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CAD Tech News (#121)

19 Feb, 2020 By: Cadalyst Staff


Herrera on Hardware: AMD's Third-Generation Threadripper CPU Makes Impressive Debut

Three years into the era of AMD's Zen architecture for central processing units (CPUs), the company has climbed into its best position in over a decade to compete with Intel, equipped with a high-performance workstation-caliber CPU.

By Alex Herrera

It's been a while since we checked in on AMD's progress in the market for workstation CPUs. This column first highlighted the potential of the Zen architecture to legitimately re-challenge Intel back in March of 2016, prior to its official market launch. We revisited Zen twice in 2017 after the emergence of not one but three Zen-derived product lines capable of addressing CAD computing markets, including a look at the tradeoffs of a CPU like Threadripper with a massive number of cores.

Those perspectives first hinted at — and then substantiated — a compelling case for Zen's place on CAD workstation platforms, based on its aptitude for high-performance single-thread — and more so, multi-thread — computation. But those columns also addressed the fact that the workstation market is a tough nut to crack, for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of a CPU architecture. In the workstation market, arguably more than in any other domain, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are looking for the confidence that a partner can deliver long-term reliability and longevity in the market. Those are traits that AMD had yet to prove — and in fact had failed to deliver a decade earlier with Opteron, which offered so much promise early on but failed to sustain itself over time.

Now in 2020, it's been roughly three years since Zen CPUs entered the market. How has AMD done in its efforts to crack that workstation nut? Not great, if you're basing success on whether it has signed up a major workstation OEM (meaning Dell, HP, or Lenovo — or DHL, for short) — it hasn't. But AMD has made important progress toward that goal. First, the company has several high-quality partner OEMs and system integrators on board to showcase Zen, and in particular the high-performance Threadripper product line. And second, AMD has now proven the ability to deliver on three successive, timely, and highly competitive generations of CPUs. Just entering the market now is the third-generation Threadripper (TR3), which appears to me to be one of AMD's most compelling offerings to date for a high-performance workstation-caliber CPU.

The Zen 2 Core and TR3: More Than Just a Lot of Cores

Out of the chute, TR3 comes in 24-core (24C 3960X) and 32-core (32C 3970X) SKUs, priced initially at $1,400 and $2,000, respectively. Yes, that's a lot of cores, moving well beyond the typical 6- to 8-core CPUs that dominate the workstation mainstream and encroaching on the turf of big multisocket workstation and datacenter CPUs like Intel's Xeon Scalable and AMD's EPYC. And AMD will continue to drive up the push-the-envelope core counts that have been Threadripper's claim to fame, with a massive 64C SKU expected later to fill out the TR3 product family.

The first two TR3 SKUs offer 24 and 32 cores.
The first two TR3 SKUs offer 24 and 32 cores.

But while the Threadripper brand has certainly made its mark with hefty core counts, TR3 is about much more than (eventually) doubling cores. TR3's advancements are several, but three outweigh the rest in the context of its potential in CAD computing: the inclusion of the enhanced Zen 2 core, a higher-performance chipset, and the move to a more capable sTRX4 socket. Introduced in all third-generation Zen parts, the Zen 2 core lets TR3 boast about more than just high core counts: It allows the TR3 core to execute up to 15% faster (15% higher IPC, or instructions per cycle) than the original Zen core microarchitecture allowed. That's as meaningful as boosts in core count — and arguably more so in CAD computing, where workflows may still be dominated by single-thread or several-thread execution. Read more »

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

Benchmarks Reveal Common Struggles in Product Development Processes

For manufacturers on a mission of self-improvement, Tata Technologies creates baselines of comparison for evaluating maturity in digital engineering, product lifecycle management (PLM) analytics, and more.

By Cyrena Respini-Irwin

In business, it can be difficult to determine just how well you're doing, and what could be done better. Between the black-and-white poles of spectacular success and unmitigated failure lies a vast spectrum of grayer status indicators: Is your company using its software tools effectively? Are your 3D modeling workflows optimally productive, your data management processes logical and efficient? How do your operations stack up to those of your competitors?

Tata Technologies, which provides engineering and product development IT services to manufacturers, uses benchmarks to help its clients find answers to questions like these. The company developed its benchmarks in partnership with product lifecycle management (PLM) consulting firm CIMdata, with the goal of finding where its customers had the most pain (and therefore needed the most help from Tata, naturally). But there was also a nobler motive: "To help our customers focus their minds," said Kevin Power, business development manager for Tata. Many clients couldn't clearly define what they wanted from a PLM system, didn't know where to start with PLM implementation, or couldn't identify where things were going wrong with their existing PLM tools — they just knew that weren't getting the value and benefits they expected. Questioning these customers about their processes, and comparing the answers to an aggregate of their peers, helped provide clarity and structure. "Most people don't necessarily implement all the capabilities of a PLM system … [the benchmark] helps identify which are most beneficial to them," Power explained.

Today, Tata offers benchmark assessments for PLM analytics and support, machining, digital factory, simulation, and digital engineering. They are part of Tata's PLM Analytics tool suite, which also comprises a "health check" survey that explores how employees view the PLM system; a financial impact analysis tool, which helps predict return on investment (ROI) and is "useful for trying to justify expenditure on a PLM product," Power said; and a roadmap that details implementation, functionality, cost, a ramp-up plan, etc. "Some customers have PLM systems [before they begin this process]; it doesn't matter, because all these tools are software-agnostic," Power noted.

Most benchmark customers are interested in PLM, Power reported; with the next most common being digital engineering — "that's all about CAD, how you develop a 3D model," he said. Each benchmark examines 17 essential facets, or "pillars," of a mature system of tools and methods. Tata selected them "based on our experience of what are the areas our customers struggle with," said Power. The company also drew on feedback from its instructors, as "they deal with customers who are using these tools on a day-to-day basis," he noted.

Tata Technologies' PLM benchmark includes 17 pillars, grouped into data authoring and data management categories.
Tata Technologies' PLM benchmark includes 17 pillars, grouped into data authoring and data management categories.

Read more »

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Cyrena Respini-Irwin is Cadalyst's editor in chief.

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About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff