Like aircraft built to go at mach speed, engineering workstations today are breaking new records in terms of the speed with which they can do the detailed calculations necessary for complex design projects.
This summer, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Dell all announced new high-performance computers intended to help engineers more easily and quickly handle complex design models.
Hewlett-Packard (www.hp.com) says it has pushed the envelope further than anyone with its new 64-bit Itaniumฎ 2-based workstations. The company claims that Intel Itanium processor, also known as the Madison, is 50 percent faster than its predecessor and has enabled its workstations to win major industry speed trials.
Specifically, HP says its Itanium 2-based zx6000 1.3 GHz and 1.5 GHz engineering workstations achieved a SPECfp 2000 rating of 2,106. That means the workstations can perform more than 2,000 floating point operations per second, the fastest processor performance in the industry, HP says. SPEC (www.spec.org/cpu2000/) is an industry-standard benchmarking system.
Rachael McClary, HP's worldwide Itanium product manager, says the Itanium 2-based zx6000 is designed for computer-aided engineering applications, such as finite element analysis. Indeed, Daimler Chrysler has recently adopted the hardware for NVH (noise, vibration, and harshness) analyses that it does with MSC/NASTRAN software. Additionally, Airbus UK uses the hardware in aircraft-wing design applications. "We're running 20-to-30 wing simulations per night," says Nigel Barry, IT architect at Airbus UK.
But HP doesn't have a monopoly on fast processors and workstations for the engineering market. Dell debuted its high-performance Itanium 2-based PowerEdge 3250 server in June. One month later, IBM (www.ibm.com) unveiled its new Intellistation Power 275, the first workstation to include its new Power4+ processor. Available at 1.0 GHz and 1.45 GHz, it too is 64-bit and incorporates self-monitoring technology that detects errors within the hardware and automatically places a service call to IBM.
At a SPEC rating of 1,180 operations per second, floating-point performance is less than that of the Itanium 2. But, says Rich Rudd, IBM's director of Intellistation products, speed ratings are relative. "Engineers should ask their application providers to perform tests to determine the fastest processor for their design chores, or just ask hardware vendors to run their workloads to get a reliable measure," he says.
IBM has opted not to use Itanium 2 for now, says Rudd, because the base Intel chipset doesn't provide for graphics. HP developed its own chipset in order to incorporate graphics capability.
For its part, Sun Microsystems (www.sun.com) also eschews Itanium in favor of its own 64-bit UltraSPARC III Cu processors. Sun engineers claim Itanium architectures are laden with problems, and they encourage use of its Sun Blade 2000 workstations. Indeed, the first generation of Itanium processors introduced in 2001 were a flop, industry analysts say, and untimately did not meet performance expectations.
Still, HP remains committed to the Itanium processor family platform. The company claims that there are more than 700 commercial and technical software applications and tools available on or moving to its Itanium 2 systems. Says Crawford Del Prete, senior vice president of communications and hardware research at analyst and research firm IDC (www.idc.com), "HP is leveraging Itanium technology so it can focus on value around the processor."
Meanwhile, Sun plans to introduce new 64-bit workstations based on its UltraSPARC platform in the fall.