Posts by Greg Corke

Just how fast is your graphics card?

Published 27 May 2008

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with: hardware, graphics cards, benchmarking, viewperf

SPECviewperf is a worldwide standard for assessing graphics performance. It’s easy to use, freely downloadable and doesn’t require a design software license to run. It uses datasets from a variety of CAD/DCC applications and these are developed by tracing graphics content from actual applications. These include 3ds max, Catia, EnSight, Maya, Pro/Engineer, SolidWorks, UGS NX, and UGS Teamcenter Visualization Mockup.

So what’s this post all about? Well, I’m a bit puzzled about the recent release of the Linux/Unix version of SPECviewperf 10. I understand it has SolidWorks and 3ds Max datasets in it. Now, the last time I looked, neither of those products ran on Linux/Unix, so why include them in a Linux/Unix benchmark?

Putting that rhetorical question to one side for a minute, my point is that the results from SPECviewperf can often be misleading. The benchmark’s scores are broken down by software brand names, but the scores don’t necessarily reflect the performance you’d achieve in the real world application of the same name. Historically, some scores have been known to be off by a huge factor, but I’m pleased to say SPECviewperf 10 is much more accurate than its predecessors - much more accurate, but still not perfect. This is because the graphics card vendors continue to spend precious development time optimizing their drivers to make the benchmark run faster instead of channeling all of their resources to the applications themselves. Why? Well, the clue is in the first line of this post - it’s a ‘worldwide standard’ and gets coverage all over the Internet.

So, what’s the alternative? Well, the SPECapc benchmarks are better as they actually run inside the CAD/DCC application, so the graphics cards vendors can’t optimize their cards as much for these, but the downside is that some benchmarks are quite a bit out of sync with the actual software releases.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not criticizing the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC). I think they do an excellent job in helping guide engineers and designers in decisions on hardware purchases, I’m just saying don’t take the results as gospel.

The only real way to assess how fast a graphics card is to take your own datasets and test them in your CAD/DCC application of choice. The problem is most end users don’t have access to the many different graphics cards, just as most journalists don’t have access to the many different software applications.

So I guess that brings us back to Viewperf 10. Why don’t you download it and let me know what you think. I’d also be interested to hear how you make decisions on hardware purchases, what internal benchmarks you carry out and what you’d like to see us test on DEVELOP3D.

www.spec.org

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3D without glasses

Published 16 May 2008

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with:

The first time I used a 3D monitor was at the end of the nineties. The problem was that to see the 3D image clearly I had to sit directly in front of the screen and even then it gave me an absolutely massive headache. With Philips’ new WOWvx 3D display you don’t have to sit directly in front of the screen and it doesn’t give you a massive headache. Now why didn’t the guys who developed my old 3D monitor think of that? To think how much paracetamol I could have saved.

Helping turn its WOWvx 3D technology into something ‘real’, the boffins at Phillips have teamed up with London’s Picture Production Company Group (PPC). The London-based outfit has plenty of expertise in turning 2D into 3D and is supplying media content for the displays. The major focus at PPC is currently on product marketing, but beyond turning heads in your local high street or car showroom, this technology has the potential to become an essential tool for the product development process.

Indeed, PPC told DEVELOP3D that they already have a motor manufacturer who is using this technology to revisit legacy 2D drawings, but is also considering putting the screens on designer’s desks for a true 3D modelling experience. Skipping industries, Dutch architects, OMA, is using the technology to bring its buildings to life for design exploration and client presentations.

In terms of producing the 3D imagery Philips explained that 2D video can be converted into 3D using a rather clever box of tricks called the Philips BlueBox. However, if a 3D CAD model exists, it can be adapted for the screen by taking it into 3ds Max and Maya and using special plug ins to produce the ‘2D plus depth’ file required for the display. It would also be possible to develop plug ins for other CAD applications.

