CAD Tech News (#101)

7 Feb, 2019 By: Cadalyst Staff

▶ Herrera on Hardware: The Origin and Evolution of the Modern Workstation

Where did today's workstation come from, and who — besides CAD users — relies on it?

By Alex Herrera

For the 1980s and most of the '90s, the term workstation defined a very specific — and very different — purpose-built machine. Due to its evolution since, however, the platform now taps into much of the same technology DNA as the PC industry, making it harder to stand out based purely on physical specs. Still, during and despite its physical transformation, one constant has held true: The machine has always been shaped to best support the workloads and applications essential to visual professionals — first and foremost, CAD professionals.

Most people familiar with the marketplace around 1990 could point to a laundry list of generally accepted traits that separated workstations from mass-market PCs. Examples include CPUs that tapped proprietary RISC architectures, instead of the x86 designs that dominated IBM-compatible PCs; Unix operating systems versus the PCs' DOS and Windows; and graphics hardware that was tailored to high-performance 3D modeling, rather than the 2D GUI accelerators that Windows spurred in PCs.

The machine that encapsulated those traits — based on proprietary RISC CPUs and operating systems, and homegrown 3D graphics accelerators — is what we have, in retrospect, termed the traditional proprietary workstation. Engineered, built, and marketed by workstation pioneers such as Sun, SGI, HP, DEC, and IBM, the traditional proprietary workstation ruled the roost when it came to supplying machines to drive rapidly expanding applications in CAD.

It held that top spot for good reason. Twenty-five years ago, it was ludicrous to think that a PC was a reasonable platform for handling professional applications such as CAD. Sure, buyers searching for a cost or price-to-performance advantage have always looked at alternatives, but there were simply too many dealbreakers: features and capabilities lacking that simply made the job far too slow, unreliable or, more often, simply impossible. But in the years since, the core silicon and technology supporting the PC market have infiltrated workstations.

The Rise of the PC-Derived Workstation

Over time, PC technology and components — driven by much higher revenue, much shorter product cycles, and many more engineer-hours in development — closed the gap with traditional proprietary UNIX-based workstations. And by the late 1990s, the differences in capability became small enough to overlook, while the advantages in price-to-performance ratios just got too big to ignore. For the bulk of applications, it began to make more sense to buy a workstation based on components either taken off the shelf from the PC world or derived from PC components. And the migration to the modern, PC-derived workstation was on.

Workstations sharing semiconductor DNA with the broader PC and server markets were gradually recognized not only as a valid platform for professional graphics and compute-intensive applications, but as the superior platform. Smaller-scale, in-house development teams at Sun, HP, SGI, and IBM couldn't compete with the production and pricing that economy of scale enabled, or with the pace of progression of x86 CPUs from Intel and GPUs from NVIDIA and AMD. Read more »

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Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.

▶ 'CAD Trends' Survey Covers More Technologies But Yields Few Surprises

3D printing adoption continues to grow significantly, as strong growth potential is found for emerging technologies such as generative design and artificial intelligence.

By Nancy Spurling Johnson

Four new technologies were added to the mix when Business Advantage surveyed users in the CAD/CAM market late last year to assess the most important technology trends: Generative design, virtual reality, machine learning, and artificial intelligence brought the total number to 16.

"CAD Trends 2018–19" was the fifth-annual such survey conducted by the U.K.-based research and consulting firm, which specializes in the CAD/CAM market. It surveyed 626 CAD/CAM users worldwide at companies of all sizes to gauge awareness, use, and other factors related to technology adoption. Respondents were primarily in the manufacturing (38%), AEC (31%), process and plant (7%), and utilities (5%) market sectors. The company this week presented a summary of results to the media, including Cadalyst.

Not surprisingly, 3D modeling and 2D drafting remain the heart and soul of the design process, reflecting the highest rates of use (69% and 67%, respectively) and deemed by respondents as the top two most important technologies of the 16 surveyed. Rendering (39%) and building information modeling (BIM, 36%) were next highest in use.

This slide compares awareness of 16 CAD technologies with actual current adoption, according to the "CAD Trends 2018-19" report. Image source: Business Advantage
This slide compares awareness of 16 CAD technologies with actual current adoption, according to the "CAD Trends 2018-19" report. Image source: Business Advantage

Importance is rising for collaborative design, BIM, CAM, 3D printing, 3D modeling, and cloud-based CAD, and stabilizing for product lifecycle management (PLM), 2D drafting, product data management (PDM), and mobile access to CAD, according to the report. Read more »

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Nancy Spurling Johnson is the content director for Longitude Media, publisher of Cadalyst.


AutoCAD Video Tips: Lazy Layer Tips for AutoCAD
Would you like to change your current layer in fewer clicks? Would you like to move objects to a different layer by simply matching an object on the destination layer? Join AutoCAD video tipster Lynn Allen as she shares a couple of handy layer tricks that will help you get your job done faster! Watch the video »

CAD Manager Column: Minimum CAD Workstation Requirements for 2019
As technology keeps evolving, so do the workstation configurations that ensure your CAD users can work efficiently. Get up to speed on what you'll need to purchase this year before you approach your boss for approval. Read more »

What Roles Do Graphics Play in Design and Engineering Software?
Graphics work in different ways to support 2D and 3D design applications, computer-aided engineering, metrology, and more. Read more »

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

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