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.
Here at Computer Direct Business we are often asked; “What is hard drive RAID?”, “Do I need a RAID array?”, “What is the difference between the types of HDD RAID arrays?”. So we have prepared the following post explaining what a RAID array is, the different types of RAID configurations, and the benefits and limitations of each.
RAID stands for Redundant Array of Independent Disks. If you intend to put your hard drives (HDDs) in a RAID array you will need a RAID controller. To find out which RAID options a particular server or workstation natively supports, please check the specifications for that system’s motherboard.
While integrated RAID controllers provide sufficient RAID options and performance for many users, dedicated RAID controllers are a more robust solution. They support a wider range of array types and have dedicated processors, freeing up the system’s CPU to focus on other tasks. For a higher-end RAID solution where performance and stability are critical, hardware RAID controllers are essential.
For maximum performance and stability, it is strongly recommend that all HDDs in a RAID be identical. There are several variations available designed to meet your individual requirements. Some provide larger, faster storage solutions. Others trade off capacity for increased reliability. Yet others try and accomplish both. Here is a summary of the basic types of RAID available today.
RAID 0 – Striping
Data is striped across two or more HDDs. Each file or set of data is broken into pieces with one part placed on the first HDD, another part written to the second, and another to the third, etc., depending on the number of HDDs in the array. This allows the computer to access data faster than normal, because the data is split equally between multiple physical HDDs that can all be put to use when retrieving data. However, with this speed increase comes a significant danger of data loss. If any HDD in the array fails, you lose ALL the data in the array. Since there is no redundancy, all the disk space is available to be used.
RAID 1 – Mirroring
Mirroring is basically the inverse of striping. Rather than putting pieces of data on each HDD, a copy of every piece of information is written to every HDD in the array. This is usually done with two HDDs, so that if one HDD fails you have a complete and up-to-date backup of everything. In fact, the array can continue to function as long as a single disk is intact and operational. Since all the data is being written to every HDD, there is no performance benefit and only the capacity of a single drive is available in the array.
RAID 0+1 combines the performance enhancement of RAID 0 with the redundancy and higher reliability of RAID 1. It requires four or more HDDs and effectively creates two RAID 0 arrays, and then mirrors them. Either array could fail and the other array would be unaffected, continuing to function. However, similar to RAID 1, only half the total amount of disk space is usable.
RAID 10 provides both an increase in performance as well as improved reliability over a single HDD. This is done by creating two RAID 1 mirror arrays and then striping data across them. One HDD can fail and the array should continue to function. Four or more HDDs are required and only half the total disk space is usable.
The key to RAID 5 is ‘parity’ data. Parity data is special code generated when data is written to any array that allows it to rebuild a whole HDD if one should fail. The array operates by striping a given amount of data across all the HDDs except one, and using that one to store parity data. The next piece of data is treated the same, except that a different HDD is used to store the parity data. This way, the total storage available is the total amount of HDD space less one HDD’s worth. Reading data from a RAID 5 array is a bit slower than from a RAID 0, but is slightly faster than a single HDD.
RAID 50 is basically striped pairs of RAID 5 arrays, giving increased performance at the cost of a small amount of reliability. It requires 6 HDDs at a minimum and requires advanced, and often expensive, controller cards.
RAID 6 uses the same basic idea as RAID 5, but creates two separate parity sets. This means it has to have four HDDs to function and loses two HDDs worth of storage space to parity. However, it also means that any two HDDs can fail and the array can still rebuilt without loss of data. Additionally, RAID 6 can scale easily and be used with very large storage arrays while only losing a small portion of their overall drive space. For example, a 10 disk RAID 6 array would still have 8 HDDs worth of storage space and be able to handle two HDD failures. Reading data from a RAID 6 array is not quite as fast as it would be from a RAID 5, but it is still faster than a single HDD.
RAID 60 is a striped pair of RAID 6 arrays, giving increased performance at the cost of a small amount of statistical reliability; however, it requires 8 HDDs at a minimum and requires advanced and often expensive controller cards.
CHOOSING BETWEEN HARD DRIVES AND SSDs
Today’s workstations come with more options than ever before. Once you’ve determined the specifications that you need for your business, there is one more decision you must make: should you get an SSD drive or a SATA/HDD drive? In this post, we’ll explain and explore both so you can make an informed decision.
Technically, SATA (Serial Advanced Technology Attachment) isn’t a drive but the interface between the HDD (Hard Drive Disk) and the computer’s motherboard. Most people use the two terms interchangeably, however, as they work together.
The HDD has been around for close to 60 years and has been the standard for personal computing and workstations. This type of drive has a spinning platter where data is stored through magnetism. The faster it spins, the faster the drive performs.
The biggest advantage to a SATA drive is that you can store enormous amounts of data very inexpensively. As technology advances, the amount of storage available continues to grow. One usually sees drives that hold a terabyte or more. The maximum amount of SATA storage for a workstation is currently about 8 terabytes. An advantage is that it cost about 80% percent less per gigabyte than the cost of a SSD drive.
Rather than using magnetism to write data to a physical disk, the SSD (Solid State Drive) stores data in microchips so there are no moving parts involved. Instead, it uses what is known as flash memory and a controller (the brain of the SSD). While the very first SSD drive was produced in 1976, it wasn’t small enough to achieve common use until this century so effectively the SSD has been in use for only about 15 years.
