u p F r o n t . e Z i n e
the business of cad
Issue #705 | September 2, 2011
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In This Issue
1. SIGGRAPH 2011 Vancouver, Part 2
2. Q&A: GstarSOFT's First iPad Release Creates and Edits CAD Drawings
3. Out of the Inbox and our other regular columns
Next issue of upFront.eZine comes out on Wednesday, 15 September.
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SIGGRAPH 2011 Vancouver
Part 2: At the SPEC Roundtable
During last month's SIGGRAPH 2011 conference in Vancouver, Canada, SPEC held an informal dinner at a nice downtown restaurant. SPEC is the abbreviation for a rather formal sounding name, Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation. Their benchmarks allow both vendors and purchasers to evaluate how fast combinations of hardware and software work together:
As one vendor put it during the dinner, "We need to do well at benchmarks, no matter what. So it's important that we contribute, so that the benchmarks measure something worth winning."
The dinner was organized by Bob Cramblitt of Cramblitt and Company, a marketing firm from the eastern USA. The next day he wrote me, "I estimate that there was about 225 years of CAD and graphics experience in that room."
The three-hour dinner was off-the-record, and I received permission to record only what people said, not who said it. Among the 12 sitting around the large round dining table were a half-dozen employees from software and hardware companies, a user (who introduced himself as "I'm a victim of your group [of vendors]!"), two from the CAD media, two analysts, and Mr Cramblitt. Most everyone there works with the GWPG [graphics and workstation performance group] division of SPEC as part of their regular full time jobs. The comments were frank.
Gaming the System
There is the problem of gaming the benchmark, so that your product appears to run better than it should be. So, SPEC has implemented code to detect if vendors do this, like adding code to device drivers that is specific to the benchmark.
"The good thing about having competitors on a committee is that everyone is looking over everyone's shoulder. If the benchmark is not balanced, then someone would notice," said the rep from a hardware company.
But then another participant immediately questioned if gaming is a bad thing. If you optimize your device driver for benchmarks -- and it is primarily device drivers that we are speaking of here -- then that could be good for the application and the benchmark.
The problem with optimizations specific to the benchmark is that the optimizations won't help with real-world application performance. This is why SPEC rules defend against benchmark-specific optimizations that have no impact on user-performance running applications.
Optimizing Drivers for Applications
The discussion turned to the question of how graphics board vendors are able to optimize their drivers for specific applications when more than one app is running at a time. It turns out that they watch for which threads are active, and then change the driver's parameters on-the-fly.
A big problem is when two applications both want to use the VRAM [video RAM] on the graphics board at the same time. "We cannot slice the VRAM to allow apps to share; we need to time-slice." This means all of the VRAM is dedicated to one application, and then perhaps seconds later it has to replace the data with that from the second app.
One software vendor regretted that he could not tell hardware vendors how to best optimize things. A customer could spend most of his time rendering, another most of his time modeling. "The type of workflow determines whether the CPU [computer] or GPU [graphics board] is used more, and so we cannot recommend a system [the combination of a computer and a graphics board]."
It was suggested that SPEC combine subscores for different combinations of tasks unique to users. For example, a user could generate a score based 75% on modeling, 25% on rendering. SPEC/GWPG thinks this could be a good idea, provided it doesn't add complexity to the results. Today, users could implements this by applying their own weightings to subscores.
One participant suggested that a solution might "tell users to get a system with a minimum SPEC score of 5." But another immediately countered that "customers don't necessarily know how to get SPEC." Another added, "You can't throw out a number and expect it to be meaningful."
"For users, the SPEC score is the minimum; for the accounting department, it's the maximum," joked the enduser at the table. In the end, SPEC is probably mainly useful for the 5% who are the top designers at a firm, and need every edge in hardware and software performance to get more work done.
The Problem of Apple
The vendor whose name must not be mentioned -- Apple -- was raised by me. I know that graphics board and CAD vendors complain behind Apple's back about the poor display driver support but dare not complain in public for fear of being cut off by Apple. I was interested in more details on where the problem lays.
