Computer Graphics World

November / December 2016

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22 cgw n o v e m b e r . d e c e m b e r 2 0 1 6 Wonderful World The T he workstation market is one of the most important, least volatile, and highest perfor- mance-demanding segments of the computer industry. It doesn't grow fast, and in terms of units, it's about as large as that of enthusiast gaming machines. How- ever, in terms of revenue, it's almost an order of magnitude greater. Although workstations, mainstream PCs, and laptops share the same basic design, workstations have a distinct ecosystem with special requirements. The market is enabled by semiconductors from AMD, Intel, and Nvidia. Those parts find their way to special- ized motherboard and add-in board (AIB) builders, which incorporate high-end mem- ory, disc drives or flash memory, heavy-duty power supplies, and so forth. Some of those products get sold to independent system builders, big OEMs like Apple, Dell, Fujitsu, HP, and Lenovo, and also to users who build their own workstations in exactly the config- uration they want. The adjacent market includes display suppliers, and they are pushing the limits on resolution, refresh rate, physical size, and even curved displays. Connecting the displays to the workstation's AIB are state-of-the-art high-speed cables known as DisplayPort 1.4, HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt 3, and USB-C. Because Thunderbolt 3 is a sup- erset of DisplayPort, HDMI, and USB-C, it will become a standard I/O on future systems – at least until something else comes along. Increasingly, workstation users will have two or more displays, only limited by desk space. THE CPU/CHIP FACTORS As the chips get smaller and faster, and miraculously use less power, workstations are being built in notebook form. They come with 17-inch displays and 4 k or better resolution. When AMD and Intel have new CPUs (x86), the workstation builders – custom- izers, independents, and big-brand OEMs – usually introduce a line of machines, and we just saw that this past summer as comput- ers have been introduced with Intel's Broad- well and Skylake, and the latest workstation graphics cards in AMD's FirePro and Nvidia's Quadro lines. Although AMD CPUs haven't had any traction in the workstation space for the past few years, the industry is anxiously awaiting the arrival of AMD's new CPU, the Zen. AMD recently revealed more details about its forthcoming Zen x86 CPU, which will target the high-end PCs for gaming and workstations, as well as servers. The Zen is expected in early 2017. During the summer, Intel introduced three new low-power, albeit powerful, processors in the Skylake family, which sparked the announcements of several new workstation laptops (as well as several gaming laptops) usually co-configured with an Nvidia GPU and, to a lesser extent, an AMD GPU. Intel's powerhouse workstation and serv- er CPU is the Xeon, and the newer worksta- tions will incorporate them, too. Likewise, when AMD and Nvidia come out with new GPUs, the workstation builders will either try to sync it up with a new CPU re- lease or do what's known as a midlife kicker, upgrading the current version of the work- station with more powerful graphics, and we just witnessed that, as well. In August, AMD introduced the Polaris-based Radeon Pro WX – WX 7100, WX 5100, and WX 4100 workstation AIB – and Nvidia introduced the Pascal-based Quadro P6000 and P5000. AMD's new Polaris-based WX7100 AIB comes with higher clock speeds and 2,304 cores that offer more than 5 tflops of sin- gle-precision (FP32) compute performance. Nvidia's new Quadro AIB is based on the Pascal graphics architecture, and it uses a GPU with 3,840 processing cores. It can reach 12 tflops. And lest we forget, you have to have the latest, fastest memory possible, and a lot of it. So workstation AIBs have 8 gb to 16gb in the mainstream, and up to 24gb in the high end of local RAM (random access memory) for the GPU (known as GDDR5), and a sea of system RAM (typically 32 gb to 64gb), and the latest version of that is DDR4. That is all backed up with at least a terabyte of solid state storage the latest version of that is DDR4. That is all backed up with at least a terabyte of solid state storage NVIDIA'S NEW QUADRO P6000 ADD-IN BOARD.

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