Dell announces new Precision Mobile workstations

24 July 2012: I was pre-briefed last Friday about Dell’s new mobile workstations. Today I am in the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia writing this blog, taking time from all this natural beauty to keep you informed about the latest technology.

Today Dell is announcing the newest entries into its Precision line of workstations – the M4700 and the M6700 mobile workstations.

While these are hardly your ordinary laptops, weighing in at about 8 pounds, they offer a high degree of portability and an awesome display of computing power, incredible graphics options, high speed memory up to 16 GB or 32 GB depending on memory speed, disk capacities of up to 3.2 terabytes, and all this with a 10 hour battery life. Nevertheless, it’s better than lugging a desktop workstation and an external display to your next meeting. This is truly a machine that I would be comfortable to use as both my desktop workstation AND and mobile workstation.

They are not cheap. Starting prices range from $1649 for the Dell Precision M4700, to $2199 for the M6700, and $3579 for the M6700 Covet. Fully decked out I could easily imagine them coming in at 100% to 150% above their base price.

Why the covet name I asked? Mano Gialusis, Dell’s Sr. Product Manager, replied that after seeing the Gorilla Glass and edge to edge display, all users will covet it!

Last year TechniCom had the opportunity to benchmark software using the M6600 and that delivered excellent performance on Autodesk Inventor and SolidWorks. While Dell was not able provide any specifics on the performance of the latest workstations, I estimate that the M6700 with the extreme I7 processor and the higher performance graphics cards should deliver from 2X to 5X the overall performance on compute intensive operations. The overall performance that users will see, naturally will depend on the specific applications being run.

A bit about the graphics options. The AMD card is new and these workstations are the first to have it. The specs are available on the Dell website. This card offers HD3D stereoscopic viewing. NVIDIA offers three cards, offering their Quadro GPU technology, 3D vision and power conservation techniques. See more details at http://www.dell.com/precision .

Dell was not able to use Intel Xeon processors because they are too big and power hungry for mobile workstations. Instead the Intel Core i7-Extreme Edition Processor provides outstanding features, such as: four 3.33 GHz cores for better multitasking and multithreaded performance, 8 MB of smart cache, an Integrated memory controller delivering high memory bandwidth, and a new Quick Path Interconnect for fast data transfer between the processor and chipset.

Conclusions:
I am very impressed with Dell’s attention to the high end engineering and graphics markets. The previous announcement a few months ago of their desk-side systems show that they understand these market needs by offering well balanced compute speeds, amazing graphics, monstrous expandability, serviceability, and reliability. These mobile workstations expand on those offerings.

These babies are hot! If you need high end, portable workstations that are truly super-computers, there is no better way to go.

http://www.dell.com/precision

Disclosure: I received no compensation for this review. All opinions are mine.
—-

Stereoscopic 3D – it works!

I noticed that Randall Newton, in his Graphic Speak newsletter of 16 July 2012, commented on the Dimension 3 conference in Paris that focuses on digital 3D. He stated that “not all is well in 3D Land, reports Kathleen Maher; total revenue from 3D movies is dropping, despite blockbusters that do well. 3D in the home is still an expensive novelty, with few choices for consumers.” http://gfxspeak.com

I want to give you some feedback on my own experience with 3D TV and how it changed my perception.

On a recent trip to visit my son, it turns out he had a room added to his house and was in need of a new HDTV. He asked me to help him make a selection. Being somewhat of an electronics geek, I happily agreed, particularly since he was paying.

Off we went to Costco to browse their selection of LED TV’s. One that instantly struck our eyes was a new 3D LED HDTV by Samsung, a 55 inch TV from their new ES Series. While this was almost $400 more than we expected to spend, after looking at it and the rest of the offerings, my grandson lobbied hard for this TV. Even without seeing 3D on this set it blew away anything else in the store. He coupled this with a 3D blu-ray player by Samsung. My contribution was to buy a 3D movie (John Conner 2012) so we could test it out at home.

The hookups were easy, so after about half an hour of moving everything around and connecting all the wires, we turned it on and were literally blown away by the 3D experience! Lightweight active glasses seemed to avoid headaches I typically have gotten from passive glasses.

The picture was crisp and with amazing 3D. I didn’t quite flinch when things appeared to come out of the screen, but came close a few times. I had seen the movie before in 2D and was amazed by the difference. More lifelike. More compelling. Great images.

My conclusion: the next TV I buy will be one with 3D. I wonder why all CAD vendors don’t fully support 3D? We have 3D input devices. We have 3D printers. Yet, few vendors offer 3D display software for graphics design. Why?