The difficulty is that Apple controls about 90% of the device driver, leaving just 10% for third parties to optimize, which is not a lot. "Apple imposes sameness at the cost of performance," one graphics vendor explained, even though OS X has been based on "Open"GL.
In contrast, OpenGL on Windows and Linux allows 90% of the driver to be customized by third-parties. Although, pointed out another vendor, DirectX is similarly hobbled with only 10% available.
The Viewpoint from the User
There was just one user at the table, representing an audio design firm. But he had lots of say from his point of view. He expressed his frustration at being in a large corporation that does not understand the special computing needs of designers -- probably the same problem exists everywhere.
"We [in the design department] do not use a benchmark to select systems. We get in computers, and then see what we can change to make them run better. We do not optimize for money, but for the system -- even if it costs $10,000."
Because his firm does not benchmark, "we are going a bit blindly, so we would like a better way to choose. Not for the software, since we have other considerations for choosing software, but for the hardware."
"In testing laptops, we found that multi-core CPUs are not useful." When quizzed how this could be, he said that when he uses a laptop, he runs only the design software. "About 70% of my CAD work is done of the laptop, because I do it on the couch at home" -- away from the office and its interruptions.
Both Kinds of Cloud, Briefly
The cloud came up briefly, and was just about dismissed. Its fundamental flaw is the insufficient bandwidth between users' offices and the data storage facility. It's only good for supplemental activity, participants agreed: "It's not and/or, but an assist."
"Could the office become a local cloud, kind of like SETI accesses unused CPU cycles?" I wondered. "For instance, my wife's computer is largely idle during the day, except for the occasional email and Web site check."
This technology is available for large corporations, I learned, but such a distributed computing environment is not yet available for smaller offices.
I asked the fellow sitting next to me about the other kind of cloud: which is easier to display, point clouds or triangles? "Point clouds are," he answered, "because they are just x,y,z data. The problem is that users want to be able to display billions of points, whereas 3D models need to display only hundreds of thousands of triangles."
Future of SPEC
SPEC wants to improve and broaden its benchmarks. For instance, it is looking at creating benchmarks for AutoCAD. Also, it wants to create benchmarks more quickly and easily; and to accommodate dynamic applications, such medical imaging and computational fluid dynamics.
The user wondered, "Our benchmarks are quantitative; we miss the qualitative. For example, if a computer operation takes 1.5 minutes, it might as well be 7 or 10 minutes, because now the operator is off getting coffee. Realtime is the norm."
A member of SPEC explained, "Once we have the data, the hardest decision is putting together the script. The script mimics users actions. An aircraft designer's needs are not the same as a sneaker designer's." One participant suggested that application software could monitor usage so that SPEC knows which commands to benchmark. A software company rep noted that their software already does this.
One large problem SPEC faces is getting permission to [use] very large models, which tend to be proprietary to design firms. "We cannot get models from Catia users!" Design firms are not keen to release information about their models, even data as rudimentary as the number of parts in an assembly.
A participant suggested that users be allowed to plug in their own models into the SPEC benchmark. Towards the end of the evening, one participant suggested that there is a difference between "formal" results (the output of the machine), and "social" results, which involve the personas of users.
Mr Cramblitt added: "The distinction that was being made here is between results that are submitted to the SPEC website and reviewed by SPEC for accuracy and rules adherence and the possibility in the future of enabling users to post unreviewed results to a community site. The former is already done, the latter is under discussion."
"Do you know which is the most complex component of an automobile, rendering wise?" asked an analyst. After a few guesses from around the table, he answered, "Headlights."
Future of Benchmarking
One of the last questions was controversial: "Given the similarities of GPUs [it is hard to distinguish between the performance of graphics cards from AMD and Nvidia; Intel's only GPUs are integrated with CPUs], and that there are only two CPU suppliers [AMD and Intel in the workstation market], do we still need benchmarks?"
Rep from a GPU company answered this way: "We need to beat ourselves every year."
An analyst answered, "It's not GPU vs GPU; it's CPUs vs GPUs, vs RAM."
