HP Pioneers 64-bit Computing

6 Jan, 2004 By: Arnie Williams

Hewlett-Packard Itanium workstations run on a 64-bit chip codeveloped by Hewlett-Packard and Intel.
When the South African design firm EPAQ began to stake out the kind of computing resources it needed to design an eleven-story, fully automated parking garage, it ran up against the limitations of its 32-bit workstations. The megaproject, destined to include more than 500,000 components, required 3.7GB of memory just to open the model and between 4.7GB and 6GB to do any serious work. If the firm were to use its Pentium III workstations with their 2GB RAM limitations, design engineers would have to break the project down into 22 subassemblies and divide these among six engineers, who would need to collaborate to get an overall view of the model.

How Does 64-bit Computing Compare to 32-bit?
Word LengthMathematical ExpressionRelative Scale
8-bit 2^8 = 256 Business card
16-bit 2^16 = 65,536 Desktop
32-bit 2^32 = 4.29E+09 City block
64-bit 2^64 = 1.84E+19 Surface of the Earth

One option was to train engineers on UNIX and move to 64-bit RISC workstations, but doing so would have been costly and time consuming. A more affordable option recently became available. By using newly developed Itanium workstations from Hewlett-Packard, running on a 64-bit chip codeveloped by Hewlett-Packard and Intel, engineers could achieve the same computing power as they could with UNIX, without having to retrain on an unfamiliar platform or with unfamiliar software. The Itanium workstations-the first ever used in South Africa on a design project-allowed EPAQ engineers to stay with PTC design and analysis software running on Windows XP and to open the complete 500,000-component model on a single workstation.

"The assembly opened in just one hour," says Anton Greeff, an EPAQ senior design engineer. "We were able to spin this massive model right on the screen in real time. Now we can perform top-level interference checking and collaborative fly-through design reviews on a level of detail previously unthinkable for a desktop workstation."

Intel and Hewlett-Packard's foray into 64-bit PCs got off to a less than stellar start in 2001 with the now infamous floating-point problem and other quirks with Itanium 1. But by 2002, the introduction of the Itanium 2 solved these problems and achieved efficiencies all around that made the platform a more serious contender with the likes of SUN and other UNIX-based heavyweights. By fall 2003, MCAD applications were being released, primarily in the CAE industry, that offered the kind of design gains experienced by South Africa's EPAQ. In addition to CAD vendors PTC (Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire) and UGS (Unigraphics NX2), companies that are household names in the CAE and simulation market, such as ANSYS and MSC.Software, have optimized products for the new 64-bit platform.

This is just the beginning, according to Dan Nordhues, director of Itanium/PA RISC product marketing for workstations global business unit at Hewlett-Packard. For the near term, Hewlett-Packard will continue to take a three-platform approach to the market, developing 32-bit workstations, 64-bit RISC workstations, and the newer Itanium-based 64-bit workstations. "Looking out to the future over several years," he says, "we see a migration to 64-bit computing. We're designing all of our platforms to make that transition as seamless as possible." Moreover, the 64-bit workstations will also run Windows XP Professional 64-bit edition, HP-UX, or Linux Red Hat operating systems.

Even though CAD applications just began to optimize for 64-bit PCs this past fall, Hewlett-Packard considers CAD/CAE one of the biggest markets for Itanium workstations. "On the styling side of automotive," he says "engineers are still squarely into 32-bit computing. But for higher-end CAD/CAE engineers who use design and simulation software and simulation software from PTC, UGS, Dassault Systemés, ANSYS, MSC.Nastran, and the like-there's definitely a need for the use of 64-bit systems. Even if they don't exceed the 1.8GB barrier, with a 32-bit workstation systems slow down when the model size gets large. And they slow down considerably during analysis when loads get applied. The Itanium has more physical memory that stimulates efficient interactive performance."

As with the introduction of any new platform, a certain amount of education is needed to get the market's attention. Nordhues notes that some of the engineers he has visited mistakenly think of the Itanium 2 as if it were a Pentium 4-with just a bit more power, memory, and speed. "That's hardly the case," he says, noting that 64-bit computing has 4 billion times the capacity of 32-bit.

A number of mainstream mechanical CAD software developers are hard at work behind the scenes, says Nordhues, and you can expect to see the results of that in the spring of 2004. On the other hand, the majority of mainstream CAD applications on the market today are optimized for 32-bit computing, and that platform will continue to meet the needs of many.

The idea that a 64-bit Itanium workstation will be the platform of the future is not an overnight realization at Hewlett-Packard, says Nordhues. Hewlett-Packard research and development has been looking at this technology for more than a decade with the idea of identifying technology that will be pertinent two decades from now. "That's how we view this platform," he says. "It's the future and we're preparing for it now."

64-bit Mechanical CAD Today
Perhaps you are part of a design team that subdivides design projects because of your 32-bit PC’s 2GB RAM barrier, resulting in longer design cycles and unwieldy collaboration requirements. Maybe you’ve added CAE analysis software to your design portfolio, but find that even modest simulations and FEA bog down your PC to almost a standstill. Here are a couple of workstation configurations, recommended by Hewlett-Packard, that can meet your project needs and demonstrate the power of 64-bit computing.

Mechanical CAD Software: UGS PLM Solutions Unigraphics NX2, PTC Pro/ENGINEER Wildfire
CAE Software: ANSYS, MSC.Nastran

Platform for large design models (2–6GB); starting at $3,973
  • HP Workstation zx2000
  • Microsoft Windows XP Professional 64-bit edition
  • 1.4GHz 1.5MB L3 cache
  • 4–8GB ECC RAM
  • 73GB Ultra SCSI disk (15K rpm)
  • NVIDIA Quadro4 980 XGL graphics card
  • CD-RW drive
  • One or two 200 LCD monitors (1600×1200)
  • Platform for power users; starting at $5,714
  • HP Workstation zx6000
  • Microsoft Windows XP Professional 64-bit edition, HP-UX or Red Hat Linux
  • Two 1.5GHz 6MB L3 cache
  • 8–24GB ECC RAM
  • Two 73GB Ultra SCSI disk (15K rpm)
  • ATI FireGL X1-256p graphics card
  • CD-RW drive
  • Two TFT 200 LCD monitors (3200×1200 total pixels)

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