Archive for the ‘The Hmmm zone – Hardware’ Category

FireGL V5000 and a Dream Machine for ADT/Revit

14 February 2006

Here’s a useful discussion between a couple of gurus on the Autodesk hardware discussion forum. It has a lot of information for those of us who are putting together (or dreaming) of a decent CAD workstation. Note particularly the requirement for good Open GL graphics performance, on which Autodesk software relies heavily.

From: Brian W 
Subject: FireGL v5000 and a dream machine for ADT/Revit
Newsgroups: pn.hardware
Date: Sat, 11 Feb 2006 08:23:55 +0000
 
I’m a computer guy (I provide tech support to individuals and very small businesses) and have been asked to build a workstation for an architect.  On Jan 11, I posted here about the choice between a Quadro FX1300 and a GeForce 7800GT and received many helpful replies. I continued my research, looking particularly on the AUGI forums (for which Henry Dearborn kindly provided a link in the earlier thread). I’ve furthered studied manufacturer sites, and read some reviews, including the benchmarking summary provided in the FireGL and Quadro reviews at features.CGsociety.org (link kindly provided by Matt Stachoni in the earlier thread).

All of this was in service of a spec for a new workstation to run Architectural Desktop, REVIT Building 8, and Photoshop.

Here’s the current, proposed bill of materials:

Component Choice Est.
Processor  AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ $500
MB Asus A8N-E  $125
Memory  Crucial 2GB kit ECC  $325
System drive WD Raptor 10K 150 GB $310
Data drive (Raid1)  2x HITACHI Deskstar T7K250 160GB $ 175
DVD/CD drive PLEXTOR 16X DVD+R 8 MB cache  $ 135
Videocard FireGL v5000 128MB $330
OS Windows XP Professional OEM $165
Case  Antec P180 $135
Power Supply Antec TruePower 480W $95
KB & Mouse  unspecified ~ $100
Speakers  unspecified ~$45

Component total $2440 (estimates include padding to cover sales tax, shipping, etc.)

I would appreciate any comments, and try to respond to any questions.

Here are some notes, from me:

Obviously, I am not trying very hard to restrain the budget. Still, the system ought to be balanced, and, that is a concern. Is there anywhere I am underspec’ing? Where could I most harmlessly trim?

I chose the AMD X2 processor, partly because the thermal characteristics of the Pentium 4 scare me and the performance of even the D 9x seems constrained, even though it does well in benchmarks. The suggestion that the superior floating point performance of the AMD would be important to Acad reinforced me in that choice. I chose the cheapest Toledo processor, because I believe in the value of cache, even if it does not blow anyone away in benchmarks. (Still, I know I could probably save $100 with the 4200+ and no one would notice; at the same time, I doubt that the processor speed is all-important — I cannot convince myself that 4600+, with less cache and less than 10% greater processor speed would be worth an additional $50.

nVidia nForce is the only reasonable choice of chipset; Asus and Abit are the only mb makers, other than Intel, I trust. I see no point in a server board or a gamer’s delight, SLI board. The Asus A8N-E seemed reasonable. Gb ethernet and 4 SATA2, on-board sound, but no FireWire; the only unusual thing is a PCIe x4 slot.

2GB of memory seemed reasonable. I am ready to believe that you can never have too much memory, though, and could be talked into more — could I conserve somewhere else and still enhance the performance of the system with more memory? One thing I have wondered about is whether the boot.ini /3GB switch is workable with Acad ADT or Revit. I have not seen documentation, yet, though I haven’t looked hard.

I am buying ECC memory. ECC effectively reduces the number of consequential memory errors by nearly an order of magnitude. Memory errors are rare, but their rate is proportional to the amount of memory you have, and when you have a lot of memory, ECC is worthwhile.

I love Raptor drives. Gives a system that little extra bit of snappy!

RAID1 seems like a reasonable precaution. The Hitachi T7K250 drives are the best performers among current 7200 rpm drives. Space is unlikely to be a problem, and 160 GB should be plenty. I tend to think that the “smaller” drives, because they have fewer platters, are less vulnerable to overheating and failure. A two-platter 160 GB drive is better than a three-platter 250 GB drive, if you do not need the space.

