AEC Magazine Review: BOXX APEXX 2 + renderPRO 2

By dedicating a high GHz workstation to CAD and a dual Xeon box to rendering, designers can have optimised hardware for both processes. The workflow benefits can be huge, but the package doesn’t come cheap, writes Greg Corke.

Ray trace rendering is arguably the most computationally intensive process in any architectural design workflow. It is highly multi-threaded so it absolutely hammers all of a workstation’s CPU cores. It is also extremely scalable, so doubling the number of cores can, in many cases, halve the render time.

Most CAD software is very different in that it is a single-threaded process, so the majority of tasks are performed on one CPU core. This means it thrives on a high-frequency (GHz) CPU. Performance will not increase if you add more CPU cores.

This presents a big challenge when choosing a workstation for both CAD and rendering. The highest frequency CPUs have the least number of cores, while the ones with the most cores tend to have the lowest frequencies.

As a result, architects and engineers must accept that there will always be a trade-off — or must they?

Custom workstation manufacturer BOXX offers an alternative solution by dedicating separate machines to each process. CAD work is done on the BOXX APEXX 2, a high-frequency Intel Core i7 desktop workstation, while the rendering is handled by the BOXX renderPRO 2, a networked, dual Intel Xeon rendering machine with lots of cores.

As both machines work completely independently of each other, it also means that the BOXX APEXX 2 workstation is able to dedicate almost all of its resources to CAD modelling when the BOXX renderPRO 2 is rendering.

In contrast, when a traditional desktop workstation is set to render flat out, it will often become sluggish, making it almost impossible to do any meaningful CAD work.

There are ways to get around this. Users can reduce the number of cores assigned to the rendering task, either by changing processor affinity in Windows Task manager (so specific applications use specific CPU cores) or by applying more granular control of CPU core usage inside the rendering application. But that means renders come back slower. Continue reading

What Professionals Need To Know About VR Workstations

oculus-rift-insideVirtual Reality for the creative professional is an exciting new opportunity to explore the boundaries of interactive story telling. In addition, virtual reality is being used in industries outside of media and entertainment, while still requiring the tools that VFX artists are used to using. The common thread is that immersive 3D content is gearing up for the impending launch of a wide range of consumer VR products, and creative professionals are looking for new ways to take advantage of the technology.

What Kind of Hardware Will You Need?

For much of your workflow, the same formula for choosing hardware would stay the same. Fast processors, plenty of memory, and an SSD hard drive will help you design and develop your virtual reality assets. Where the workflow gets tricky is when you go to deploy your assets. Or, in plain terms, “hit play.” Continue reading

Old and Busted vs. New Hotness: What Do The Benchmarks Tell Us?

Staying Power

Longtime BOXX customers have come to enjoy a level of performance and reliability that they haven’t received from other vendors. We’re proud that the average life of a BOXX system is around seven years – and most are only set aside for faster models. A couple of years ago we did a contest to try to find the oldest BOXX workstation still in service. How old was the winner’s system, still in use, by the original owner? Twelve years. Believe it or not, the runner up lost by only SEVEN days.

The point is, and one we try to drive home, is that our systems pay for themselves. When your livelihood depends on getting the job done, substandard hardware can cost you time, and more importantly, money. Continue reading

Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, Overclocked Skylake Is Ready To Rock

Nearly a decade ago, Intel established a master plan for designing and launching new CPUs. Dubbed “Tick-Tock,” this method laid out a new cadence; new CPU architecture followed by die/fabrication shrinks with the process then repeating itself. The cadence allows Intel to test new fabrication technologies with a proven architecture (Tick,) and then introduce new architecture on a proven fabrication process (Tock).

This year has been interesting, however. Today we’re announcing the immediate availability of the new 6th generation Intel® Core™ processor technology (Core i7 6700K), code-named Skylake, on our popular APEXX 2 platform (dubbed the Model 2402), as well as the all-new APEXX 1 Model 1401. The older APEXX 2 Model 2401 was based on 4th generation Intel Core technology code-named “Haswell.” The Core i7 4790K was actually a refresh of the original, high-end, Haswell technology-based Core i7 4770K and was intended to be the leading desktop processor for professional grade quad-core systems. The 5th generation Intel Core technology that soon followed (code-named “Broadwell”) was a die shrink, or Tick, moving from 22nm to 14nm, but was not a product we offered, as it also focused more on bringing a higher level of integrated 3D horsepower to consumer systems and did not deliver any incremental top-end performance to professional users.

So, for those of you keeping score, BOXX has moved from a Tock to a Tock, skipping the Tick in between. Of course, this is an interesting bit of information for us hardware junkies, but it also explains why we never offered the 5th generation Intel Core technology—it just didn’t make sense for our professional customers.

Skylake, on the other hand, does provide our customers with the necessary architectural changes that deliver higher performance, so it bears explaining what those changes are and how they impact you.

Continue reading

Lanmar Services – A BOXX Customer Story

 

 

Lanmar Services, an Austin, Texas-based architectural firm, specializes in scanning buildings and transforming those scans into 3D models for the world’s leading architectural and engineering firms. Their projects include One World Trade Center, The Sears Tower, The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, The Rose Bowl, and countless other sports stadiums. Continue reading