Dell unveils new Precision workstations

Published 30 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: amd, nvidia, dell, quadro, workstations, firepro, xeon 5500, ati, nehalem, windows

Dell officially unveiled its new range of workstation-class systems today with the launch of the Precision T3500, T5500 and T7500. Like all new workstations being announced this week, the new Precision family is based on Intel’s Xeon 5500 Series (Nehalem) architecture, which offers incredible power for multi-threaded applications; particularly those that take advantage of HyperThreading, such as 3ds Max and HyperShot.

Like most of the major workstation vendors, Dell has bypassed Intel’s Core i7 platform for its new Precisions, instead waiting for ECC (Error Correcting Code) memory for better accuracy, which is not supported on Core i7. The new Xeon platform also, uniquely, supports Direct Cache Access (DCA) which enables the cache of inactive cores to be accessed by those that are active.

Dell has expanded its range of graphics options with new cards from Nvidia including the Quadro FX 580, FX 1800 and FX 3800, but has also increased the number of AMD ATI FirePro cards it carries in the range with standard options available on the FirePro V3750, V5700 and V8700. Up to two Quadro FX4800 and FX5800 are available in the high-end T7500.

Acoustics has been a major design concentration for the new Precisions with low duty fans aiding the CFD (Computational Fluid Dynamics) designed airflow. Dell has also done a lot of research into ‘what if’ scenarios, modelling what would happen if one vent was blocked off, for example.

In terms of machine positioning, the single socket T3500 will take up the entry-level role, but Dell will continue to offer the Core 2 Duo-based T3400 for those on incredibly tight budgets. The mid-range T5500 is a particularly interesting machine, specifically because Dell has managed to pack so much technology into such as small chassis. Dell gave DEVELOP3D a sneak preview of the machine and we were astounded by the engineering that has gone into this, with the second processor and memory located at 90 degrees to the motherboard on a riser card. With such a small footprint, however, the T5500 is fairly limited in its expandability and this is where the T7500 fits in with capacity for up 192GB RAM and a ridiculous amount of hard drives. It also includes an on-board SAS controller.

While the new systems will ship with Windows Vista by default, Dell will continue to offer Windows XP downgrades (with XP recovery disks) as well as Linux. However, thorough its custom factory integration program Dell can supply workstations with XP pre-installed, and it is also possible for customers to supply disk images for Operating System, network and applications, which Dell installs prior to shipping.

Dell is also in the process of developing a new Flash-driven workstation advisor website, which is designed to make it easier for customers to choose workstations according to which applications they use. This is coming in Q2 2009.

Look out for review of the new Precision range soon.

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COFES Agenda: Clash of the Titans (or my agenda)

Published 27 March 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: live reports, cofes 2009, events

It’s only a couple of weeks away (I’ve got a short trip to Portland before hand to see Autodesk’s 2010 line up for Manufacturing), but COFES is just around the corner and with a fresh off the wire agenda update, I’m looking to see what’s looking interesting. COFES Founder Brad Holtz kicks things off by presenting the results of a current survey they’re carrying out on the state of the CAD/PLM market – if you have a spare ten minutes, add your perspective if you’re actively using CAD and PLM for design, manufacture (you’ll also get a copy of the results once it’s complete).

First day is usually pretty easy going, so its nice to break yourself into the activities. If mine and Martyn’s flight goes well and they actually let him in the country again, we should make it there to see Kathleen Maher of Jon Peddie Research discussing “What’s Going to Stick to the Wall Next Year?”, will look at current trends and product categories with an eye to spotting near-term winners. Kathleen’s followed by DEVELOP3D contributor and longtime mate, Allan Behrens of Cambashi, a UK analyst outfit with a decided global reach. Fresh from safari in South Africa, Allan will be giving the attendees an International Business Update, about which the blurb says “Many consider that the true effect of recent tumultuous shifts has yet to be crystallized. While these are certainly testing times, many believe that now is the time to invest in the upturn. There are many examples showing opportunity and short-term gain at global, regional, and national levels – the challenge is how to balance often unknown risk with perceived opportunity.” Fun stuff eh?

Our Man Behrens. He really is that cheeky. And has some pretty scary looking charts I’m not even going to begin to pretend to understand.

The next day sees the event kick off proper and its a mix of keynotes, group discussions and briefings with software vendors showing off what they’re working on (Autodesk, SpaceClaim, Siemens PLM, PTC, ShareVis and Nemetschek) and what’s coming up. This is combined with briefings from a pretty impressive line-up of industry analysts discussing some hot topics.