The biggest advantage with an SSD drive is the added speed and performance. Boot up time for a workstation will be much faster over a SATA drive. Programs will open virtually instantly and data is written at much greater speeds than conventional SATA drives. A disadvantage for the SSD is that it cost, on average, about 5 – 6 times as much per gigabyte as compared to a SATA drive.
At this point in time, form factor is not an issue but as technology advances, the SSD could have a distinct advantage. Currently, both types of drives are contained in standard size housings from 1.8” to 3.5” but that is only so manufacturers don’t have to make multiple cases and connectors – both types of drive could go in the same case. However, HDD can’t get much, if any, smaller than they are now but there is no such limitation on the SSD. If we are to truly see powerful computers in smaller sizes than now, it will be by using SSD technology.
Pros and Cons Comparison Beyond Price and Capacity
SSD drives use half or even a third of the power that a SATA drive does: 2-3 watts versus 6-7 watts. With multiple workstations in an office, that can make a definite difference in the electric bill. In a laptop, the battery charge will last 2-3 times longer with an SSD drive over a SATA.
When a workstation must perform as fast as possible, users will see a noticeable difference between the two drives. Boot time for an SSD drive is as little as 10 seconds while a SATA boot time could take at least 30 seconds and more. File open speeds are up to one-third faster with even the lowest end SSD drive.
Performance speed is also greatly enhanced with an SSD drive. Almost all SSD drives will write files at over 200 MB per second and some advanced drives can perform at over 500 MB per second. The range for a SATA drive can be as little as 50 MB per second and maxes out about 120 MB per second. When running some software, the SSD drive can make a huge difference in speed and output, particularly when using applications such as video editing software or graphic files.
Current generation SSD controllers have evolving technologies like compression, de-duplication and high-level encryption protocols. They protect the security of stored data, and provide up to 100x more data protection than leading enterprise hard disk drives. Since many SSDs are encrypted by default, it can act as an obstacle to data recovery if the need arises. This results in a much more difficult and expensive data recovery process for SSD drives than for SATA drives.
Noise level and vibrations are very different between the two drives. SATA drives will always make more noise and vibrate more because of the spinning platter. They will make clicks and whirring noises because of the moving parts and these noises tend to grow over time. If multiple workstations are present, the noise level can be rather annoying. Since there are no moving parts in an SSD drive, there is no vibration or noise, making for a much quieter workspace.
With a traditional SATA drive, users must put time into regular maintenance for defragmenting the drive. As a computer is used, files get modified or deleted. Since the data is physically recorded on the disk, the free space is constantly changing. As the drives fills up, files become scattered and free space also becomes scattered around the disk. This fragmentation causes the system to slow down and can cause memory issues. This is not an issue with SSD drives.
SSD drives are more durable than SATA, mainly due to not having any moving parts. A SSD drive is also unaffected by magnetism so that gives your data a bit of added security.
Shopping for SSDs
When it comes to purchasing an SSD, there are a variety of factors to consider. Just as anything else, there is quite a range in price and features, but here are the main things to look at.
- Speed – Both high maximum speed and high real-world speed should be compared. The manufacturer will tell state the maximum speed that the SSD will achieve while reading or writing data. Just keep in mind that real-world speeds will almost always be lower. You can find average real-world speeds by reading reviews on reputable websites that do testing on the products they review.
- SATA – The best SSDs today will have SATA III support which is the latest and best version of the SATA interface. SSDs are backwards-compatible but they will not perform at the optimum level without being compatible with SATA III.
- Error Correcting Code – ECC (error-correcting code) enables a higher level of reliability from your SSD, as well as keeping costs down by using the MLC flash memory. ECC allows your SSD to find and fix many common types of data corruption.
- Company Track Record – Do your due diligence in investigating the manufacturer of any SSD you’re considering, as well as on the specific drive. With a relatively new technology, it is almost always safer to go with a company that has been working with SSD long-term. Check review sites, particularly those that offer user ratings, to make sure that you get an SSD with a high rating.
Best of Both Worlds
For companies that need both high performance and high storage, there are three workarounds to the storage limitations of an SSD: dual drives, external SATA drive, or cloud storage. For extreme storage, or even just as backup, a combination of two options is certainly feasible.
Dual-drive workstations have a smaller SSD drive that holds the operating system and programs along with a SATA drive that stores the resulting files. Naturally, two drives necessitate a larger form than a single drive, but in a stationary workstation this shouldn’t matter too much.
External drives can be purchased very inexpensively these days and are easily used for increased storage capacity. One thing that is nice about external drives is that they can be detached and stored during off-work hours for added security. To use this option is easy – simply work on the computer as normal but when it’s time to save the work, save it to the external drive rather than the internal one.
Cloud storage is just about infinite so can also be an excellent option. Of course, cloud storage of any size will come with a price but for many, it’s well worth it and is quite inexpensive.
Many companies find that using both an external drive and cloud storage gives them an additional layer of protection for their files. This way, they have two back-ups for all files, with one being on-site and one off.
At the end of the day, the decision must be made according to a company’s unique needs and budget. Storage size limitations are really a moot point these days, thanks to cloud storage. For those companies where speed in booting up and overall performance is critical, then it is worth spending more. Remember to backup your data so that if whichever drive you choose fails, your critical data will be safe and sound.
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.