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AMD Phenom II X4 processor

Published 24 February 2009

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with: solidworks, amd, autodesk inventor, firepro, intel, cpu, 3dsmax

Back in 2005 the workstation sector was all about AMDand its Opteron CPU. At that time the Opteron wiped the floor with anything Intel could throw at it and all the major Tier One workstation vendors, with the exception of Dell, took on the powerful chip to head up their workstation lines. But then Intel introduced the Core 2 Duo and things changed overnight. AMD lost its leadership position and Intel began outgunning AMD across the board. Since then AMD-based workstations have only been seen in niche sectors, targeting price/performance sweet spots or users of specialist CAE applications.

This month, however, AMD introduced a brand new quad core chip called the Phenom II X4, which it hopes will take the fight back to Intel. Available in speeds from 2.5GHz to 3.0GHz, the Phenom II X4 is built around AMD’s Direct Connect architecture, which means it receives data directly from the system RAM, rather than going via a slower Front Side Bus. This is a technology that AMD originally pioneered with its Opteron processor and one that Intel has only just ‘borrowed’ for its Core i7.

To put this new technology to the test we managed to get hold of an extremely rare 2.8GHz Phenom II X4 925 courtesy of specialist workstation builder XWorks. Nestled alongside an AMD ATI FirePro V3750, 4GB RAM, a 250GB hard drive and Windows XP SP3, the compact workstation is designed to offer excellent price/performance and at £745, the price is certainly competitive.

While the cost of an AMD Phenom II X4 925 chip is comparative to a 2.67GHz Intel Core i7 920, the big saving comes through the ASUS M3A78-CM mainboard, which with a retail cost of around £50, is around a quarter of the price of most Core i7 motherboards, which are particularly expensive at this moment in time.

But what about the performance? In terms of CPU-specific tests we benchmarked with 3ds Max Design 2009, an application which makes full use of multiple cores when rendering scenes. The performance was almost 50% slower than the overclocked 3.2GHz Core i7-based Scan 3XS workstation we tested last month, but that doesn’t tell the whole story as far as CPU performance is concerned. 3ds Max is one of the few 3D applications to offer finely tuned support for HyperThreading, a unique feature of the Core i7 which boosts multithreaded performance by simulating additional cores (click here).

The most interesting results, for CAD users at least, came when testing graphics under SolidWorks and Inventor. To begin with we didn’t quite believe the SolidWorks 2009 score of 17 Frames Per Second (FPS), simply because it’s the fastest we’ve yet to see in any machine, but repeated tests verified our initial findings. The Inventor score of 3.3 FPS was more in line with what we’d expect, slower than the Core i7, but impressive all the same.

From our tests it’s hard to pass a definitive judgment on the Phenom II X4, simply because it doesn’t support HyperThreading, which gives Intel’s Core i7 an advantage in our 3ds Max benchmark that it wouldn’t have in other applications. However, for CAD applications our 3D graphics tests, which are very much linked directly to CPU performance, indicate that it’s certainly in the same ball park as the Intel Core i7.

While AMD looks to have an interesting technology on its hands, particularly when compared to Intel’s Core i7 in terms of price/performance, one mustn’t forget Intel’s Core 2 Duo, which is now being sold at extremely competitive prices, even at high GHz. And if dual core is not enough because you have specific multithreaded rendering or analysis requirements, then Intel’s Core 2 Quad has also come down in price since the introduction of Core i7.

The long and short of it all is that AMD has delivered a chip, which while not setting the workstation sector on fire, certainly warrants closer attention. While it is unlikely that Tier One vendors will back the Phenom II X4 wholeheartedly, the chip is likely to be picked up by agile system builders like XWorks meaning at long last there’s an AMD chip that should be considered alongside Intel when choosing a workstation, particularly when the purse strings are tight.

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Autodesk adopts Mac for Alias, Inventor Plastics tools for 2010

Published 18 February 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: design, autodesk, autodesk inventor, alias, autodesk showcase, mac osx

As I type this, the world’s media (probably all 12 of them) are sat waiting for Autodesk to unveil its product releases for the next year. As with these things, Autodesk love to group everything together and make a Huge Splash – a good idea, but you often find that while there’s a concerted effort to announce the products together, the actual shipping of code lags somewhat. Either way, whether you think that’s right or not, let’s look at the highlights:

#1: Inventor 2010: Autodesk is integrating the plastic parts design tools it’s been working on for the last few years – and it looks like the mould design tools they’ve also been beta testing out in China for at least year are finally going to ship in product, rather than on Labs.

Other news is that simulation has had a boost. Recently acquisitions see Autodesk’s armoury expanded greatly and this is the first wave of new simulation tools. There’s also some bundling going on with Inventor LT (the free version of Inventor for part design), along with AutoCAD LT.

STL output in Alias has always been flakey unless you used a workaround with spider – this fixes that.

#2: In a right world, this would be Number 1: Autodesk is making the Alias line of products available on the mac OS X platform. THIS, is HUGE news. There’s also been work done on packaging (it’s got new bundle and naming), new STL output, new rendering and materials tools and a lot more control over surfaces.

#3: Showcase is getting the ray-tracing technology acquired from Opticore some time ago. There’s also greater support for workflows with both other Autodesk products (such as Max an Maya) and some pretty slick looking design variant comparison tools. it also has a matched material library with Alias. Oh and its going to $995 instead of five grand.

#4: Autodesk Moldflow: there’s a simplified version of Moldflow on its way. One thing I have to take issue with is the idea that Moldflow can help take someone that’s “not an expert in plastic injection moulding right through to manufacture.” Ok. That’s really not a good idea. Moldflow is good, but it can be dangerous in the wrong hands (by dangerous, I mean expensive).

NB: there should be more pics, but they weren’t. Of anything except Alias and Inventor. A Shame.

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You’re so two-faced…

Published 18 February 2009

Posted by Stephen Holmes

Article tagged with: v12, canova, estari, kanye west

As soon as the images lit up the screen the ‘I-want-one-of-those’ meter went through the roof and we started drooling like infants – this is the Canova from Estari.

With a dual-screen and intricate hinge, it also promises a litany of features that will outperform other touchscreens. Flowing out of the concept stage, the design from Italian firm V12 [check their own impressive website showcasing their 3D design process] have enlisted American dual-screen laptop developers Estari to help out.

As these shots show, V12 aren’t bad at rendering either. Found courtesy of Kanye West’s excellent blog.

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Metropolitan Works expands with EOS

Published 17 February 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: prototype, z corporation, direct manufacturing, eos

Just got this in, that a “A new, purpose built centre has opened in London to offer rapid prototyping and digital manufacturing facilities on a ‘pay-and-go’ basis.” Based in a four-story building and an extension of the activities of Metropolitan Works, London’s first creative industries centre which currently operates on London Metropolitan University’s city campus in East London. Two additive layer manufacturing machines from EOS, one for laser-sintering plastic powders and the other for metal powders, were delivered last year, joining rapid prototyping and manufacturing processes on site (including Z Corp and Envisiontec Perfactory machines).

One fascinating project is by acclaimed silversmith, Marianne Forrest, it is a watch with an innovative strap that takes inspiration from prehistoric vertebrae. Although hand finished, it would be almost impossible to make entirely by hand to such high precision.

While I’m all for increased exposure of this type of technology to both the design industry and the masses as a whole, what I didn’t quite get a handle on was the ‘pay and go’ tag they’ve added. There is a wealth of service bureaux in the UK, Europe and further afield – and they all operate a pay and go scheme – you order your part, it gets built and finished and shipped – job done.

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