u p F r o n t . e Z i n e

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Issue #686 |  April 512, 2011 

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In This Issue

1. The Future in Graphics Boards for CAD Users
   An interview with Jon Peddie

    - Introduction to GPUs
    -HPUs Combine CPUs and GPUs
    - Q&A


2. Programming Languages and AutoCAD, Part 3

     by Patrick Emin

3. Out of the Inbox


The Future in Graphics Boards for CAD Users
An Interview with Jon Peddie


Jon Peddie has analyzed the graphics market for more than two decades, and last week I asked him if he could talk to my readers about current trends in CPUs. Immediately, he disagreed with my use of the word "trends." "There are dramatic changes occurring with new architecture," he insisted. The drama stems from the merging of GPUs within CPUs.


Introduction to GPUs

First, though, he set the stage by defining GPUs. GPU is short for "graphics processing unit," traditionally in charge of generating the graphics that appear on your computer's monitor. (CPU is short for "computer processing unit," the chip in the computer that does the hardest work.)


Until a few years ago, GPUs were relegated to add-in graphics boards, now called "discrete graphics." GPUs have massive quantities of processors (called "shaders") that can perform double-precision floating-point calculations. The latest graphics boards from AMD (formerly ATI) have up to 1,600 processors, while those from Nvidia have up to 512 processors.


GPUs are well suited for parallel processing (vector) processing, but not good for conventional office apps. They cannot run operating systems like Linux or Windows, or conventional applications, like Office and AutoCAD. Instead, they can be harnessed to accelerate functions within applications, like Autodesk's Moldflow, finite element analysis (FEA), and video editing. "They have become augmenting processors," Dr Peddie explained.


HPUs Combine CPUs and GPUs

The new architecture is the HPU, short for "heterogeneous processing unit," which embeds the GPU functions in the CPU chip. The primary advantages to HPUs are acceleration of applications, low cost, and low power consumption. (In an interview I had with Intel, they noted that HPUs can eliminate the need for discrete graphics, representing a cash savings of $100 or more, which then can be used to boost other areas of the computer's performance, such as buying additional RAM.)


There are two strands of HPU, one on the desktop and another in mobile devices.

The HPU, however, has its limitations. Those AMD and Nvidia graphics boards with 1,600 or 512 processors have power consumption of 200 Watts -- equal to Intel's biggest CPU, the new "SandyBridge" series. Therefore, Mr Peddie said, chip makers can't have 1,600 or 512-core GPUs in eight-core CPUs. So the number of GPU cores has to be cut back in HPUs.


AMD's recent Fusion HPU has 16 GPU cores, but the new Llanno (due to ship last week) has 55+ cores. In SandyBridge, the GPU has just 12 cores. Mobile HPUs today have an even smaller number of GPUs, typically two to eight.


Mr Peddie noted that AMD is placing a bigger bet on GPUs, because it thinks software developers in the future will get greater payback by optimizing code for GPUs. In contrast, Intel is still stuck on x86, and thinks that the CPU is more important, where developers get greater payback right now.

While HPUs eliminate the need for low-end graphics boards, they do not bring to an end all discrete graphics (graphics boards). HPUs are suitable for 2D CAD drawings and simple 3D CAD, but not high-end graphics used by SolidWorks, Inventor, and the like.


upFront.eZine: When I ask graphics board vendors AMD and Nvidia about CAD use with GPUs, they tend to always point to the same two examples, Moldflow and FEA. Will GPUs ever work with more than just a few specialized areas?

Jon Peddie: The GPU excels at math acceleration, such as physics simulation and FEA. That's why GPUs are used for Moldflow and rendering, especially ray tracing. The GPU can only augment CAD, taking on portions of an application; it cannot run CAD itself.

upFront.eZine: Are multi-core CPUs any good beyond, say, two cores?
Mr Peddie:
It's up to the application writers, and whether they make use of multi-cores. In the case of CAD, there is not a lot of opportunity for doing multi-core, since CAD software is primarily about solving a data search problem -- not a drawing problem. Fast disks are better than more cores.


upFront.eZine: I've heard that 64-bit systems are slower than 32-bit ones, because they need to translate code to x86.
Mr Peddie:
I've never heard that. The main advantages to 64-bit systems is that they can deal with bigger numbers, compute to higher accuracy, access more RAM and greater disk space. This is useful primarily to FEA, analyzing seismic data, and processing medical images. Every day users of CAD don't need 64-bit systems, but since they are so cheap and readily available, there is no drawback to using them.

[Dr Jon Peddie is president of Jon Peddie Research, a technically oriented computer graphics marketing and management-consulting firm. http://www/jonpeddie.com ]



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Programming Languages and AutoCAD, Part 3

by Patrick Emin


[Part 2 was presented in upFront.eZine #684.]

Ultimately, what is the purpose of the programming in AutoCAD? Is it knowing the capabilities of the machine; worrying about how a DLL is compiled; gaining two milliseconds here and there? Not at all, these concern only professional programmers disconnected from the real world. AutoCAD endusers want to do their be done more quickly than by hand; a procedure that takes two milliseconds fewer than another is meaningless.


Clearly, in the field of programming for AutoCAD, we are getting away from basic needs. Users waste time learning that which is useful in designing operating systems, but not that which answers their needs.