Cloud PLM Systems ease collaboration

While there have been several articles negatively discussing using cloud software for CAD, users should be aware that for the PLM aspects of collaboration a cloud based system is by far the best way to go. Okay, there are a few cons to using a cloud system for access, such as concerns over security and potential downtime over which users have no control. Security may be a major concern for government projects requiring super high levels of secure data requirements. For 98% of users this should not be a concern. That does not mean that you should blithely ignore what security your chosen cloud vendor provides – by all means make sure that your concerns are met. But today’s security and encryption seem more than adequate for most users, providing that it is properly executed and monitored. You might even want to consult with independent security experts prior to committing to a solution.

Nevertheless, there are a quite a few benefits that far exceed the other alternative — that of maintaining an internal server capability.

First I need to make an assumption that a typical user installation has the following situation:

  • More than one engineering facility at which design is done
  • Multiple suppliers that need some type of restricted access to the design data

 

Assuming this is the case (and I’ll bet that more than 80% of users fit in this category), then here are only a few advantages cloud based PLM software accrues:

  • Little or no IT required for installation, setup, updates to the software, or backups.
  • A single copy of the database that does NOT require synchronization among multiple servers.
  • Easy management by database administrators
  • Lower software costs??
  • No personnel and space costs for servers or multiple servers
  • Ready internet access via various speed connections worldwide
  • No special costs for high speed telecomm connections

 

I can think of only two PLM systems that are completely architected for cloud operations: Arena Solutions and Autodesk 360.

Assessing the state of Product Development

After spending many years working with the CAD/CAM/PLM vendors I am now turning my attention to users of the software.

In my experience with users from many industry specialties, which includes many in-depth conversations and a few handfuls of on-site consulting assignments, users are not taking full advantage of the software and related process tools to re-engineer their environments.

Introducing new tools into a flawed product development process is only a band-aid. Without re-thinking the entire process the latest and greatest software will only result in a nominal ROI.

Instead of thinking about the miniscule advantage of moving from 2D design to 3D design, or the introduction of the latest PLM system, users should instead focus on the overall business benefits that might best cause them to produce better, more timely, higher quality products that can beat the pants off their competitors.

Believe it or not, just a few nights ago I was explaining to my wife, during a long drive home from dinner, about what a difference better design makes. And she actually listened. I guess I was really charged up!

One subject that always fascinates me is how truly innovative products are developed and how often competitors cannot react to substantive changes. She and I both use iPhones, so she immediately connected with the product. Not only that, but she said she loved her iPhone. Never heard that about her Samsung 10 key phone. After reading earlier that day about the current travails of RIM, the maker of the Blackberry phones I explained how RIM and Nokia seem to once have led the mobile phone industry and now both are deeply troubled, and may had difficulty surviving. And all this only in the last few years. Both companies seemed to have missed the point that the iPhone is not really a mobile phone, but a computer that can also make phone calls. The technology and innovation embodied in this product made huge leaps over the then existing mobile phone technologies. And their large competitors failed to recognize it. Then they failed to react to it. What was it in their product development process that was flawed: management, engineering, competitive analysis, business planning???

Do you have similar flaws in your process? Should you be asking whether or not you do?

Lately I have been exploring the idea of developing techniques for how to assess this in user companies. I am becoming more and more convinced that by carefully examining the key processes in product development and comparing them to best in class techniques used by successful organizations that this can be accomplished, and at a reasonable cost.

I’ll explain more about my thinking in future articles. I would love to hear from you about what you think. Reply to this blog and let the rest of us know.

—-

Dell’s new line of Precision Workstations rival supercomputers

23 April 2012: Last week I attended the Dell Precision Workstation announcement in San Francisco for their new line of Precision workstations meant for professionals with a need for high amounts of computation. Under embargo until today, I am now free to explore the details of the announcement with you.

If any of you were paying attention to my tweets of last week you may have seen my expectations for this line, even before I knew what the details were. I posited that the new products, following a long tradition of hardware announcements, we’re going to be faster, more expandable, and a better price performer. All of that is true, along with some other characteristics:

  • More green
  • Quieter – 8 thermal sensors in chassis control 8 fans.
  • Reliable memory technology – alerts user to replace defective DIMM’s
  • Smaller packaging
  • Easier to work on
  • Rack mountable
  • Can store up to 8 hard drives internally
  • Processor choice: multi socket or single socket (1 or 2 Xeon E5-2600 processors); each with up to 8 cores
  • Max memory up to 512 GB
  • Offers many times the performance for about the same cost

The four new systems T7600, T5600, T3600, and the T1560 all use the last Intel Xeon processors, and support both NVIDIA graphics cards along with NVIDIA’s Tesla boards with their amazing graphic CPU’s.