Benchmarks are valuable for hardware vendors to gain improvement and scalability in their products. As well, there are performance differences among different models of GPUs, which are emphasized when matched with different types memory, CPUs, disk sizes, and other configurations to make a computer system.
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Q&A: GstarSOFT's First iPad Release Creates and Edits CAD Drawings
upFront.eZine: I am wondering, what are the capabilities of GstarCAD MC?
Huang Meiyu: GstarCAD MC is designed for viewing, editing and sharing CAD drawing files on mobile devices like iPad. Drawing files can be easily transformed and transferred from the Windows version of GstarCAD to GstarCAD MC running on mobile devices -- which are used widely for engineering communication on construction sites, shop floors, and other occasions where computers are not readily available. The capabilities of GstarCAD MC v1 include the following:
- Opening and viewing CAD drawings
- Creating, editing, and saving drawings (with basic drawing and editing commands like line, polyline, circle, arc, and text
- Easy to use with features like undo, redo, layout, measure, snap, dynamic tools, and shortcut help
- Two-finger pinch to zoom; three-finger drag to pan
- Supports the OCF format
upFront.eZine: What technology was used for this software – from ODA, IntelliCAD, in-house?
Mr Meiyu: 100% in–house technology was used for this mobile application. Neither ODA nor IntelliCAD technology was used in any development of GstarCAD MC.
upFront.eZine: Does GstarCAD MC work with DWG files and other formats?
Mr Meiyu: GstarCAD MC works directly with the OCF format. DWG files must first be converted to the OCF format before being transferred to iPads.
upFront.eZine: How does the user get DWG files to and from the iPad?
Mr Meiyu: DWG files are converted to OCF format through the DWG-OCF convertor found in the Windows version of GstarCAD, and the transferred to iPad via iTunes. The first version of GstarCAD MC does not, however, support OCF-DWG conversion.
upFront.eZine: What is the OCF format?
Mr Meiyu: OCF is a specific data format developed by Gstarsoft. It's a vector format. The reasons we use our own file format is that it displays drawings as accurately as what we can get on a PC. It improves the performance of viewing drawings on iPad; in fact, using OCF sometimes the speed is quicker on iPad than on Windows.
If we were to use DWG directly, the performance would be very bad. (AutoCAD WS doesn't use DWG directly, and that's why AutoCAD WS clients need to connect to servers to convert the data format [to raster].) Finally, using OCF avoids font problems.
upFront.eZine: Will there be a version for Android tablets? For iOS and Android smartphones?
Mr Meiyu: GstarCAD MC for iPad is just the first step. As the market share of Android tablets is growing very fast, an Android version of GstarCAD MC is scheduled for the future. For the time being, development is focused on iPad and other iOS device.
upFront.eZine: What is the "MC" short for?
Mr Meiyu: MC stands for "Mobile Client" -- software that runs on mobile client devices.
upFront.eZine: When is the shipping date?
Mr Meiyu: The first version of GstarCAD MC is in English, and is available now from the iTunes App Store at no charge. The corresponding Windows version of GstarCAD [needed to convert between DWG and OCF] is available as a demo from our website at en.gstarcad.com/download.php?for=1.
[Huang Meiyu is vice president and oversea business director of Suzhou Gstarsoft of China.]
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Out of the Inbox
Siemens PLM Software has gone no-charge for Student Edition of Solid Edge, available to full and part time students, anywhere, and at any academic level. It's a 12-month renewable license through 2.2GB download from www.siemens.com/plm/solid-edge-student.
Deelip Menezes checked it out, and found "anyone" can download it, and that it makes a handy 3D model translator, including exporting to 3D PDF format. The saved file format is incompatible with the commercial version, and the license prohibits commercial use. On the blog, Susan Cinadr, marketing manager at Siemens PLM Software, comments, "We use the term 'student' loosely, by design."
ASCON of St Petersburg will make available in October a low-cost version of their 3D modeler, KOMPAS-3D Home, available for $50 and a renewable 1-year license through 1C, a Russian software distributor. More info at ascon.ru/press/news/items/?news=1084; you can read about in English on David Levin's blog, Not Just Russian CAD/PLM.