Take the example of drawing a single line programmatically. It is, of course, much faster to to do so in LISP or VBA than with the .NET environment. No programmer would deny that. I chuckle when I hear .NET developers attempting the impossible, pathetic, brave explanation of the merits of .NET:

If a program draws 10,000 lines with LISP or with VBA or with Visual Basic .NET, then . NET draws the lines much faster.

To which I say, "Big deal!" Nobody cares. What AutoCAD draftsman spends his days drawing 10,000 lines every 10 seconds?


Here's what interests the drafter using AutoCAD with add-on code: it's when he requests a modification to the code from his IT department, and when the computers guys just need to correct one line of code -- rather than 25. And frankly, developers are also interested in that code correction efficiency.


This does not happen in the .NET environment. While the LISP guy has already done his correction, the VBA programmer is still finishing typing her line of code, and the unfortunate .NET programmer is still looking for hypothetical Web support among hypothetical examples of code routines that will allow him to understand in which dialect to talk to the computer.


[Patrick Emin is an AutoCAD and Android programmer, and runs numerous helps sites, such as www.acadnetwork.com and autocad.shapado.com. This article was reprinted by permission from http://www.acadnetwork.com/topic-80.0.html]


Part 4 will appear in a future issue of upFront.eZine.




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Out of the Inbox

Arnold van der Weide of OpenDesign Alliance tweets, "Working on member statistics. 60 more members compared to 2010 and # countries increased with 9 from 42 to 51." http://twitter.com/#!/kjaw999


Inter-departmental turf war? "Fusion was not mentioned at the Autodesk AEC launch," reports an editor. "It got zero space; in fact they went out of their way to avoid mentioning it. They see Vasari as their modeling option."


Siemens PLM Software launches Teamcenter Mobility app on iPad to lookup product information and interactively view 3D models in JT format, with the Android version due later. It's a no-charge download from http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/teamcenter-mobility-free/id424615831 but to put it into actual use, you'll need to connect it to Teamcenter 8.3+ with a Teamcenter Consumer or Author named user license.


VisualARQ ($395) is an architecture plug-in for Rhino that provides parametric 3D walls, columns, doors, windows, and stairs that are also suitable for 2D documentation. Thirty-day eval after registration from http://www.visualarq.com


The board of Geometric appoints Manu Parpia as the managing director and ceo, replacing Ravishankar G, who resigned for personal reasons. Mr Parpia is the company's founder and former vice chairman.


GStarCAD enhances the GRX API [GstarCAD runtime extension application program interface] in GstarCAD 2011, making it more compatible with AutoCAD 2011. One set of source code supports two platforms, AutoCAD's ARX and GstarCAD's GRX; ARX can be ported to GRX without modifying the source code. http://en.gstarcad.com


HiCAD 2011 now does 64 bits of computing, intelligently automates the creation of individual production data, and adds a BIM/PDM solution. http://www.hicad.isdgroup.eu/index.htm


Version 6.0 of LGS 2D constraint solver from LEDAS Ltd now handles boundary geometries, like segments, circular arcs, and elliptic arcs. It also computes solutions for drawings with one to three unsatisfied constraints. http://www.ledas.com/products/lgs2d


Autodesk updates eight of its software packages to work with Citrix XenApp 5 and 6 for centralized management of data, lower client-side hardware requirements, and server consolidation. http://www.citrix.com/citrixready


PTC updates WindChill to v10 to "Do More, Know More, Get More." It's available now, with add-ons to arrive throughout the rest of this year. http://www.ptc.com


nVidia prices its new Quadro 400 for CAD users at $169 through manufacturing partners PNY, ELSA, and Leadtek. http://www.nvidia.com/quadro


And Advanced Laser Materials now owns 51% of Integra Services' shares. ALM makes materials for rapid mfg'ing, while Intgra provides service and support. http://www.alm-llc.com


- - -


These were some of the news items that were posted during the last week at our WorldCAD Access blog <worldcadaccess.typepad.com>:

- The future of social networking, as explained by infographics
- Mmmmm... the smell of competition among Linux CAD. I'm lovin' it
- Plagiarism killed the future of a minister of defense; don't let it kill yours


Spin Doctor of the Moment

"Genesi USA ... announces price reductions on its line of wafer-thin and whisper-quiet Efika MX computers, opening the door even more for billions of people and businesses in emerging markets to affordable state-of-the-art computing and Internet access."
  - http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110225006082/en/129-Efika-MX-Smarttop-199-Smartbook-Price


upFront.eZine is published every Tuesday, except during summer and Christmas vacation. Editor: Ralph Grabowski. This newsletter is read by 12,000 subscribers in 70 countries. Your comments are welcome at editor@upfrontezine.com! Deadline for submissions is every Monday noon.


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Entire contents copyright 2011 by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. All rights reserved worldwide. Letters sent to the editor are subject to publication. Article reprint fee: $250 and up. All trademarks belong to their respective holders. "upFront.eZine," "The Business of CAD," and "On your desktop every Tuesday morning" are trademarks of upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd. Letters to the editor may be edited for clarity and brevity. Translations and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by upFront.eZine Publishing, Ltd.

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