Maximum expandability is enormous and will form the basic choice of which system users will buy. By now the Dell website is updated with the specs. Go to www.dell.com for the details. The Intel spokesman stated that the T7600 is faster than the fastest supercomputer of only six years ago. Absolutely incredible!

I spent a fair amount of time at dinner the night before the meeting speaking with the industrial designers, who were very excited about the design, particularly the packaging and the ease with which users can access and upgrade the internals. On the T7600 and the T5600, the motherboard is now positioned away from the chassis so that the power cabling is all on one side and the electronic connections are on the other. Very nice. The entire power supply is an isolated unit that plugs directly into the chassis, thus it can swap out in seconds. A far cry from having to mess with the power plugs, as in the past.

Dell T7600 interior with dual processors

Note that no power cables are on this side of the motherboard, which is now more towards the middle of the chassis.

Here is a look at the removable power supply, accessible from the rear of the unit.

Removable power supply

Here is what the new towers look like (the ones on the left).

The Dell Precision T1650, T3600, T5600 and T7600 (left to right in the above image)

I generally don’t cover hardware announcements, but I made the exception in this case because these workstations are clearly aimed at the engineering and rendering/animation markets. The Dell Precision T1650, T3600, T5600 and T7600 (left to right in the above image) workstations will be available for purchase worldwide starting in May.

  • The Dell Precision T7600 pricing starts at $2,149 USD
  • The Dell Precision T5600 pricing starts at $1,879 USD
  • The Dell Precision T3600 pricing starts at $1,099 USD
  • The Dell Precision T1650 pricing will be announced in May

I expect that the T7600 reasonably configured will be in the $4000 range and could go much higher by adding up to three Nvidia boards (Quadro plus up to 2 Tesla GPU boards) that are now possible with its 600 watt power supply and high speed bus access directly to the Xeon processors. Nvidia’s GPU boards, called Tesla boards contain up to 448 cores. You can find out more at http://www.nvidia.com/object/personal-supercomputing.html.

Using the full capacity of the multi-core systems requires that the software be optimized for multi-processor architecture. In conversations with Nvidia representatives, they said that programs with have tight loops, and high compute requirements while processing minimal amounts of data are ideal candidates. FEA solvers and renderers are ideal for multi-threading. By the way, if you had a chance to see the movie Hugo, a huge part was rendered. I can hardly imagine the compute cycles required.

Takeaways:

If you are a power user, this is the way to go: truly super-computer performance delivered for workstation prices.

I tried very hard to get metrics on speed comparisons, but Dell (rightly so) claimed that it was so specific to the job being run, that they were unwilling to discuss numbers. With all of the standard benchmarks out there I am a little surprised. If any of my readers want to make available their experiences on the performance side I will be happy to publish meaningful results.

While I am a Mac fan, I have several PC workstations on site. I am salivating at the chance to get my hands on a properly equipped T7600. I expect many of you are as well.

I hope the software vendors will soon expand their capabilities to match this hardware power available. For you software vendors reading this, here are some things to think about:

  • More industry specific software that needs minimal information to produce designs.
  • Fully integrated analysis during design (like spell checkers)
  • Turning well specified requirements into designs
  • Better graphical PLM systems, with full automatic selection and rendering starting at even the most complex products
  • Allowing users to work totally with 3D stereoscopic models
  • And so on . . .

 

Disclosure: Dell paid for my travel expenses to and from the meeting and hotel accommodations and meals in San Francisco.

 —

Rhino 5 Beta Features a Gumball Manipulator

15 April 2012: last week I had a chance to sit in on a webinar hosted by Novedge about the new Gumball manipulator for Rhino 5. Why it’s call the gumball manipulator I have no idea and in response to this question apparently Rhino doesn’t either. Brian James, from Robert McNeel & Associates, presented the webinar hosted by Novedge.

Using the gumball manipulator, allowed for a very impressive list of capabilities to modify surfaces and curves directly.

Here is a view of the manipulator, selected to operate on the yellow curve.

Gumball Manipulator

It can perform translation, rotation, and scaling on the selected object. It can also be used to create geometry. This curve can be used to create the first solid, as shown below.

Scaling and translating the top face to modify a solid.

Eventually, using the gumball, other Rhino functions and a few other curves, the presenter created this faucet.

The faucet

The additional curves in the image below will be used to generate the sink shown below.

