hardware recommendations

by Nate Hekman on November 5, 2007

One of our users asked me recently for advice on picking the best hardware configuration to run GeoStudio.  His office was buying new computers for their engineers and since they used GeoStudio heavily they wanted the best possible configuration within their budget.

The System Requirements on our web site are obviously pretty basic.  And they don’t tell you where you should spend that extra budget to really get the most bang for your buck.  Here are my suggestions.

Processor

GeoStudio 2007 is multi-threaded, meaning it will take full advantage of multiple CPUs or cores.  Don’t worry too much about processor speed: get at least a dual-core CPU and your solves will be nearly twice as fast.  The improvement will be more obvious the larger your typical mesh sizes.  Here’s a graph to give you a rough idea of the speed improvements additional processors will give you.

speed gain by number of processors

GeoStudio 2004, on the other hand (version 6), is not multithreaded, so additional CPUs will not typically help unless you’re running two analyses at the same time.

Additionally, GeoStudio is optimized for 32-bit CPUs.  You may as well get 64-bit CPUs and a 64-bit OS because that’s the way the industry is headed, but that won’t translate into better performance with GeoStudio today.

Memory

After investing in a dual-core CPU, the next biggest bang for your buck will be memory.  With the price of memory these days you shouldn’t use less than 2 GB.  Go with 4 GB if you can.  Large meshes use lots of memory, and if you don’t have enough RAM then your operating system will be swapping data back and forth between disk and RAM, which will really slow things down.

Graphics

Any self-respecting graphics card with basic 2D acceleration will be able to handle GeoStudio’s graphics just fine.  Until we get into 3D, you don’t need to worry about your graphics card.  (Note that Seep3D is a whole other question–it definitely needs a good OpenGL-accelerated card.  But that’s beyond the scope of this blog.)

Disk

CPU and RAM are obvious.  But these days process and memory are getting so fast that they are less likely to be the bottleneck any more.  The next place to spend money is on a fast hard drive.

If you’ve used version 4 or earlier of our products, you’ll remember the hundreds of files a typical solve would spit out.  It’s only gotten worse!  With version 5 we introduced the .*z files (.slz for slope, .sez for seep, etc), which just hid the mess of files in one zip file.  Version 6 changed that to a .gsz, which combined all the files for several different analyses into one zip file.  And version 7 is worse yet since you can have as many analyses as you want all in the same .gsz file.  While the solver is running it is reading and writing and zipping and unzipping at each iteration and time step.  Contour isn’t quite as bad as Solve since it’s not writing results, but it still has to read a lot of data.

Scott Guthrie recommends programmers buy faster hard drives, but his advice is appropriate for GeoStudio users too.

Laptops:  Most laptops come by default with a 5400rpm drive, which is pretty slow.  Consider spending another $55-$100 to upgrade to 7200rpm instead.

Desktops:  Desktops normally ship with 7200rpm drives.  I recommend getting 10,000rpm or higher instead.  It could also be beneficial to go with a RAID 0 striped configuration, which splits data across multiple drives, lowering the seek time.

Conclusion

CPU and RAM are still the most important ingredients in a fast computer, but it’s the number of CPUs that counts, not the speed.  And if you still have money left over in your budget, get yourself the fastest hard drive you can afford.  You won’t regret it.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1

Paul Grunau 03.04.08 at 2:48 pm

I think processor speed should be considered equally with the number of processors. For example, say your current system has a 2 GHz dual core. According to the chart above, you would get a 40% speed improvement (solving large problems) by upgrading to a 2 GHz quad core system. Or you could just get a 2.8 GHz dual core system, and get the same perfomance improvement by increasing your clock speed by 40%. This will also speed up the performance of any single-threaded applications that you also run on your system. Of course, in a perfect world, you’d buy both faster cores and more of them!

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