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Pro/Engineer   March 2005   Tip-of-the-Month

Hardware for Pro/E

How long does that thing take to regenerate?   An important question for large and interconnected models.

At Synthesis we are pretty demanding of our computers, and we recently went shopping for new ones.  Here are some of the things we discovered about hardware and speed for Pro/E.

The 5 big ones (in our order of importance):

  1. Processor (and system - memory, motherboard, etc.)  -- the main element of speed for most operations.
  2. Graphics  -- speed at which a model is displayed, rotated, zoomed, etc..
  3. Memory  -- applicable to demand, is only an issue if you don't have enough.
  4. Save and Retrieve  -- speed of the hard drive and/or network.
  5. Operating System  -- the wrap that ties together all the above.
In truth, all are tightly related and interdependent.  A fast system needs a good balance -- which we leave to the computer manufacturers and the tinkerers.

So, what system should you buy?

That is for each to decide.  However, here are a few things we learned:

Processors:  Intel processors brag higher processor speeds, but for whatever reasons, the current speed demons are AMD Opteron machines (according to the OCUS Benchmark.)  Notably, appearing at the top of the charts are several Sun Java machines.

Side Note:  Yes, I thought it was funny that Sun is offering an AMD processor, and especially interesting that a Sun will run Windows.  I have heard Sun is cooperating with AMD (hopefully on chip technology) so keep your eyes on it.  It could be great.

Graphics:  There are several great graphics cards available.  For Pro/E, these are not gamers cards.  Look for cards specifically tailored to 3D CAD and visualization.  nVidia and 3D Labs both make some good choices.  Also, some have specific Pro/E drivers.

If there is one place I recommend spending extra money, it is for graphics -- to reduce Annoyance wait times.  Annoyance waits are not usually long, they are just inopportune -- like for a zoom, spin or change display mode -- or when you switch to a drawing and have to wait for graphics.)

Memory:  Generally, more is better, but realistically, if the models are small, less memory is required.  The nice thing about memory is you can add more without loosing the investment (assuming you left slots for the possibility).

1 Gb is typically good, 2-4 Gb if you deal with big stuff or like to have lots of other things going at the same time.

Save and Retrieve:  This area is moving fast.  SCSI is fastest, but not noticeably for most.  If you have to use it, the network is the bottleneck.  Saving over a network is drastically slower than saving locally, but that may not be avoided at some companies.

Side Note:  At Synthesis, we are addressing the issue by writing software to automatically manage the files off critical path.

Operating System:  Match what you do best.  All the major choices are reasonable for speed -- unless you customize with mapkeys and the like -- in which case, Windows is a hassle.

Windows is great for many things, but for Pro/E . . . ?  I see designers on Windows who use only one Pro/E window -- opening and closing models constantly.  You can be more efficient with multiple open models, but Windows can make it a bit frustrating.  Especially with keyboard mapkeys, Windows looses focus and you must click in Pro/E so mapkeys will work.  I watch people do it subconsciously -- all the time.  Other operating systems do not need the crutches.
Solaris_10 Side Note:  I have not tried it yet, but Solaris 10 is supposed to be a technology leap in managing OS functions.  Not that the user interface is different, but internal functions are supposed to be streamlined.  They tell me about 10% improvement on the same hardware for Pro/E.

A few other (perhaps controversial) things to consider:

- For Pro/E, PTC works with vendors to certify their hardware.  It does not mean uncertified systems won't work, it means you have a better chance of good results.  From experience, the ride is usually smoother with PTC certified stuff.  Just ask the supplier if their products are PTC Certified.

- Something I did not initially think about is machine construction.  I didn't realize there are such big differences in construction quality.  There are desktop versions, workstation versions, and server level versions.  I'm not sure how much it impacts speed, but according to the sys admins I spoke with, it makes some difference in speed (because of the architecture), and a big difference in reliability.

- Yes, there are some good workstation level laptops to run Pro/E.  Dell makes a good one I use, and there are more.  However, for speed, stability, graphics and usability I like the desktop best.

- Finally, take time to examine the interface items:  the keyboard, mouse, spaceball, monitor, . . . .  These are interactions where the computer waits for the human -- and that is an important aspect of speed.  Choose things that fit and work well. Perhaps try things with shortcuts, like extra mouse buttons.


At the end of our search, we ended up with 2 new Sun Workstations:  a W1100Z running Windows XP and a Sun Blade 1500 (because I just can't give up the ease and superior work flow of Solaris).  I'd recommend these machines to anyone.


Happy Hunting !!
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