Time was when simulation was confined to PC jockeys with joysticks. No more, though. Today’s engineers need simulation. They need workstations with powerful graphics, big memories, and fast processors, the better to see and test the entirety of their designs. That’s why there’s a growing trend among computer makers to build so-called “visualization systems” – workstations capable of processing millions of polygons per second and displaying images in ways that weren’t previously possible.
“Too many of today’s engineers are looking at maybe one-eighth of their design’s data set,” says Thomas Tannert, marketing manager for the Visual Systems Group at Silicon Graphics, Inc. “We want to allow them to look at the whole data set.”
Indeed, Silicon Graphics and two of its main competitors – IBM and Hewlett-Packard – are racing to see who can best provide the best of such capabilities, and offer them at the best price. All three companies have rolled out visualization systems in the past four months.
“For engineers, it means being able to work through larger, more complicated designs,” notes Susan Davi, worldwide product manager for IBM’s IntelliStation A Pro, the company’s latest visualization system. “Instead of engineers being able to see only a dashboard or a camshaft, we want them to see the whole car.”
Following are three new “visualization systems” designed to bring big design projects into sharper focus.
HP: Opting for Opteron
Hewlett-Packard says its xw9300 is built for customers with intense computing demands, such as those in oil and gas exploration, scientific research, software development, and computer-aided engineering (CAE). Using a 64-bit architecture with two AMD Opteron 200 Series processors and adding up to 16 Gbytes of memory, as well as nVidia nForce professional chipset, the xw9300 reportedly allows users to view large data sets with greater accuracy. The system, which supports Windows XP Professional and Red Hat Linux WS3.0 (64-bit), starts at an estimated U.S. street price of $1,899. For more information on HP’s xw9300, go to http://www.hp.com/workstations/pws/xw9300/.
IBM: Opteron processors; smaller size
IBM says that memory-intensive applications tend to run better on its Opteron-based IntelliStation A Pro. Aimed at customers involved in product design, movie production, and chip manufacturing, the A Pro was built atop AMD’s Dual-Core Opteron processor Model 275. The system features the next generation of 2D/3D graphics from nVidia, and offers support for 3DLabs Wildcat Realizm. IBM representatives say the machine also distinguishes itself from competing machines in its use of a “4U,” instead of a “5U,” box size. “Ours is 6.5 inches wide, versus 8.5 inches for the competitors,” notes Davi of IBM. “Customers often ask for that smaller size.” The new machine, which supports Windows and Linux, starts its pricing at $3,259. For more information on IBM’s A Pro, go to http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/intellistation/pro/apro/.
SGI: Intel processing; more memory
With its new Prism visualization system, Silicon Graphics takes a different tack than its competitors. Instead of Opteron processors, the Prism uses single or dual Intel Itanium processors, and then accentuates the high speed of the Itanium with 24 Gbytes of memory (cost is also higher; the unit starts at $8,500). The system employs dual ATI FireGL graphics processors, giving it the ability to support dual projection and stereo viewing. SGI representatives say that the Prism is heavily used in automotive crash testing, where it enables automakers to reduce the number of physical prototypes they crash. “Engineers want higher fidelity models, improved meshing capabilities, and finer meshes, because those features give results that are closer to what they’d get with real prototypes,” says Tannert of SGI. “Their end goal is to get rid of as many physical prototypes as possible.” For more information on SGI’s new Prism, go to http://www.sgi.com/products/visualization/prism/.
AVS visual software tools: