Creating the perfect Performance Workstation that will do what you need it to do can be very difficult. To do this, you have to understand how the different hardware parts affect workstation performance for your specific work tasks. The key hardware choices you have to make are the CPU, graphics processing unit (GPU), RAM, and hard drive.
The processor choice is simply a decision between CPU frequency (speed) and number of cores. Typical performance workstations range from four to 36 CPU cores and up to 72 CPU threads. Generally, there are twice as many threads as cores and threads are ordered sequences of instructions that specify what the CPU should do. Speed is measured in GHz and typically fewer core count processors run at a faster frequency while higher core processors typically run at lower frequencies.
The creating and manipulating 3D object portion of applications like SolidWorks, 3ds Max, and Maya need higher frequency CPUs more than increased core count, whereas rendering and simulation applications want more cores for peak performance. Safely over clocked Intel processors can provide up to 25% more performance for modeling and design applications than the standard processors. Intel Xeon processor(s) have up to 36 cores and 72 threads and these processors are fantastic for rendering and simulations.
The GPU is responsible for creating the image you see on your LCD. The GPUs are responsible for setting up polygons and applying lighting, texture and color to a 3D image. Nvidia and AMD produce the professional grade graphics cards for these applications. They are designed to run 24/7 at peak workload without failure through their strict quality control and use of better manufacturing parts. They also have tested and certified intermediary software (drivers) that tell the graphics card to how to run flawlessly with the operating system and the application software that professionals use for the work.
Design & Modeling
The interactive portions of applications like SolidWorks, Revit, Maya, and 3ds Max don’t gain advantage from multiple GPUs and run fine with basic to mid-range NVIDIA Quadro or AMD FirePro graphics cards. The GPU holds frame rates up for smooth panning, zooming and rotating when creating and working 3D objects.
Simulation & Rendering
GPU rendering engines like V-Ray RT, Octane, and Iray and simulation applications like CATIA and ANSYS can use the GPU to work in the background rendering and simulating – working exponentially faster than the CPU in these applications. Buying higher-end GPUs and in many cases running multiple GPUs will increase performance and be well worth the money.
Large & High Resolution Display Screens
High resolution displays require high GPU memory that is only available on top end cards. Especially when running many monitor resolutions and 4K displays, multi-graphics cards are a good idea. Adding a second graphics card doesn’t double performance; typically you will see a 25-50% increase.
It is much better to have more memory than not enough but it is hard to tell how much is enough. More RAM allows you to multitask without getting bogged down. It is recommend to have at least 16GB of RAM to start with and much more for such jobs as: simulating large data sets, textures in 3D graphics, complex video editing, large scenes with lots of polygons, and complex part product design. A rule of thumb is having a 25% buffer of RAM usage while doing very intensive jobs.
Properly configuring the OS and data drives in each workstation and then using SSDs to increase data reading times and decrease seek times is very important. Sustained read time can be more than four to five times higher on an SSD. Seek times are also much faster; consequently the faster SSDs are rated nanoseconds instead of milliseconds like SATA drives. This increased speed can have noticeable impact on your daily project completion times. A 250GB SSD is recommended for the operating system and program installation and a SATA drive for storing data and work.
Game Enthusiasts understand that no other platform can match the quality and intensity of the game-play that you can get from a correctly configured Gaming Desktop. These Game Enthusiast Desktops are very specialized high-performance systems where choosing the right components really does matter. If you want to play the most current, intensive, and demanding games you will need to be sure you pick the correct processor, quantity of RAM, hard drive, and of course, GPU (graphics processing unit).
Today’s Gaming Desktop market has many choices. Such as: standard, overclocked and liquid-cooled CPUs, mid to high end graphic cards, multi-graphic card(s) choices for Crossfire and SLI, many different options for RAM, and mechanical HDDs & SSD drive choices. The following is some of the information you will need to correctly customize a good Gaming Desktop.
A solid starting point good Gaming Desktop is quad-core processor. Manipulating and creating 3D objects for the complex games of today requires high frequency CPUs. Systems that have safely overclocked processors can provide up to 25% more CPU frequency for games than standard CPUs. Liquid cooling systems can help to keep the CPU cool when the processor is stressed.
GPU / Graphics/Video Card
The GPU (graphics processing unit) is the processor on the graphics card. It creates the image you see on your LCD monitor. You want the GPU to be able to squeeze the highest number of frames per second out of your gaming system. Playing the most demanding games with the graphics set to the highest resolution and a high frame-rate, will require a high-performance graphics card. If you are running a single 1920 x 1080 monitor, buy the best single graphics card you can afford.
Large & High Resolution Display Screens (Monitor)
A high resolution display requires a lot of GPU memory and that is only available on top end cards. When running high monitor resolutions and 4K displays, multi-graphics cards are a good idea. While adding a second graphics card won’t double the performance; you will typically see a 25-50% increase. Multi-graphic card setups tend to consume a lot of power and can generate a lot of noise, but for those that want the biggest, badest gaming PC on the block, it will be well worth it.
RAM / System Memory
Having enough RAM is always important. It is better to have more memory than not enough. Sometimes it is difficult to determine how much is adequate. More RAM will allow you to do more multitasking without getting bogged down. We recommend at least 8GB of RAM as a minimum to start with and much more for demanding games. A good rule of thumb is having as least a 25% buffer of RAM usage while running very intensive games.
Hard Drives (HDD vs SSD)
The types of hard drive that are most commonly used are the disk based SATA HDD (hard disk drive) and the chip based SSD (solid state drive). By using SSDs you will have increased data read times and decreased seek times versus SATA HDD drives. Sustained read times can also be more than four to five times higher with an SSD as well, seek times are also much faster. Consequently you will see that SSDs, being faster, are rated in nanoseconds instead of milliseconds like SATA drives. Using SSD’s can cause system performance to increase dramatically. For good balance that utilizes the strengths of both technologies we recommended using at least a 250GB SSD is for the O/S and program installation and also 1TB to 3TB SATA mechanical drive for data storage. For extreme performance you should consider using a striped RAID; check out our RAID article for more information.
The one constant in the world of technology and computers is change. No matter how innovative a product is, there always comes a time for updates. So naturally, when Intel initially announced its plans to update its i7 and Xeon CPUs, the news was met with interest. Now that both CPUs are finally out, the market finally gets to give a verdict.
What specifically has changed? Is the buzz around the new CPUs a bunch of hype and nothing more?
If you want to know more about Intel’s latest iteration of its i7 and Xeon line, then you’ve come to the right place.
As has been touched upon, the big pull for Intel’s i7 is its long and storied reputation as an unbelievably fast consumer model. Heralded for its developments in memory access and the ease with which it accommodates graphics cards, the i7 has been enthralling enthusiasts and professionals for years.
The Xeon is a larger core that’s designed with IT professionals and businesses in mind. Noted for its high-end performance, steady innovation, and unique designs, this workstation CPU has addressed many a company’s tech-related concerns.
Released in connection with Haswell-EP rather than Ivy Bridge, the latest Xeon CPUs are actually a family of three chips with 8, 12, and 18 cores respectively. The new releases transmit more information, greater efficiency via its volt management, and overall speed compared to its predecessors.
Also released via Haswell-EP, the newest version of the i7 is actually Intel’s first 8-core offering to the consumer market for those who opt for the higher-end version. Additional changes include the use of a new chipset, a whole new CPU socket, and DDR4 memory.
For Better or For Worse?
Of course, history is riddled with new releases that turned out to be substantially worse than their predecessors. Do the Xeon and i7 fall under this category? Here’s a closer look at some of the biggest key changes.
In the i7, the DDR4 replaced the DDR3 of the previous editions. For pc users, DDR3 memory currently takes up massive amounts of space and power on a PC. DDR4 is a recent development but it’s already proven itself as a more efficient way to handle memory.
8-Core and 18-Core
Although the addition of extra cores increases power, that power comes at a price. In this case, the cost is a reduced turbo frequency. While the i7 and the Xeon are still lightning fast even with the extra cores, reviewers have noticed a sight trade-off.
The ability to upgrade is a crucial factor in determining the shelf life of technology. Intel’s decision to make both the i7 and the Xeon compatible with LGA 2011 (aka Socket R) bodes well for those who may wish to combine CPUs in the future.
These days, companies and consumers want more flexibility, more power, and better performance from their computers. Through the recent release of the I7 and Xeon CPUs, Intel has shown that it’s up to the challenge. With the integration of new technology and a new socket, the company is also clearly planning for the future.