All You Need to Know About Hardware for Simulation
Engineering simulation needs all the computer power it can get. FEA and CFD users have complex problems with millions of elements, and generative design — built on simulation — will run simulations many times for each of the thousand solutions it generates. Most engineers are still trying to do all this on ageing workstations.
What should you look for in a new workstation? In this article, we examine the options available for engineering hardware for simulation:
- When do you need to jump to HPC?
- How much faster is HPC over workstations?
- What to look for in HPC hardware
- Affordability of HPC
- Is it better to rent HPC when you need it?
The highest performing computing and why engineers need it
In the engineering and design world, compute power is never enough. The ideas that there is unlimited computing power on high performance computers (HPC) on cloud networks is tantalizing.
But are supercomputers, at the cost of tens of millions of dollars, the way to go for today’s engineering simulations? An alternative to supercomputers is tying together ordinary computer hardware in massive networks to create what is known as high performance computing (HPC). The economies of scale of HPC have made solution times faster and cheaper than they have ever been.
What is a HPC and how it works?
If you are queuing up a simulation today on your workstation, it will be ready tomorrow; the same solution on HPC on the cloud will be done by lunch. The cost for simulation is fractions of a cent per second.
Every computer in an HPC system is known as a node. Each node is generally equipped with multiple processors called compute cores that handle the computation aspect of problem-solving. The processors, graphical processing units and memory of each node are then interconnected by a network to make a high-performance computing system. You can compare HPC systems to the rendering farms used for movie special effects and realistic architectural fly-throughs. Multiple compute nodes work together to deliver solutions for large, complex problems. When multiple processes line up for an HPC system, a scheduler comes into play. The scheduler allocates compute and storage resources to each process according to its requirements. Approximately 64 percent of HPC platforms now integrate cloud computing and the market is expected to grow annually by 12 percent within the next 5 years.
Pc or workstation, what’s the difference?
On seeing the tremendous disparity between computers costing well under a thousand dollars and workstations that start well above that, you might be thinking, “What’s the difference?”.
The price of inexpensive, basic PCs will certainly tempt the budget-minded. Or, you may be eyeing a sleek and svelte laptop like the Microsoft Surface Pro or a MacBook. However, unless you’re solving trivial simulation problems, the PC or Mac simply won’t do. (If you are doing simulation on the cloud, it’s possible. More on that below.)
Simulation demands a workstation. It will lurk under your desk, lights glowing like a mad dog that will tear into any simulation you give it, spitting out results in no time—simulations that would have choked a PC.
A workstation differs from a PC mostly in the differences seen in each of the major constituent parts: a faster processor, more memory and more storage. Let’s look at each class of parts in more detail.
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