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

celebrating the 16th birthday of upFront.eZine


Issue #689 |  May 3, 2011 

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In This Issue

1. T-Splines 3 for Rhino

2. What's a Workstation, Anymore?

  - Comparing E3 and i7 Specs

  - Regarding AVX


3. Annual Fund Drive


A shorter newsletter today, because my son is marrying a wonderful young woman later this week. Stefan Grabowski marries Ivonne Silveira on Saturday, 7 May, at Cascade Community Church.


T-Splines 3 for Rhino
There is a lot of interest in the merging of NURBS (used more by CAD software) and sub-division surfaces (used more by animation software). I interviewed IntegrityWare some weeks ago; Autodesk added sub-d surfaces to AutoCAD; and Pro/E is coming out with a Creo'ized version -- among others. Bringing sub-d surfaces to CAD makes for more flexible modeling.


T-Splines, however, is unique, as ceo Matt Sederberg told me last week, in its approach to sub-d modeling in that it has the ability to handle T-shaped intersections between faces (patented) with curvature continuity. In addition, T-Splines has the advantage of starting with curves (others tend to start from primitives, like boxes), and can match to an exact curve or surface or mesh -- hence the name, T and Splines.


Mr Sederberg was on GoToMeeting with me to talk about version 3 of T-Splines for Rhino. This software runs inside of the Rhinoceros direct modeling software from McNeel & Assoc:

v1 - proof of concept
v2 - easy of use
v3 - everyday use

V3 increases the speed, makes it easier to create T-splines, and adds exact dimensioning to T-splines.


The pipe tool is new, placing pipes (tubes) along curves, complete with smooth intersections that are filleted automatically. He says he finds that designers tend to prefer to start with curves, since that is what they are used to, and this new tools lets them quickly convert an outline made of curves into objects of substance.


Users can interactively change the radius and lengths of the tubes, because Rhino has history. This lets you move parts around, and the overall shape self-heals.

Also new is the Match command, but it doesn't match properties as we might expect. Instead, it precisely matches T-spline surfaces with other components, such as on bike frames. You can interactively match a radius and a position, and you can match with G2 continuity between two surfaces, even with a tolerance. No one else can do this, as far as Mr Sederberg knows.


Also new are selection sets of faces, such as the eye sockets of a skull model. This lets the set be edited as one uniform surface."Modeling a skull with any other CAD software would just be a beast," said Mr Sederberg. See figure 1.


Figure 1. T-Splines running inside Rhino.

(Click image for higher-resolution version.)
Credit: Juan Santocono and Travis Serio


Symmetry is improved in that multiple objects can be given symmetry, and that they can be located anywhere in space -- no longer limited to being at the drawing's origin. "As far as I know, we have best-in-class symmetry. We can do both axial and radial symmetry," he added.


Then he showed me an aircraft model designed as a single surface entirely in T-Splines. The primary problem in aircraft design is ensuring that it can fly; secondarily, that the structure is strong enough to hold together; and third of all, using smooth blends to make it look good. The designer was able to hold precision to under 5/1000th of an inch. This shows that T-Splines is not just for organic design, but also can perform advanced surfacing.


Export to SolidWorks
TS Elements for SolidWorks is a separate product that lets you model in Rhino, export as a T-Splines file, and then import it into SolidWorks as a surface or as a solid body. Engineers do not need to surface the design in SolidWorks.


T-Splines 3 for Rhino is $599 until June 30, after which it goes up by $50.




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Local live events here or more details here. Or call 800-807-2200.

What's a Workstation, Anymore?

Guest editorial by Matt Stachoni


I read with interest (and mild amusement) your piece on Intel's new Xeon (not "Xenon") CPU lineup which incorporates built-in graphics [see http://www.upfrontezine.com/current.htm#a]. I would like to comment on some of the article's major points.


Regarding the term "workstation," this may have at one time implied some sort of high powered, purpose-built computing environment tailored for CAD and high-polygon 3D model creation, but this has not really been the case since the days of Silicon Graphics and SCO Unix and closed boxes. Technology advancements coupled with market pricing compression have made affordable, high-end components readily available, and driven the major differentiators out of most system configurations.


