the business of cad
Issue #751 | September 18, 2012
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In This Issue
1. Here's Why CAD Should Run 10-100x faster in 2-3 Years (part 1)
Guest Editorial by Henrik Vallgren
- My Original Thesis
- Grabowsk's Response
2. Part 2
- My Multi-Core Solution
- The Future of CAD is Local
3. Out of the Inbox, and our other regular columns.
Here's Why CAD Should Run 10-100x faster in 2-3 Years
Guest Editorial by Henrik Vallgren, Part 1
It's been a strange decade in computing. Ten years ago, the trend in software development was towards productivity languages, such as Java and .Net. Efficiency was deemed irrelevant, because computers doubled in performance every 18 months, as guaranteed by Moore's Law. Abruptly, this stopped in 2004 when Intel cancelled the 4GHz version of its Pentium 4 CPU. Since then, CPU speeds have stayed stalled. Add to that the increased system requirements of Windows Vista, and the evolution of desktop computing came to a halt.
Some programmers decided that Vista signalled the end of Microsoft, and so began writing cross-platform software. Others embraced Web technologies. The iPhone sparked a renewal of interest in handheld devices and with them, the focus renewed on efficient programming languages. While on a desktop machine it's a mere nuisance to waste half the available performance, wasting half of the phone's valuable battery life is intolerable.
For desktop computers, Intel tried speeding things up by adding cores (multiple CPUs) to the CPU chip. On initial dual-core CPUs, however, the system processes alone consumed enough of one core to put off multithreaded development. On a quad core, however, the argument goes away, and so a turning point came early last year with Intel's release of its "Sandy Bridge" processors. Finally, a set of quad-core CPUs (Core i5 and i7) that the market could no longer ignore the slow performance of old software.
If CAD software could be made to run efficiently on four cores, then operations would take less time. When some months ago I approached editor Ralph Grabowski about writing this article, he expressed a few counterpoints. Developers at a conference told him that...
My Original Thesis
Here is what I first wrote Mr Grabowski about using multi-core CPUs more efficiently:
While we've just started to use the multithreading capabilities of modern CPUs, the next wave is already here: it is called "heterogenous computing." Imagine a computer with a few complex cores (as in any modern multi-core CPU) plus thousands of simpler cores.
I'm not exaggerating. AMD's latest Radeon and FirePro graphics cards come with 2048 cores (stream processors), and you can jam two of these cards in a single desktop PC. These 4,096 cores have something like 7.5TFLOPS (terra [trillion] floating point operations per second) of computing power. Back in November, 2011, the list of the world's 500 fastest supercomputers showed that the slowest entry provides 50TFLOPS.
Between the two boards, you'd also have 12GB of graphics-based RAM. How about moving significant parts of CAD software completely onto these high-speed GPUs?
OpenCL and C++ AMP [Accelerated Massive Parallelism; see http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh265136.aspx] developers can tap into the power. Microsoft has always provided great samples, and C++ AMP is no exception. While still in beta, it looks promising and is likely to set the standard for accessing all those GPU cores. As a developer, it allows me to use the same code for CPU and GPU processing -- and that's the way forward. Microsoft claims that C++ AMP will be supported on all Windows 8 devices, which could give them an edge.
The hardware is in place for desktop computers. What we need is a new generation of laptop computers. In my opinion, Microsoft should use the Windows 8 introduction to launch a new performance standard for laptops: the mobile supercomputer. The situation isn't entirely hopeless: on the MacBook Pro that I'm writing this, the GPU performs about six times faster than the CPU (measured with a C++ AMP sample routine in Windows 7).
Mr Grabowski wrote, "Here are some counter points to your interesting idea:
Here's Why CAD Should Run 10-100x faster in 2-3 Years, Part 2
My Multi-Core Solution
I currently work on a project called QModeler. It's much like the excellent AModeler utility that Autodesk ships with ObjectARX, but AModeler has a weak spot: Boolean operations are computation intensive, and so they are a great target for parallel code, which Autodesk has not yet implemented.
For founding members, the Open Design Alliance makes available a faceted modeler that is similar to like Autodesk's AModeler and my QModeler. For Boolean operations performed on large data sets, the ODA modeler is in the order of 100 times slower than QModeler.
Using all the cores of an Intel Core i7 gives my QModeler's Boolean operations a performance edge of about a factor 4, as compared to AModeler. I rewrote a new portion of the QModeler code to run in parallel, and gained another 10% performance. Therefore, when I benchmark QModeler against AModeler, I do so in admiration of Autodesk's work, not because it's an easy target.