The Plextor Drive is expensive because of the 8MB cache, but it is remarkably well-behaved as a consequence. Still, I doubt anyone would care if I substituted a regular, $45 unit.

The FireGL v5000 was dictated by the architect’s lust for a 30″ monitor. Either an Apple or Dell 30″ requires a “dual-link” capable DVI-I port, and the v5000 is the cheapest professional card, which has “dual-link” DVI-I. It is only on one of the two DVI-I connectors though, so he cannot have dual 30″ monitors! (Apple actually points out which of its systems will support two 30″ monitors; now there’s confident salesmanship.) The Revit hardware guru in the AUGI Revit forum has been very pleased with his FireGL v3100, and people seem to often have problems configuring the Quadro FX1400. Don’t know what that’s about, and don’t want to find out. Just looking at the hardware, the v5000 is a better card than the more expensive FX1400, but does not do as well in some 3D benchmarks. I am betting that the benchmarks do not mean all that much, practically, to ADT or Revit, and that any significant anomalies showing up in the benchmarks, as ATI rev’s the drivers, will (or already have) disappear(ed); nVidia has had a longer time to tune its benchmark performance.

Windows XP or Windows XP? dilemmas, dilemmas

I’ve never cut myself on an Antec case. And, things just get better from there. Well-placed fans. Rubber washers for the drive mount screws. All that kind of thing.

I think this system would probably thrive, as well, in a Antec Sonata II case, which would be cheaper, because it would include the 480W SmartPower 

PS. But, the PS is one thing I worry about, and I want an excuse to get the better quality TruePower model. I’m even thinking of upgrading to the 550W TruePower. Problems with the power supply are more common than people realize and maddening to diagnose.

A wireless keyboard and optical mouse will probably be the choice, and some cheap speakers (which is too bad, because the mb actually has decent sound).


From: jg
Subject: Re: FireGL v5000 and a dream machine for ADT/Revit
Newsgroups: pn.hardware
Date: Mon, 13 Feb 2006 13:35:59 +0000

Everything seems fine to me EXCEPT the power supply. Antec makes great power supplies, but you need more kick than their 480. There is a recently discovered problem, (just read about it this morning) which may not apply here, relating to lockups with the top AMD’s using dual (SLI) video cards when used with typical power supplies. If you ever want to have dual 30″ monitors you need an SLI motherboard with Nvidia video cards due to the dual dvi on each card. (ATI’s solution for dual video cards ties up dvi output connectors). Of course your system outspecs mine by a mile without the changed power supply.       


From: Matt Stachoni
Date: Mon, 13 Feb 2006 14:30:13 +0000
       

Brian,

Comments below:

Processor AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+ 
You will definitely save money by going with an X2 4200 over the 4400. The 4200 has less onboard cache, but that makes no difference in almost all applications. The 4600, which is slightly faster, is also a good value chip. The 440 and 4800 (Toledo core) are simply more expensive, but not better performers, than their Manchester-core counterparts.

MB Asus A8N-E 
Not a bad choice.

Memory Crucial 2GB kit ECC 
I know you stated a preference for ECC RAM, but it’s really not needed for a workstation application. I’ve never seen an instance where ECC contributed to the stability of a non-server system. You can also save at least $100 by using non-ECC DDR400 RAM. 

System drive WD Raptor 10K 150 GB
Some people put a premium on the disk subsystem but I do not anymore; a decent 7200RPM drive will be fine, quieter and put out less heat.

Data drive (Raid1) 2x HITACHI Deskstar T7K250 160GB
If this is a work system, tied to a network, adding in a RAID subsystem is a bit silly (as all data is stored on the server). For a “home” system, I still wouldn’t advocate a RAID system, ESPECIALLY a RAID 0, where if one drive dies you lose everything. DAMHIKT.