Looking at the agenda, unfortunately there’s three that I’d like to sit in on running concurrently. Jim Brown at Tech Clarity discussing Design, Engineering, and Social Networking, Ken Versprille from CPDA talking about forthcoming trends in Design Data Quality and whether companies can actually enforce standards for CAD data and ensure they’re actually used and Jay Vleeschhouwer is someone that’s always worth catching. Recently set-free from Merrill Lynch, and possibly the most dapper man in the industry, Jay’s bound to deliver some insight into how Wall Street views the CAD/PLM world. Oh, make that four at the time.. I see that Bruce Jenkins of Ora Research is also talking about how simulation can be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the front end of the product development process. Not too sure which one will make it, but I suspect, it’ll be down to Bruce or Jim. I’ll leave Martyn to make his call on the others.

If you look at the agenda, there’s something called Maieutic Parataxis. Practically unpronounceable, apparently this means, a series of five-minute vignettes drawn from topics and ideas that, while perhaps not yet fully formed, are likely to impact your thinking about how we design, build, and interact with software in the future.

OK, back to the agenda and planning. If you want to know why we go to COFES, check our post of a couple of weeks ago. And if anyone’s got a temporary cloning machine, can I have a borrow? It could prove useful. And if you’re a twitter user, then you can follow all the action with the #cofes2009 hashtag. I’ll be tweeting from the event if you’re interested too and you can find me at

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Live from LA: Behind the scenes at BMW DesignWorks

Published 26 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: design, catia, rhino, proengineer, bmw designworks, aliasstudio, tebis

I’ve just spent an incredibly interesting few hours with BMW DesignWorks in its headquarters in Los Angeles. Owned by BMW, the design consultancy has a hand in the development of BMW and Mini cars, but I didn’t realise that as much as 50% of its work is carried out for third parties.

With projects ranging from sunglasses and shavers to yachts and aircraft interiors the work is diverse to the say the least. But what makes the company so interesting is the way that it encourages its design teams to draw influence from each other regardless of the projects they are working on.

The new Saeco Xsmall by BMW DesignWorks

Housed in a light airy open plan office, and naturally lit, making the most of the seemingly endless Californian sunshine, projects are constantly on show on giant LCD monitors and designers are encouraged to print out their work so everyone is exposed to the widest range of projects beyond those within their own remit. And with 10-15 different projects on the go at any one time, this creates an extremely interesting environment for cross market influences.

In terms of technology BMW DesignWorks uses a huge range of digital tools, including Catia V5 for automotive, Pro/E for industrial design and Alias and Rhino for conceptual work, but designers are also encouraged to use physical models for product development.

For ergonomics testing this is essential, which in the case of a recent electric shaver project, was not only used to test out applicability for left and right hand users but also to test out innovative designs to help making shaving easier for men who wear glasses.

In automotive, clay sculpting still rules, and a whole range of rapid prototyping technologies are also used, but much of BMW DesignWorks’ physical output comes from a giant gantry CNC machine, the largest on the west coast I was told.

On any given week this can be used for carving out foam models of full size cars, or mobile phones. The CNC machine, driven by Tebis CAM software, takes IGES data from the wide range of digital design applications it uses, starting out with soft foam for conceptual studies and then as the design develops and detail increases stepping up to harder materials and finer tools.

Design for a new ThermalTake gaming tower, developed by BMW DesignWorks

As I’m sure you can appreciate, many of the projects at BMW DesignWorks are top secret, and a rather expressionless security guard enforces a strict no camera policy inside the design office. However, I will get to talk about one specific project next week as it comes out of embargo, so check back here next week.

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HP Workstation Event: touch screens could have health implications

Published 25 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: hp, hp workstation event, touch-based displays, multi-touch, labs

Multi-Touch screens running applications such as Autodesk Mudbox, as demonstrated at Autodesk University last December, may be more for show than practical use due to concerns over ergonomics.

#1: Ergonomics could hinder the adoption of multi touch technologies for CAD/CAM, says HP. Speaking at The company’s workstation media event in sunny Los Angeles today, Phil McKinney, Chief Technology Office, HP Personal Systems Group, said that desktop touch screens, such as those featured in its TouchSmart PC, are not designed to be used day in day out. Leaning across a desk to touch a screen can put stresses on elbows and shoulders, and finger joints can also be tested by repeatedly tapping a glass screen.

Instead, McKinney said that the future of interaction with CAD/CAM could be with gestures where users don’t have to physically touch the screen. The company’s labs division in India, which has been carrying out research into multi-touch technologies, is currently concentrating on using arm and hand gestures to interact with 3D models. HP also discussed the possibility of multi-trigger interactions, where the user could combine gestures with voice commands such as ’scale’ to offer increased control over interaction with 3D datasets.

While picturing a design office packed with flailing arms and harmonies of ‘fillet’, ‘extrude’ and ‘boolean operation’ may bring a smile to your face, the future of gesture-based CAD-model interaction is more likely to lie in design review or presentation. Whatever the outcome it’s going to be extremely interesting to see where this technology takes us, hopefully without too many cases of multi-touch elbow along the way!