Anyway, to learn more about the technology I’ve included the obligatory YouTube link. The problem is you kind of lose the effect a bit watching it on a 2D monitor. It’s a bit like watching R2D2’s Princess Leia hologram on the silver screen. OK, it’s not, but you get my point.

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Crystal gazing: the future of wide format colour printing?

Published 08 May 2008

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with: hardware, printing, oce, colorwave, wide format, crystalpoint

It’s not often I get animated about printing, but when I first saw Oce’s new CrystalPoint technology in action on YouTube recently I was genuinely excited - so much so I that immediately showed my girlfriend the video. She now thinks I’m genuinely ‘sad’.

This ‘sad’ individual has just got back from the official launch event at Oce’s headquarters in Venlo, Holland, so what is all the fuss about? Well, for starters, it’s the first new wide format print technology for a number of years and is designed to bridge the gap between inkjet and LED by offering full colour, faster colour print speeds, and there being no need for coated paper.

To do this CrystalPoint uses TonerPearls instead of inkjet ink or powder-based toner. Each TonerPearl is about the size of a small marble and is heated into a gel which is then jetted and crystallised onto plain or even recycled paper.

The first machine to bear this technology is the ColorWave 600, which Oce claims will beat any inkjet on the market when it comes to throughput. From what I saw today it is undoubtedly a fast technology, but image quality, while great for linework, fell a little short of my expectations for full colour - it’s good, but not photo inkjet quality.

It’s certainly a cool technology, and one that could have huge implications on engineering and architecture with the ability to produce colour prints in real volumes. However, I have to say I’ve calmed down a little since first seeing the video. This is undoubtedly a good thing for my relationship.

We’ll have a full review in the first issue of DEVELOP3D.

www.oce.com/colorwave

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Blade runner - workstation power on a thin client

Published 01 May 2008

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with: hp, workstations, graphics

It’s been a long time coming, but HP has finally released a Blade Workstation solution specifically designed for the MCAD market. The concept is that you run all your CAD/CAM/CAE applications on a rack of blades which are locked away in a secure data centre and the end user works on their designs using a thin client at the desktop, which can be anywhere in the world.

All data remains on the blade and only pixel information is squirted down the line to a thin client using HP’s Remote Graphics Technology. The client only needs a relatively small processor, memory and not even a 3D graphics card. It might sound like wouldn’t work due to bandwidth issues but I saw this running on a Blade Workstation with a low end Nvidia Quadro FX560 graphics card last year and it worked a treat and HP claims it even works over the Internet.

What’s new about this release is that HP has upped the graphics card to a FX 1600, which gives it a bit more power for serious 3D users. However, it’s interesting that it has taken HP so long to get this new model out as this was originally scheduled for release a year ago. My guess is that HP came across thermal problems. We’ll find out more soon.

Anyway, it’s an interesting technology, which boasts better data security as no actual CAD files leave the blade, easier control as IT staff don’t have to support individual workstations, and no whirring fans under your desk. Watch this space for a full review soon.

www.hp.com/go/bladeworkstations

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DisplayPort - get connected

Published 28 April 2008

Posted by Greg Corke

Article tagged with:

ATI has just unveiled a brand new high-performance graphics card called the FireGL V7700. But what’s so interesting about that I hear you ask? Well, apart from delivering some impressive frame rates under high-end CAD and DCC apps, it features a new interconnect standard called DisplayPort.

DisplayPort is a purely digital standard and can handle resolutions upto 2,560 x 1,600. It’s smaller and thinner than DVI or VGA, a bit like USB, and there’s no need to screw the cable in - which always annoys me so I never end up doing it.

There are currently only a handful of monitors out there with DisplayPort support, which is why the FireGL V7700 also supports DVI. Only time will tell if the technology is going to take off, but it’s certainly a move in the right direction and also makes perfect sense for ultra-thin notebooks. There’s simply no room for a VGA connector on a Mac Book Air… or so Al Dean tells me. I’m still waiting for mine to arrive.

Link

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