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