One of the most common assumptions made here at AnandTech, as well as elsewhere, is about the performance of the latest and greatest processors in “professional applications.” You see it everywhere – look at the tons of Athlon reviews published and the numerous CPU reviews that go up on a daily basis. The relationship between floating point performance and superior performance in what are stereotyped to be “professional applications” is made constantly and often without much data to back it up.
In actuality, quite a few factors outside of floating point performance affect the group of applications commonly known as “professional applications” and on top of that, each particular type of “professional application” responds in a different way to each one of those factors depending on the particular application. As you can probably guess, it is very difficult to make a generalization as to which one CPU is the best for professional applications. In order to answer that question, you would have to benchmark just about every available program with that classification and compare the results. In the end you’d have a table of benchmarks that would point out one obvious fact – there is no winner take all in every application used in the professional world.
In some cases, you have applications that are truly video card dependent, and, therefore, CPU performance isn’t as big of a factor. In other situations you have applications that are more dependent on a fast L2 cache and memory bus rather than an extremely strong floating point unit, but then again there are some applications that are the exact opposite.
Unlike testing business applications or games, working with professional applications is much more specific and it is very difficult to make a generalization about performance in the area as a whole. At the same time, like business applications, in the professional world you often have specific applications that are catered to specific tasks like a Word Processor or Spreadsheet program is in the business world. A user will find an application that suits his particular needs and stick to it. This is exactly why you see some users that prefer MS Office while others would rather use Lotus Smart Suite or Corel Office. The same situation exists in the professional world: while some users prefer applications such as 3D Studio MAX others prefer Maya.
The difference between the professional world and the business world is that your job doesn’t normally depend on how fast you can run Office or Smart Suite. We consistently point out the fact that business application performance is not a major point to stress when looking at the performance of today’s CPUs, since there is only so much you need from a processor when dealing with business applications. The exact opposite is true for professional users. Their jobs generally depend on being able to run specific applications, and, often times, they are left with a very difficult question to answer, “Which CPU helps me do my job faster?”
The application that we have decided to focus on in this comparison is Parametric Technology Corporation’s (PTC) Pro/ENGINEER. According to PTC, who develops, markets and supports the Pro/ENGINEER software, “Pro/ENGINEER is the de facto standard for mechanical design automation.”
Unlike AutoCAD and other 2D CAD packages, Pro/E is a 3D solid modeler with a parametric, feature-based, fully associative architecture. It has the capability to provide a complete product development solution, from conceptual design and simulation through manufacturing.
In function, Pro/ENGINEER is similar to UG (Unigraphics), SDRC I-DEAS, SolidWorks, Mechanical Desktop, and IronCAD. If you’re familiar with any one of those programs then you already have some insight as to what Pro/ENGINEER does and is used for.
Originally, Pro/ENGINEER was written for the UNIX operating system and was primarily used with SGI workstations. In fact, in 1988, about ninety percent of Pro/ENGINEER users had a Silicon Graphics workstation on their desk. Eventually, other UNIX vendors such as Sun, IBM, DEC and HP developed products for use with Pro/ENGINEER.
In 1996, Windows NT workstations started surfacing with their relatively fast OpenGL graphics hardware. Since then, the NT workstation has provided the price and performance combination that has made it the system of choice for new workstation purchases. Currently, PTC supports Alpha, Intel, Sun, HP and PowerPc based systems. However, as of now, no AMD based systems are officially supported.
Pro/ENGINEER works with Windows 95 and Windows 98 as well. Support for LINUX has been considered by PTC, but no release date has been set.
In terms of an installed user base, according to PTC, their product development software is currently being used at over 27,000 companies worldwide with a total number of seats installed at over 230,000. These numbers have doubled within the past two years. With a strong following, it isn’t surprising to see that there is a demand for performance benchmarks on the Pro/ENGINEER platform.