CAD Tech News (#76)

15 Nov, 2017 By: Cadalyst Staff

▶ Herrera on Hardware: How Will Microsoft's Workstation Operating System Mandate Impact CAD Professionals?

Windows 10 Pro for Workstations holds appeal for a minority of workstation customers, yet is a mandatory purchase for the majority, including most CAD users.

By Alex Herrera

Microsoft has added a new version to its Windows 10 lineup — one that could find value in the upper reaches of the workstation market, but could also put a damper on workstation buying decisions. The company asserts that Windows 10 Pro for Workstations, launched in conjunction with the Fall Creators Update last month, offers new features optimized to serve the most demanding workstation-based applications. And while some features of the new operating system (OS) may represent welcome advancements in upper-end niches of the market, Microsoft's decision to mandate the OS on the vast majority of new workstations sold could have a negative ripple effect on the market.

Prior to October 1, 2017, anyone who bought a Windows workstation most likely had it shipped with Windows 10 Pro. (Prior to Windows 10 Pro achieving a broad level of acceptance, the default was Windows 7 Professional.) Since then, most new machines have shipped with Windows 10 Pro for Workstations, whether buyers prefer that OS or not. That's because most buyers choose a workstation model based on an Intel Xeon processor — models for which Microsoft has made this OS not an option, but a requirement.

At first blush, an OS specifically optimized for workstations would seem like only a good thing. After all, it owes at least part of its DNA to the Windows Server OS tree, which is designed for reliability (one key reason it has historically made sense for workstations and servers to share base technology). Looking through the list of key enhancements the new version delivers (the list below is reproduced directly from Microsoft's blog), there are features bound to excite some high-demand users.

ReFS (Resilient file system): Enhance the resilience and scalability of workstation by running Microsoft's server grade Resilient File System (ReFS), designed for high fault tolerance and handling large data volumes.

Persistent memory: Enable demanding workloads to access important files at the speed of memory with high end persistent memory hardware configurations.

Faster file sharing: SMB Direct facilitates file transfers between PCs and servers with large datasets, all with high throughput, low latency, and low CPU usage.

Expanded hardware support: Handle demanding workloads by running Windows 10 Pro for Workstations with the support (for) high end configurations including server grade Intel Xeon and AMD Opteron processors, up to 4 CPUs (today limited to 2 CPUs), and up to a massive 6 TB of memory (today limited to 2 TB).

It certainly appears that this OS brings good things, with the only useless feature — for all practical purposes — being the support for four CPUs, as no conventional workstations today are sold with more than two sockets. And it certainly could be a compelling OS choice for high-end buyers that are pushing their dual-socket configurations to the limit, and for those who must have absolute 100% reliability (versus, say, the 99.99-ish% most of us would tolerate).

For everyone else, the OS would appear more a nice-to-have than a must-have. Sure, devil's advocate arguments could nitpick the importance of features such as ReFS for clients, since

  1. clients tend to have data backed up regularly on servers running Windows Server (which has ReFS integrated);
  2. more and more source project data is moving to the cloud, anyway; and
  3. no remotely "mainstream" workstation will populate anywhere near the currently supported 2 TB of memory, let alone the 6 TB the new version can handle.

Still, nitpicking aside, we can't imagine anyone would be disappointed to see more advanced features than they previously would have had, all else being equal.

But therein lies the rub: All else is definitely not equal, as Windows 10 Pro for Workstations is more expensive than standard Windows 10 Pro. So the question becomes not whether the OS has its merits, but whether the majority of workstation buyers value those merits enough to want to pay more for them. And if not, should they be required to buy it rather than the existing OS that they were perfectly satisfied with? Read more »

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


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