AEC Tech News (#340)

3 Sep, 2014 By: Cadalyst Staff

Allocate Your Workstation Budget According to Your Workload

Uncertain about how best to spend your hardware dollars? A careful evaluation of the type of work to be done — and these guidelines — will provide the answers.

By Alex Shows

The most important criterion for configuring the right workstation is knowing how it will be used. The intended purpose determines which components are critical to performance and which are optional or unnecessary. In addition, the more you know about how the workstation will be used, the more performance you'll be able to achieve per dollar spent. Start by identifying the various modes of use, then weigh the importance and frequency of those tasks; that way, you can more effectively determine the right workstation for the job.

Computational vs. Interactive

You should begin by considering the type of work to be done on the workstation, sorting the major tasks into two categories: computational or interactive. Computational tasks involve little user interaction and are characterized by high utilization of all available resources in an automated sequence. Rendering frames of video, integrated finite element analysis, motion simulation, and computing the downforce of a new racecar spoiler design are all examples of computational workloads. Interactive workloads, in contrast, involve heavy user interaction and are characterized by sporadic peaks of high utilization separated by idle periods where the user is thinking about the next interaction. Viewing and rotating an engine model, annotating the HVAC routing through a multi-story building, and animating a complex rigged model in a 3D modeling program are all examples of interactive workloads.

Dividing the usage model into computational and interactive buckets helps to determine the necessity of components such as dual socket support and the number of memory channels populated, as well as the importance of particular attributes of those components, such as peak possible central processing unit (CPU) frequency. For purely computational workloads, multi-socket platforms can provide great performance improvements by reducing the amount of time a task requires, so long as the software processing the work is able to scale in performance as processor count increases. If the application does not scale across the available processors, either due to architectural or licensing limitation, the additional cost and complexity of the second socket may not be justified.

A CAD user, for example, who spends his or her time editing and annotating a design on a workstation, and then submits simulation or rendering jobs to a separate system (perhaps in a data center), would benefit much less from a multisocket workstation when compared with a user that spends most of his or her time in simulation and analysis of designs. There is a wide variety of standalone and plugin-based simulation, rendering, and analysis tools available, in addition to those that may be integrated into a CAD suite. These tools, unlike interactive modeling, typically scale quite well across as many cores as possible, including those provided by additional populated sockets.

Similar to the question of a second CPU socket, some computational workloads may scale in performance by using the graphics processing unit (GPU, familiarly called a graphics card) as a computational resource. To understand the differences between CPU and GPU, it may help to think of the GPU as a dragster and the CPU as a rally car. Given a set of data (fuel), and a straight track (predictable, repeated instructions), the GPU is incredibly fast in a straight line. On the other hand, the rally car has a navigator inside that is like the CPU's branch prediction algorithm, providing hints to the driver about the turns coming up and how best to negotiate them, while the driver is adept at quickly responding to road conditions around a highly complex track. Many computationally intensive applications are improving performance through the use of the GPU. Thus it's important to determine whether your application can make use of the GPU, and what type of GPU might be required. Read more »

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Alex Shows is a workstation performance engineer at Dell.

Mark Your Calendar: AEC Events

October 7–9, 2014
Berlin, Germany
INTERGEO is billed as the world's leading trade fair for geodesy, geoinformation, and land management. This event will include more than 500 exhibitors from 30 countries. Read more »

Dallas BIMForum 2014
October 9–10, 2014
Dallas, Texas
With the theme of "Optimizing Construction with BIM," the Dallas BIMForum will feature four tracks including "Designing for Construction Optimization" and "On the Job Site." Read more »

AVEVA World Summit 2014
October 14–16, 2014
Berlin, Germany
This event will provide an opportunity for delegates to learn about new developments at AVEVA and to share their own experiences with colleagues from the world's leading EPCs, owner–operators, and shipbuilders. A combination of AVEVA and delegate speakers will provide a mix of business, technology, and project insights. Read more »

For a complete list of CAD meetings, conferences, training sessions, and more, check out our calendar of events on Are you hosting an event that you would like to include in our calendar? Submit details at least two weeks in advance to

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About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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