There's something called Amdahl's law, which basically says that if you're able to run 90% of your code (measured in time) in parallel, the remaining 10% prohibits gains beyond a factor 10, even on infinite number of cores.
For further reading, try "elcome to the Jungle by Herb Sutter, with perhaps more detail than you'd like, at http://herbsutter.com/welcome-to-the-jungle. Herb Sutter is deeply involved with the C++ standard group and works on Microsoft's Visual Studio team.
The Future of CAD is Local
My Sutter-inspired conclusion goes something likes this: As hardware development slows down, software efficiency becomes more important. The move to mobile platforms works in the same direction, because efficient software not only runs faster, it consumes less energy. If Java as a rule runs at half speed as C++, then it is likely that Java consumes twice the energy for the same computation.
Tablets will soon be powerful enough to handle Boolean operations at a speed equivalent to professional notebooks. AnandTech determined that the GPU in the new iPad is capable of 32GFLOPS. Let's assume that that is single precision, and that double precision is about 20% as fast, or 6GFLOPS. By comparison, the Intel Core i7 in my MacBook Pro under Win7 produces the following floating point operations as measured by Microsoft's NBody Simulation demo:
Imagine moving today's single threaded software to the GPU. Using that power is simpler on a CPU than on a GPU, but let's assume that we programmers be able to bridge that gap.
[Henrik Vallgren is a software programmer in Sweden, and runs StreamSpace at http://www. streamspace.com. You can learn more about QModeler at http://qmodeler.com.]
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Out of the Inbox
If you run AutoCAD for Mac, stop! and don't upgrade your Macs to Apple's Mountain Lion operating system. All releases of Acad/Mac do not work with OS X v10.8. The CAD company is working on fixes.
If you run AutoCAD 2013 in Windows 8 already, it might run better with the maintenance patch described at http://updatesdl.autodesk.com/updates/files/AutoCAD_2013_and_AutoCAD_LT_2013_SP1.1_ENU.htm . Reader TC from Indiana USA reports, "AutoCAD runs smoothly on Win8 build 8400 after installing the 2013 Maintenance update."
ASCON's new Dexma division this month launched a beta of its new cloud-based DEXMA PLM system that also runs in situ on corporate servers. The twist is that the cloud version is free, while the server-based one starts at $45/user/month. http://dexma-plm.com
CIMdata announces the PLM Industry Consortium, which'll focus on providing research on PLM issues. If you gotta ask what PLM is, then you can't join. Not sure if PIC has any members yet, but you can ask at email@example.com
Oona Rokyta of Siemens PLM Software's external pr agency writes, "Just wanted to briefly flag for you that Siemens Canadais 100 years old in Canada this month." The party took place September 4.
Redsdk is a popular alternative rendering engine for CAD, and now it runs OS X, as well as Windows and Linux. http://www.redway3d.com/news/news130912.php
I tried tracking this one down, but didn't any further than the press release: GstarCAD MC (mobile client) now handles DWG files directly. (Before, you needed to translate drawings using GstarCAD desktop program.) Also, a new MC Pro version toggles layers and handles markups. Problem is, the Android version is no where to be found and the iOS version appears to be in Chinese only. http://www.gstarcad.net/tinfo_1_110_1412.html
Visual Integrity lets you import PDF files into AutoCAD, and then edit then as native DWG entities. Their pdf2cad v9.0 software also outputs PDFs in DXF and HPGL. Save some until the end of the year by using code CAD0129V9 during check-out at http://www.pdf2cad.com -- or just download the 30-day version.
Autodesk says they've got the first pay-as-you cloud-based simmulation service in the known history of the world. Simulation 360 handles mechanical, fluid flow, thermal, and plastic injection modeling. The price is "affordable," but the press release declined to mention it, and then I found that the only way to find out is to have a salesman contact me. Sigh. http://usa.autodesk.com/adsk/servlet/pc/index?siteID=123112&id=19730956
Siemens acquires Perfect Costing Solutions GmbH for its product cost management software. http://www.perfect-costing.com
Nemetschek Engineering Business Unit has a free course to teach BIM from the viewpoint of structural engineers at http://www.Scia-Campus.com.
SpaceClaim and First Trace announce the integration of SpaceClaim Engineer and Kinnosa engineering document management system. http://www.FirstTrace.com
IntelliCAD Technology Consortium is looking for a business development director. The duties are described at http://www.intellicad.org/careers/business-development, which leaves me out 'cause I don't do sales too good.
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