ITI TranscenData releases CADfix 8.1 for 3D data exchange, with targeted diagnostics (applies different fixes to specific problems), better automatic model processing, and a new External Visibility Filter (scans the model, identifies externally visible faces, and removes the unwanted internal details), and more. www.transcendata.com
Cideon Software is not a company I've heard of before, but they offer SAP PLM integration for AutoCAD and Inventor through the SAP Servicemarketplace. More info here: www.cideon-software.com/site/d/en/software/news/archive-2011/acad-inv-aug.php
Extensible CAD Technologies announces the next release of InspectionXpert for Solid Edge. You use it to automate the otherwise manual process of ballooning Solid Edge drawings, and creating inspection sheets. www.extensiblecad.com
Autodesk duz more BIM with its new Infrastructure Modeler 2012 for conceptual designs, along with AutoCAD Utility Design 2012 for electric utility design. IM is meant for GIS, planning, and civil engineering types to see how planned infrastructure will work on existing systems. www.autodesk.com/infrastructure-modeler and www.autodesk.com/autocadutilitydesign
More... Autodesk in August consolidated all their external. PR agencies in the USA, and so now only Fleishman Hillard represents Platform Solutions, Emerging Businesses Group, AutoCAD, manufacturing, and AEC.
Still on Autodesk... The company acquired technology and employees from Numenus GmbH, a 2-year-old company in Koblenz, Germany. Their software interactively renders directly from NURBS data. Purchase price is being kept a secret.
Not done with merger news... LMS International acquires 60% majority position in SAMTECH, and the two get the new name of LMS SAMTECH. Combined annual revenues are $ 250 million with 1,150 employees in Europe, Americas and Asia.
I have updated my ebook What's Inside? AutoCAD 2012 with some additional items uncovered by readers and me. You'll that new and updated items are indicated by gray text. If you have already purchased this book, then let me know, and I will give you a link for downloading the update. If you haven't, then the price is $12, and the Second Edition can be ordered via PayPal through www.upfrontezine.com/wia12. In return, I will send you a download link through Dropbox.
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Letters to the Editor
"The iPad is the microwave oven of computing.
"In the early days of the microwave oven, Amana tried to promote the idea that you could cook almost anything in a Radar Range, as early buyers compared them to existing ovens. They had demonstrations of cake baking, cooking bacon, etc. But in the end, they did not replace the oven or cooktop, and became simply an addition to the kitchen.
"I suspect the tablet will be the go-to device for consumption, and for many it will be the only device they need. Content creators (CAD users, photographers and other power users) will continue to demand desktop machines. I'd expect cheap low-power PCs that had been used for web surfing and email will be hurt by this, as they become a poor choice for either."
- Ken Elliott
"I really appreciate the information you supply. It is one of the most eagerly awaited messages I get each week. Even though I am now semi-retired, it keeps me up to date with current happenings in the CAD world."
- Michael Wilkinson
"We haven't fully deployed [AutoCAD] 2010 yet. We're bound by 3rd-party apps and are just now able to get off 2008.(grr..) So I'm happily digesting your 2010 version. I fully expect to be retired, if not dead, by the time we get around to 2012. Pls, keep up the good work. You make Mondays worthwhile."
"Some while ago in a Geology Department, I did an exercise using SPANS (GIS), and managed to stumble just enough through the math to pass the course. I'm now fitfully trying to use 3DSmax to be of use for matters geological / geographical. So, would MassMotion be useful for town planning in geography courses at university or even graduate level, or any other courses between Geography - Geology references? Or even, for that matter, in any other science discipline where something moves around in itself or in relation to something else fixed and/or moving? Idle thoughts of an idle fellow."
- Edward Hearn
The editor replies: "I think it is specific to humans moving, but you could contact the Motion people directly."
"The Samsung Defendants admit that they have not ceased competing with Apple, notwithstanding Apple's efforts to avoid such competition."
- Samsung's response to Apple's lawsuit
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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 "WorldCAD Access" 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.