The need for speed is especially relevant when it comes to manufacturing where time to market is critical and the need to save time during the process can make or break a company in this very competitive global market. That’s why Mark Forth, CAM Project Manager for software developer and manufacturer Delcam has devoted so much time and effort refining Delcam’s latest PowerMILL 10 (PM 10) software release so it will take advantage of multi-threaded processing. More processes running in parallel equals less wait time while the number crunching toolpath calculations determine the best path for machining operations. Mark has also headed up the effort at Delcam to include a number of sequential background-computing operations that also speed things up. But, without the best and fastest workstation he wasn’t able to realize the full potential of his efforts.
Delcam’s PM 10 software is used to translate a mechanical drawing into commands that are fed into and control a milling machine. It calculates the optimal configuration that the machine tool head will use to zip across and cut into the surface of bare metal to fashion the finished product. In short, it calculates and presents toolpath commands that guide the milling machine’s operation.
Before the advent of multi-threaded computing, these complex calculations could take days, or even weeks to complete on a single workstation.
But now, with chip-set advances made principally by Intel and AMD and collaboration with major workstation manufacturers, the time to completion has been cut to hours, and in some cases calculations are finished in just minutes.
Initially Mark wrote in Delcam’s white paper “Parallel processing in PowerMILL 10” that PM 10 would perform best on a Quad Core machine. However, he also concluded, based on empirical testing he’d done on other workstations, that there was little benefit above 4 cores. The white paper also mentions that PM 10 would perform better if all the processors were on the same chip and shared a common cache. I was anxious to benchmark the HP Z600 because it is an 8 core machine (dual quad core) powered by the latest Intel® Xeon® 5500 chipset, which incidentally includes all its processors on the same chip sharing a common cache. I wanted to see if Mark’s hypotheses of ‘little benefit above 4 cores’ would hold water when I ran the standardized tests on the Z-600.
(Read and download Delcam’s Parallel Processing white paper, which was written prior to the HP Z600 testing, at http://www.powermill.com/PM10White_Paper.pdf )
Intel under the hood
Even before doing the testing I made an educated guess that the results would show that the 8 core HP Z600 mid range workstation would perform better than Mark had anticipated. HP and Intel had worked closely together to tune Intel’s Xeon® 5500 series processors into HP’s Z architecture workstations, and the new processors boast integrated memory controllers with three DDR3 native channels for enhanced performance. And, when you add Intel’s scalable shared memory QuickPath® architecture that includes high speed point-to-point interconnect; you get an additional performance jump of more than 2X compared to the front side bus architecture of Intel’s previous 5400 series of processors.
The Intel® Xeon® 5550 processor used in HP’s Z600 workstation also includes new Turbo Boost technology that automatically ratchets up performance by as much as 400MHz additional frequency for applications that aren’t designed to take advantage of all the available computing power. This innovation is measurably effective for lightly threaded applications and since part of PowerMILL 10’s speed enhancement comes from sequential background processing I felt that we’d see improvements in this area and in overall performance.
While Turbo Boost assists in the background, the new Intel chipset’s hyperthreading technology enables highly threaded applications, like PowerMILL 10, to run much faster because every core enables 2 processing threads. So, for an 8 core solution 16 processor threads are instantiated to deliver a quantum leap in the final performance numbers. In general, the HP Z600 workstation exhibits a whopping overall performance improvement of 180% or a 2.8X speed improvement over previous HP workstation models.
Comparative benchmark results
The bottom-line results of our PM10 bench mark comparative tests, which do not take into consideration the additional productivity of utilizing background processing while calculating, editing, or preparing toolpaths, show that the HP Z600 is approximately 20% faster than the fastest Dell workstation (Dell T3400 Quad Core Q9550) Mark had been able to test thus far.
In addition to testing Delcam’s PM 10 software, Mark also wanted to see how their previous PowerMILL 9 (PM 9) software would perform. He sent me both the PM9 and PM10 software, and two multi-axis toolpath standardized tests so we could fairly compare how much time each process would take after running both tests on both versions of PowerMILL across multiple processor configurations including the HP Z600. You can download detailed result data for all tests on both PM 10 and PM 9 on all computers as an Excel Spread sheet from:
About the Z600 Workstation
This midrange workstation’s brushed aluminum housing and sleek exterior design scream power and innovation. And, because it’s been designed with integral carrying handles and has a small footprint I easily carried it, with one hand, to our lab where I ran the Delcam toolpath testing. When I pulled the side latch and opened the anodized aluminum case to peek inside my evaluation Z600 I was taken aback. No screws, no cables, and a modular design reminiscent of an aircraft’s serviceable electronics bay.
Visual clues and green touch points on each module intuitively allow you to remove, replace, and upgrade the workstation’s major serviceable components. For example, you can easily upgrade the power supply by replacing the power supply module, add RAM or swap out a traditional hard drive with a solid state one without getting tangled up in a mess of wires and connectors.
As I mentioned earlier, the custom tuned chip set under the hood, and the finely tuned I.O.’s deliver state-of-the-art performance, and measurable time speed-up performance.
Below is a screen shot of the Z600 workstation’s configuration I used to perform the benchmark testing with:
Take a minute to visit the HP Z600 product specification page (Go to http://www.hp.com and search for ‘Z600’) where you’ll see the complete specification, configuration, and cost options.
Need for Speed Satisfied
If you have a need for speed, and want to lop hours off your next multi-threaded computational tasks whether they include rendering, toolpath calculation, or heavy duty number crunching the HP Z600 will certainly fill the bill. And if you need to reduce your time and cost even more I’d recommend that you check out HP’s top of the line Z800 workstations. Whatever your decision, you’ll be able to configure your new workstation to make quick work of your compute intensive tasks, and you’ll get your project finished or your product to market faster and more efficiently.
Delcam is one of the world’s leading suppliers of advanced CADCAM solutions for manufacturing industry. Delcam’s range of design, manufacturing and inspection software provides complete, automated CADCAM solutions, to take complex-shaped products from concept to reality. It is now the largest developer of product design and manufacturing software in the UK, with subsidiaries in North America, Europe and Asia. Delcam’s software is used by more than 30,000 organizations in over 80 countries.
By David Heller