Today's workstations as marketed by Dell, HP, and others are distinguished from the typical desktop in three rather minor areas:

1. They are typically powered by one or more server-class CPUs, such as the Xeon or Opteron. These, in turn, are built on the latest mainstream CPU cores with slight internal tweaks, such as support for two physical CPUs, ECC memory, and larger internal L3 caches -- which require special motherboards and chipsets.

2. Workstation-class motherboards may come with more memory slots and provide options for larger installed RAM configurations.

3. They are typically prepackaged with workstation-class graphics cards, such as NVIDIA Quadros and ATi [now AMD] FireGLs.

Everything else -- the hard disk/storage subsystem, number and types of external ports, and so on -- is the same. Other major differentiating features, such as support for on-board SCSI, vanished long ago, as SATA and SSDs became commonplace. One can argue over the value of ECC [error correcting code] memory, but aside from allowing for two physical CPUs -- great for rendering and animations, but not much else -- there is nothing about today's "workstations" that make them inherently faster than carefully specified desktops. Based on how HP and Dell tend to haphazardly configure their workstation offerings, it would be easy to slap them around with a half-decently-tuned desktop.


The primary difference between "workstation" and "desktop" is in the price to the customer, and profit margin for the vendor.


Even with all that taken out of consideration, the notion that Intel's on-board graphics somehow changes the workstation game, or "Ends the war between CAD and IT," is flat-out laughable.


Comparing E3 and i7 Specs

Intel, NVIDIA, and AMD-ATi have a long history of selling very expensive parts made from very inexpensive parts, with very minor tweaks to the hardware -- perhaps some driver optimizations, and a different brand logo. For instance, Intel's latest Xeon E3-1200 is basically nothing more than a Sandy-Bridge Core i7-2600K with support for ECC memory and some additional virtualization technology thrown in. People may (and do) argue over the value of ECC RAM in workstations, but there is nothing in the Xeon E3-1200 itself that makes for a faster or more powerful CPU for CAD or 3D in any way.


Both the E3 and the i7 have the same core, two memory channels, and so on. See Intel's direct comparison at http://ark.intel.com/Compare.aspx?ids=52214,52274.


History has shown that integrated graphics is typically a horrible solution. Intel will make a lot of hay out of the integrated graphics core in these new processors, but the graphics in the new E3 Xeon and the mainstream i7-2600K are extremely similar:

- The i7 is equipped with Intel HD Graphics 3000. The Xeon has Intel HD Graphics P3000. (Note the P).
- Both have 12 execution units, have the same clock speed, and support dual screens.

How different can they possibly be? From my research, the P3000 differs from the i7's 3000 only by an optimized driver package, which has yet to demonstrate any advantage in commercial apps. Preliminary benchmarks of the i7 3000 GPU put it about at the $75 graphics card level, suitable for some 3D games with the high detail turned off, and nothing you would specify in a workstation anyway. We need benchmarks of this new Xeon to understand where it falls in the Wow category. My bet is that it rates squarely in the Meh range.


Regarding AVX

AVX [advanced vector extensions] is essentially an extension to the x86 instruction set. As such, it will be available on Windows 7 SP1 and later OSes, as well as AMD's Bulldozer CPU lineup later this year -- thus negating any meaningful argument for the Xeon. As Mr. Hendgerveld states, "Some CAD vendors will be implementing it this year." Who? Is support already built into Autodesk's 2012 lineup? Since "performance optimizations" are not quantified in the article (or anywhere else at this time), why is AVX compelling for the CAD and 3D crowd? If it is faster, by how much?


The idea of this integrated, as-of-now unquantified graphics core is going to change the dynamic between the user and IT is utter nonsense. IT folks aren't users and don't understand the software, whereas many users know firsttand what they need to do their jobs effectively. It is more likely that we will see CAD users and 3D artists get really p*ssed when their new shiny box arrives with only P3000 graphics, instead of what they actually wanted, because IT doesn't have a clue and accounting wanted to save a buck.


I am betting on seeing flying fists of fury in the IT room, before doves with olive branches.


[Matt Stachoni is the senior AEC Applications Technical Specialist and IT systems consultant for CADapult LTD, an Authorized Autodesk Silver reseller in Northern Delaware, and has over 20 years experience working with Autodesk applications.]





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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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