CAD Tech News (#82)15 Mar, 2018 By: Cadalyst Staff
In a changing CPU market, which brands and models should you should consider for your next CAD workstation?
By Alex Herrera
Editor's note: Click here to read Part 1 of this series, which explained how differentiating metrics and decision criteria are shifting as players and technologies change in the central processing unit (CPU) market.
The Emerging AMD Options
While AMD has made tremendous progress in building and rolling out Zen CPU products (as covered in a previous column), its campaign to re-establish itself on the workstation market remains in its infancy. Because while its CPUs are ready to ship, what AMD lacks today is broad availability at the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) level. While vendors such as Boxx, Velocity Micro, Maingear, and Puget Systems do offer Zen-enabled machines that are worth a look, to date no CPU of the Zen generation has been adopted by top-tier workstation OEMs HP, Dell, or Lenovo. And Core and Xeon still remain the only practical choices for the majority of CAD workstation buyers. So while that may easily change — and one can even argue that it should change, for the health of the marketplace — AMD's Zen lineup is currently more a disruption than a major force in the market.
Where the dominant (Intel) and aspiring (AMD) workstation CPU contenders primarily fit in today's deskside workstation market. Data sourced from Jon Peddie Research and Cadalyst.
Which Brands and Models Should You Consider for Your Next CAD Workstation?
In contrast to the past decade, which presented a fairly straightforward choice in CPU brands — Xeon or Core i7 — market dynamics are creating more choices in 2018. Core i9 is now in the mix, dramatically closing the differentiation gap with Xeon, and AMD is knocking on the door with not one or two but a complete family of CPUs that can contend for consideration. Next up, I'll try to boil all those factors down into a step-by-step process to help guide the selection of your next CAD workstation CPU.
1. Are you a single-socket (1S) or dual-socket (2S) user?
This might sound like a tough question at first, but it's probably not. The answer for the vast majority is "single socket," as 85% of deskside workstations sold fit this category. The exception is that 15% minority which demands no-compromise performance for the most heavily threaded, compute-intensive applications. The bottom line is, dual-socket customers most likely know who they are, so if you can't say you are one with confidence, stick with single-socket.
2. Is reliability a crucial requirement?
This might sound like a trick question; after all, every workstation buyer cares about reliability. But beyond the obvious preference, the salient question here is whether you or your application can tolerate even one outage or processing error in a year or lifetime. If not, or if you want to invest a bit more in ensuring the chances are kept to an absolute minimum, lean toward Xeon over Core. (For more details about that tradeoff, check out my column on "The Hidden Danger of Memory Errors in CAD Computing.")
3. What's your budget?
Obviously, we all want the fastest machine available, but as always, performance and capabilities trade off with price. The average workstation sells for around $1,900, and the vast majority of workstations sold have price tags under $2,500. If your budget can tolerate something closer to $3,000, choose from premium-level 1S machines that offer primarily Xeon W, but as mentioned, may now be available with a Core i9 configuration as well. And though not (yet?) adopted by top-tier vendors HP, Dell, and Lenovo, AMD's Threadripper makes for a possible option as well. If your budget needs to come in closer to or below $2,000, however, choose from an entry-level 1S machine that will offer primarily Intel Xeon E3 and Core i7 options (note that at least for now, the Ryzen 7 or Ryzen Pro options are slim to none). And finally, if budgets are really tight, then you can consider side-stepping all these options and select the far more economical Core i5. Read more »
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Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.
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