The final sink model

This was all pretty impressive and demonstrated that Rhino is continuing to develop their software into a “solid” CAD system featuring advanced curves, surfaces, and solids, as well as having a unique UI. All at a modest price.

Take a look for yourself via the recorded webinar.

More info:

Link to the recorded webinar:

http://www.rhinojungle.com/video/novedge-webinar-series-episode-43-rhino-5-overview-featuring-the

www.novedge.com, a leading on-line superstore has lots of video demos available for many products.

Scan and Solve offers meshing-less FEA

19 March 2012: Recently I had a chance to sit in on a demo of Scan&Solve™, software promising to (virtually) automatically solve parts for linear stress FEA analysis without any concern about meshing the part. Used in conjunction with solid models of parts developed with Rhino, the demo did just that. To verify the accuracy of the results, the demoer adjusted something called the resolution of the “geometry scan” of the part. Adjusting the resolution showed that the accuracy was converging. Wow! I thought. Time to find out more about how this worked, how extensible it was, how it differed from traditional FEA, and its cost. I went to the company website and soon located the founder of Intact Solutions LLC, the company that authored the software – Vadim Shapiro, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Computer Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Right away, I figured uh oh, an academic. They are not always known for providing crisp answers. Nevertheless I requested and was granted an interview with Dr. Shapiro. He turned out to be very open and enthusiastic about the product.

Vadim Shapiro, Intact Solutions founder

Here is what Scan&Solve does differently than traditional FEA meshers and related solvers:

  • Scan&Solve is not a replacement for FEA; it is an extension of FEA, which aims specifically to solve the problem of CAD/CAE interoperability. Any reasonable geometric kernel and any reasonable FEA package can be interfaced with great benefits. The goals of the product are simplicity, universality, and complete automation.
  • The current version analyzes parts only, not assemblies.
  • Instead of meshing, the software assigns an analysis space (a grid) surrounding the part to be worked on, as shown below:

How Scan&Solve works

  • Scan&Solve needs to interface with the CAD system to supply coordinates of the model to Scan&Solve for each point on the grid. Given this interface between the CAD system and S&S, there is no need for a mesh to be created. Instead the software works with the precise model geometry. Scan&Solve directly modifies the basis functions, sometimes called “shape functions” — functions that approximate the solution of the problem. In the current implementation, these basis functions are associated not with vertices of the mesh, but with cells in the mesh (of the space, not of geometry). “Modify functions” means that they are modified to satisfy the applied restraints everywhere — not just at vertices. Scan&Solve™ can be applied to any geometric model and used within any geometric modeling system that supports two fundamental queries: point membership testing and distance to boundary computation.
  • No simplification or de-featuring of the model is needed.
  • Increasing the resolution of the grid can test convergence of the results. If a higher resolution produces large changes in the results, keep increasing the resolution. Shapiro noted, “The issue is essentially the same as with standard FEA. One can estimate the error and refine the mesh (or increase density in our case), but it is more or less the same for all techniques. We do not do anything automatically right now. We advise the users to run at different resolutions (which requires NO WORK from the user) and compare the results. If results are significantly different, increase the resolution. In principle, this can and will be automated in the future.”
  • Can work directly with polygonal models. Scan&Solve performs all analysis related computations on the native geometry (whether polygonal, NURBS, or other form of geometry). Shapiro stated that “This eliminates the need for preprocessing: no healing, smoothing, de-featuring, or meshing is needed. This drastically reduces preparation/set up time.” However, the commercial product in Rhino works only with NURBS solids.
  • It always produces results. Shapiro stated “The solution procedure is deterministic, does not use heuristics, and always produces a result. (In other words, failure means a bug in the code: not inability to handle some geometry.) The advantages of S&S are full automation, complete integration and interoperability. Use it at any stage of the design process: from concept creation to detailed geometry.”
  • Prices are very reasonable. Scan&Solve for Rhino commercial licenses are $695 for a node locked version and $1295 for a floating license. Academic, trial and rental licenses are also available. Scan&Solve for Rhino also requires a Rhino license.
  • Interfaces are available currently for a limited number of CAD systems. Scan&Solve can be applied to any geometric model and used within any geometric modeling system that supports two fundamental queries: point membership testing and distance to boundary computation.

References: http://www.intact-solutions.com/

http://www.scan-and-solve.com/

Disclosure: No remuneration of any kind was paid for this article.

Conclusion: Both CAD and FEA vendors should check out the possibility of offering this technology as an option for users. With trial copies available from both Rhino and Intact Solutions, users wanting to extend FEA analysis beyond the traditional analysis experts should consider the benefits and urge their CAD partners to investigate this alternative.