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The expansion in the power of computers and CAD workstations has grown exponentially over the last few decades, as was predicted by Gordon E Moore in a notable white paperback in 1965. This prediction became known as Moore’s Law, which has remained uncannily accurate ever since.
As computer processing power grew, computer programs have scaled up in both their functionality as they can harness more power from their computing platform. Purist programmers would argue that this is led to poor programming practices and bloated programs, which is essentially correct, but this argument is pretty much invalid given today’s computing power.
The current single-chip X86 platform was initially launched in 1978 to the desktop market and effectively brought affordable computing to the masses. That said, however, X86 is not the most elegant of architecture. Still, it has been refined to the point that it has become mainstream and is used in most modern desktop computing systems and laptop computers.
The growth and the development of the single processor, while giving a lot of R & D, did not live up to original expectations despite significant advancements in manufacturing processes and ultimately, a combination of excessive heat generation, environmentally unfriendly power consumption, and potentially design challenges forced a re-think leading to the arrival of multi-core processors.
Most computer purchasers believed, due to marketing hype and, of course, lack of knowledge, that having more cores made a PC perform better. Still, those in the know and power users will be well aware that this was and is not the case even though multi-processor architecture is significantly advanced than the first released breed of processors.
It’s almost surreal that the processor manufacturers pursued this route, especially if you consider that most programs used in the world today are what is known as single-threaded serial based applications and, as such, are not or cannot be written to take advantage of multi-core processors. This argument could have been countered by the fact that program switching is more efficient with multiple processors; however, the gain is minuscule for the most part.
For a majority of consumers, given the demise of single-core processors, spending more on a dual-core processor for more incredible processor speed as opposed purchasing quad-core or even six-core chips will be the best spend for their budget as well as making sure they have a sensible amount of onboard ram not just the minimum. And if gamers a decently specced graphics card to boot.
If you use a computer for scientific or computer-aided design applications, however, then you will have welcomed the emergence of multi-core processors as many of these applications can take advantage of parallel processing and will use every ounce of processing power that is made available to them when performing complicated calculations.
But even then, you need to spend wisely as not even programs costing several thousand dollars are all multi-threaded, surprisingly! And suppose you don’t understand your exact requirements. In that case, it is not unusual for an IT department to over-spec a CAD workstation for one application or user and, on the other hand, totally under spec a CAD computer for another.
Unlike an office machine where two differently specified PCs will give performance differences that are, for the most part, immeasurable, getting it wrong with a CAD workstation can cost a business thousands in lost productivity. For example, a rendering project that should take only a few hours to compute and deliver to a client could sometimes end up taking days, multiply that by only one or two tasks, and the business costs soon mount up. Clients can be lost due to failure to deliver projects on time.
Other factors also come into play in CAD workstations beside the processor, for example, the operating system, amount of memory, speed of the hard drive, and even ensuring you have the right graphics card all come into play, so if you are planning on investing in a CAD workstation any time soon then do some research to see exactly what you should be buying.
With the growth in the range of multi-core processors available, purchasers must understand the differences and where there use is most appropriate.