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Inventor 2010 partner bandwagon starts a rolling

Published 25 March 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: simulation, autodesk, visualisation, autodesk inventor, cfdesign, blue ridge numerics, traceparts, inventor 2010, standard parts, polytrans

Things have started gearing in the add-on application space this week, following Autodesk’s launch of Inventor 2010, with several partner developers already issuing details of what they’ve got coming up for users.

TraceParts Software just announced that its eponymously titled library of suppliers and standard parts catalogs has successfully passed the challenging Autodesk Inventor 2010 certification. For those unaware of the developer, TraceParts has been developing its range of 3d component libraries for decades now, so its no wonder that the company now has 100+ million 3D models and 2D drawings at hand. This includes both industry standard components, as well as a hell of a lot of manufacturer specific catalogs.

While I’m not a huge fan of quoting software company executives, I did like a comment on the announcement by Autodesk’s vice president of Manufacturing Solutions Division, Buzz Kross, who commented that “The Inventor Community can concentrate on designing and innovating new products instead of wasting time and effort modeling parts they don’t manufacture.

Elsewhere, Blue Ridge Numerics, developer of CFdesign, announced details of the work its done to integrate its Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) system into the new look, feel and functioanlity of Inventor 2010. What I found interesting is how the company has jumped all over technology initially availabel on Autodesk Labs (such as shrinkwrap) which has now been built into the system proper. I could go on, but as ever, Derrek Cooper at Blue Ridge, has the details for you in a quick video (seriously, I should hire the Coop, he’s a whiz with this stuff)..

Finally, Okino Computer Graphics, a CGI and visualisation data translation specialist, is now shipping software products which have received “Autodesk Inventor 2010 Certification”. This will allow the “crack-free geometry, hierarchy (assembly data) and materials to be transferred cleanly and robustly from native disk-based Autodesk Inventor files or from a running copy of the Autodesk Inventor directly into any Okino data-conversion-compliant program.” those include systems like 3ds Max and Maya, EON Reality software, Cinema-4D, Visual Components’ 3DCreate to name but a few.

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Lenovo unveils new workstations

Published 25 March 2009

Posted by greg corke

Article tagged with: amd, nvidia, workstations, intel, tesla, lenovo, gpgpu

Today Lenovo became the first of the dedicated workstation manufacturers to announce its new generation Intel Xeon (Nehalem) based workstation range. Pipping Dell and HP to the post, Lenovo’s new ThinkStation S20 and D20 feature single socket and dual socket versions of Intel’s new Core i7-based Xeon chip.

In addition to offering both AMD (ATI) and Nvidia graphics cards, the big news is that Lenovo is pushing Nvidia’s Tesla GPU platform to supplement the jaw dropping performance of Intel’s new chips. For those that don’t know, Nvidia’s Tesla cards look like a graphics card and feature virtually the same technology as a graphics card, but are designed specifically to carry out compute tasks usually done on the CPU. Like all new technologies though, we are still waiting for the applications to come, most likely in the areas of simulation and rendering.

Elsewhere, Lenovo is boasting some pretty impressive green credentials, claiming that both workstations use 50% recycled content.

Look out for a full review review soon.

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Why Microsoft moved to Pro/E Wildfire 4.0

Published 25 March 2009

Posted by Al Dean

Article tagged with: design, visualisation, ptc, proengineer, microsoft, wildfire 4.0, upgrade

I picked up on this news through Franco’s Novedge Pulse news aggragation thing-a-me-bob, but it made for interesting reading so I thought I’d share it. PTC just announced (although its not dated) details that Microsoft has moved up to the Pro/Engineer Wildfire 4.0 release – while at first you think, “hmmmm,” you soon remember that Microsoft do a pretty bang on job of producing their own hardware using an in house design team (and with some consultancies – anyone else got one of those terrible Philipe Starck mice?).

And the very short details provides some interesting insight into the design process and how they compress development. According to the brief details, the challenge Microsoft faced was “initiating rapid change in a worldwide development process. Microsoft needed to improve a design process limited by 6+ weeks of surfacing, 2 weeks of shelling, and a substantial restriction on last-second changes.”

To solve this, the team upgraded to Wildfire 4.0 (from a mix of 2 and 3) so they could take advantage of the surfacing improvements. Going further, this satisfies Microsoft’s desire “for a CAD solution that handles Class-A surfacing to engineering detailing in a rapid change environment.” Using the new version, the team also revised its design process, which now retains “4 weeks for both surfacing and shelling and very few appreciable restrictions on last-second changes, delivering higher quality surfaces on a shorter timeline.”

The final tidbit is that a key driver for the move was the new Direct Surface Edit (DSE) functionality, which allows “users to manipulate existing surfaces, including regular surfacing, style, solids, and even imports. It also creates new surface with revised geometry (except in style super-feature case).” Many industry pundits tend to write off Pro/E these days for some reason. I think this shows that while its not the easiest, fresh looking system, once you dig into it, its got some incredibly powerful tools – which is why people hang on to it for dear life, particularly in sectors such as high-tech and consumer electronics.

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