professional workstation use. All told, we can be certain that we'll be seeing a lot more activity from Intel on the workstation front.
A late-surfacing technical issue, now resolved, led to a recall of processors released early this year and delayed the launch of some entry-level workstations built on the platform.
Watch Cadalyst.com and Cadalyst magazine for workstation reviews to come.
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Nancy Johnson is Cadalyst's editor-in-chief.
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