For a home system, you’ll gain much more bang for the buck by just using a smaller drive (80GB+/-) for the OS + applications, and a larger drive (250GB+) for all your data.

When building systems for friends, I ALWAYS budget for a 250GB disk in a USB external case. It’s much easier – therefore much more likely – for someone to simply back up files via drag and drop than making countless DVDs. 

DVD/CD drive PLEXTOR 16X DVD+R 8 MB cache 135
Good choice.

Videocard FireGL v5000 128MB
Call me biased against ATi, but an nVidia Quadro 1400 would fit the bill with better OGL performance for just about the same $.

If the machine won’t be doing any 3D in max/VIZ, I would advocate a GeForce 7800 instead.

Matt


From: Brian W
Date: Mon, 13 Feb 2006 23:24:50 +0000
       

“Matt Stachoni” wrote in message  https://vicaug.wordpress.com/wp-admin/news:5084396@discussion.autodesk.com… BW: I really appreciate your taking so much time. It is really valuable to me, to have these conversations; it is the only way I have to stimulate myself to think these things thru. 

Processor AMD Athlon 64 X2 4400+
Matt: You will definitely save money by going with an X2 4200 over the 4400. The4200 has less onboard cache, but that makes no difference in almost all applications. The 4600, which is slightly faster, is also a good value chip. The 440 and 4800 (Toledo core) are simply more expensive, but not better performers, than their Manchester-core counterparts.

BW: The more I look at it, the more convinced I am, that the AMD Athlon 64 X2 4200+ is the best price/performance value. The lower thermal envelope of the 4200+ (89W v 110W) is also attractive to me, as I fear heat, even though I have specified a great case.

BW: I have a few clients, who are embedded in large corporations, with brain-dead IT depts, and I function as an advocate. In that environment, return-on-investment calculations are valued. I usually figure: 
1.) the operator costs/produces roughly $100,000/year, including salary, benefits, office overhead, etc., and 
2.) a 100% improvement in raw (theoretical) system power is a 25% improvement in system/program performance/real speed
3.) a 10% percent improvement in system performance/speed translates into a 0.5% improvement in overall operator productivity.

BW: If this 2.2 GHz Athlon 64 x2 system were replacing an obsolete 1.5 GHz Pentium 4 or a 900 MHz Pentium III (the 1.5G P4 roughly equals the 900 MHz P3 roughly equals a 900 MHz Athlon), I would say that the 2.2 GHz Athlon 64 x2 is roughly 5 times the 900 MHz P3, in raw terms: 2.5x the speed, 2x the core computer power. That’s a 400% improvement, for the mathematically challenged; so, I would argue, roughly a 100% improvement in system/program performance. By my rule of thumb, that’s a 5% improvement in productivity. 

BW: If the corporation’s required rate of return on investment translates into a required six month payback (six month payback is the shortest I have run into), then the system is worth up to $2500. So, overall, they are getting a bargain — practically a free machine! 😉

BW: The difference in raw power, between the 3800+ and the 4200+ or the 4200+ and the 4600+, is around 10%, and, by my rule of thumb, it is worth ~$65. Since that’s the difference in price between the 3800+ and the 4200+, I can “afford” the 4200+, but not the 4600+, because the difference between the 4200+ and the 4600+ is roughly twice that.

[BW: I thought I would throw that in, for the lurkers, who need ammunition in their war with the bean counters.]

System drive WD Raptor 10K 150 GB
Matt: Some people put a premium on the disk subsystem but I do not anymore; a decent 7200RPM drive will be fine, quieter and put out less heat. 

BW: This is definitely a “luxury” item. The Raptor, like the extra cache of the Toledo 4400+, do not affect the performance ceiling of the system at all, but they do contribute to the “feel” of the system, smoothing out the little hesitations, when you or the program shift tasks. It might be hard to justify, quantitatively, but, for some people, it makes a definite contribution to satisfaction.

Data drive (Raid1) 2x HITACHI Deskstar T7K250 160GB
Matt: If this is a work system, tied to a network, adding in a RAID subsystem is a bit silly (as all data is stored on the server). For a “home” system, I still wouldn’t advocate a RAID system, ESPECIALLY a RAID 0, where if one drive dies you lose everything. DAMHIKT.

Matt: For a home system, you’ll gain much more bang for the buck by just using a smaller drive (80GB+/-) for the OS + applications, and a larger drive (250GB+) for all your data.

Matt: When building systems for friends, I ALWAYS budget for a 250GB disk in a USB external case. It’s much easier – therefore much more likely – for someone to simply back up files via drag and drop than making countless DVDs.

BW: Agree with all you’ve written. The only people I would ever recommend RAID0 to, are people doing HD video editing.

BW: The system proposed here is kind of the super-peer on a home office peer-to-peer network, so I think RAID1 makes sense. The extra drive costs all of $100, and if it saves him even half a day’s work, once, it has paid for itself. I have reconsidered, and may go with 250 GB drives, either the Hitachi T7K250 units or Samsung Spinpoint P120 units. Both are up-to-date two platter drives.

BW: My architect has a USB backup drive (a Lacie in the shape of a red Lego brick — very cute.) Here’s a tip: Microsoft has a free widget called, Sync Toy, with which you can easily manage coordinating files between a PC and an external drive or a desktop and a laptop.

Videocard FireGL v5000 128MB
Matt: Call me biased against ATi, but an nVidia Quadro 1400 would fit the bill with better OGL performance for just about the same $. 

Matt: If the machine won’t be doing any 3D in max/VIZ, I would advocate a GeForce 7800 instead.

BW: You’re biased against ATi. (You told me to say so.)

BW: Maybe, I am missing something, but the Quadro FX1400s I have found are $500, and the FireGL v5000s I have found are $300.

BW: The client’s a concept architect and he needs to be using, at least, Viz, whether he actually does at the moment. (He has an assistant, who does these magnificent color renderings by hand, for about $8000 a pop.) And, there’s that lust for a 30″ monitor, I mentioned. The FX1400 doesn’t have a dual-link capability, so no can do 30″. (A 7800 could, though.)

BW: I’m probably prejudiced in favor of ATi. Their game cards have never done OpenGL well, but they are marginally better at the DirectX stuff, and antialiasing. The FireGL cards have the geometry muscle to do very well. I would not have considered ATi 2 years ago for architectural CAD, and still would not put one of their game cards in a machine expected to do OpenGL, but FireGL v5x00 v. Quadro FX1x00 looks like a toss up, to me. Still, that’s, at best, a superficially well-informed and far-from-expert opinion.

BW: Thanks again for the exchange. It has really helped me to sharpen my thinking. I feel, if I can give a good, clean rationale, concerning the choices and trade-offs, then I am putting the client in control of what is costing him money, and what will be his computer.


From: Matt Stachoni
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 15:51:34 +0000
       

On Mon, 13 Feb 2006 23:24:50 +0000, Brian W wrote:

System drive WD Raptor 10K 150 GB
BW: This is definitely a “luxury” item.

You will see more of a “bump” in using this HD than in the 4400 vs the 4200. However, it’s a REALLY small bump.

BW: The system proposed here is kind of the super-peer on a home office peer-to-peer network, so I think RAID1 makes sense.

Sorry, I neglected your point about using RAID 1. The minute one of the goes bad, it has paid for itself by saving your butt.

BW: Maybe, I am missing something, but the Quadro FX1400s I have found are $500, and the FireGL v5000s I have found are $300.

Peanuts where video cards are concerned. Like you said, if it saves half of a day’s work, it will have paid for itself. And this is EXACTLY what will happen, and much faster than you think.

BW: The client’s a concept architect and he needs to be using, at least, Viz, whether he actually does at the moment. 

The reason is that with someone using a heavy OpenGL application like VIZ, you need the fastest, best video card around for daily 3D operations. Rendering is its own separate thing, and a fast CPU will save money there immediately. But when you are spinning hundreds of thousands of triangles around in a scene, any lesser video card is going to make you wait and that is really frustrating for the user.

And, there’s that lust for a 30″ monitor, I mentioned. The FX1400 doesn’t have a dual-link capability, so no can do 30″. (A 7800 could, though.)

I forgot to mention this, but your architect should understand that he will be well over 50% more efficient using two smaller (20″) monitors in lieu of a single huge one.

The reasoning is pretty simple – in a windowed environment where you need to arrange UI widgets around, having a second physical monitor means you can easily run two applications maximized at the same time. In 3D work, this is usually Pshop and Viz/max, and even then you have UI doodads like palettes and panels floating around. Using a monitor utility like Ultramon, you can simply push windows to the other screen using a button added to the window.

Have your architect sit at a single monitor workstation and use VIZ. Then have him sit at a dual monitor system, and have him push the command panel, Material Editor, toolbars, etc over to the second screen and let him run VIZ unencumbered on the first one. He will be sold.

I would not have considered ATi 2 years ago for architectural CAD, and still would not put one of their game cards in a machine expected to do OpenGL, but FireGL v5x00 v. Quadro FX1x00 looks like a toss up, to me.

Like I said, VIZ and max are heavy OpenGL applications especially if you have the right driver. They can use DirectX, but it’s shaky. The nVidia Quadro can use the “Maxtreme” drivers which REALLY make the cards rocket along. The ATi card will perform acceptably well, but it doesn’t ever top the 1400.

Matt
mstachoni@comcast.net
mstachoni@bhhtait.com


From: Maqina
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 12:58:23 +0000
       

Hi Brian,

I have read your post with much interest and I think you have selected a great system for ADT/Revit. As I work for a system integrator in the Netherlands that benchmarks our workstations to offer the best advice to our customers I couldn’t resist the urge to give you some feedback on some components:

CPU – The AutoCAD related products (including ADT) rely heavily on processing power derived from clockspeed. AMD is indeed the best choice at the moment, but single-core processors at higher speeds still beat the lower-clocked dual-core models. Also bigger cache doesn’t result in improved performance in the applications you mention, so I would recommend an AMD Athlon 64 3800+ (working at 2,4Ghz). If you consider dual-core processors I would recommend taking a CPU with at least the same clockspeed (4600+ or FX-60). 

RAM – The Athlon processor you chose doesn’t support ECC memory (the memory controller is integrated in Athlon processors). So although the motherboard supports fitting special unbuffered ECC RAM you wouldn’t derive any benefits from this. (I do agree ECC is a great function for stable workstations, our company uses Opteron processors for our high-end workstations). Opterons supporting ECC memory are also available in single-processor configurations, and might be a valid alternative.

VGA – The ATI V5000 is a great choice for CAD work. Our benchmarks show it hits the perfect sweet spot in a price/performance comparison. AUGI Gauge benchmarks don’t show a noticeable performance increase when using more expensive cards. (a nice review that also looks at general AutoCAD performance is available at http://www.behardware.com/articles/560-7/test-7-pci-express-3d-pro-graphic-cards.html . It’s almost a year old, but since no new cards have been launched it still holds true)

Olaf


From: Matt Stachoni
Date: Tue, 14 Feb 2006 17:54:16 +0000
       

RAM – The Athlon processor you chose doesn’t support ECC memory (the memory controller is integrated in Athlon processors).

I think you are confused.

All AMD Athlon64 chips, including the X2 forward – supports ECC. The X2’s memory controller supports 128-bit + 16-bit ECC unbuffered memory. 

http://www.amd.com/us-en/Processors/ProductInformation/0,,30_118_9485_9487^9493,00.html
http://www.amd.com/us-en/Processors/ProductInformation/0,,30_118_9485_13041^13042,00.html

The Opteron family of processors includes ECC RAM in the cache (the X2 does not) but this does not preclude any AMD64 based system from supporting ECC memory. 

Regardless, using ECC memory in a workstation is still a waste of money.

Matt
mstachoni@comcast.net
mstachoni@bhhtait.com


  

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