Spotlight: Products
Issue: Volume 34 Issue 6: (June/July 2011)

Spotlight: Products

JPR: Workstation Market Slows to a More Sustainable Pace

Fortunately and as expected, the workstation market has slowed down. Completing analysis of the workstation and professional graphics market for the first quarter, Jon Peddie Research (JPR) senior analyst Alex Herrera finds that after a robust rebound beginning in the second half of 2009 and continuing through 2010, the market has found a more modest and sustainable pace. While reduced growth might leave some disappointed, Herrera sees it as a healthy sign that the market is stabilizing and averting a second dip, one that the related market for professional graphics hardware couldn’t avoid.

Q1 2011 is now in the books, with the quarter seeing 860,000 workstations shipped worldwide, representing a 4.8 percent sequential decline and an 18.6 percent year-over-year gain. Both those figures need to be weighed in context, however, to better understand the actual condition of the market. The year-over-year growth number has to be taken with a grain of salt, as a year ago the market had not yet fully recovered from the dramatic downturn of late 2008 and early 2009.

As Herrera notes, “An exuberant year-over-year number for last quarter doesn’t translate into an exuberant outlook for the market. And the first quarter in stable economic conditions typically sees a modest sequential falloff from Q4, on the order of what we saw.” So despite the fact that one number was substantially up and the other down, read in context, the fourth-quarter results would indicate a flattening marketplace.

Over the second half of the last decade, HP had made steady gains in its chase of market-leader Dell. And in Q3 2010, HP pushed ahead to put an appreciable gap over Dell, one it extended even further in the fourth quarter. JPR was expecting a more dramatic separation of the two, an assumption that the results from the first quarter of 2011 validate. At 42.9 percent of units, HP is now the undisputed king of the workstation market, clearly distancing itself from Dell at 34.8 percent.

For the closely related market for professional graphics hardware, the first quarter saw Nvidia (with its Quadro brand) and AMD (with its FirePro brand) combining to ship approximately 1.19 million units, up 5.8 percent sequentially. The market bounced back strongly in the first half of 2010 from the recession, mounting a pace JPR had thought was a little too hot in the context of the broader workstation and tech markets. As such, the firm saw the chance for a second dip in the market, one that eventually did manifest itself, occurring not only in Q3 2010, but extending into Q4 2010, as well.

Herrera attributes the softer shipments in both quarters to an overly optimistic sell in the record-setting quarters prior, rather than due to any long-term malaise. “The fourth-quarter flatness was more about continuing digestion at the OEM level, and we didn’t expect the dip to be severe nor protracted. Fortunately, Q1 2011 has delivered a solid sign that the preceding slide was nothing particularly consequential.”

JPR’s “Workstation Report — Professional Computing Markets and Technologies” is an essential reference guide for those serving the workstation and professional graphics markets.

Luxology Unwraps Recoil

Luxology has released Recoil, a new plug-in for Modo 501 (Mac and PC) that accurately simulates dynamic rigid-body interactions. Based on the popular open-source Bullet physics engine, which is used extensively within the game and film industries, Recoil realistically simulates dynamic forces and calculates accurate collisions between objects, allowing users to quickly create complex animations or automatically stack vast numbers of objects.

Utilizing Version 2.77 of the Bullet physics engine, Recoil simplifies the setup and execution of complex physical simulations by combining robust collision detection with a variety of constraints, forces, and controls. By tagging any mesh item to be dynamic, the object can respond to forces such as gravity or collisions from other objects in a Modo scene, thereby offering new functionality for Modo 501 users.

The recoil plug-in is available now and is priced at $199.

AMD Heats Up FirePro Line

AMD introduced the newest generation of its professional graphics cards—FirePro V5900 and FirePro V7900. Created for the design, engineering, financial, and medical fields, the cards offer AMD PowerTune and GeometryBoost technologies, in addition to AMD Eyefinity multi-display support, to enhance workflow and application performance.

Eyefinity multi-display technology makes it possible to support up to six displays in one large workspace, allowing faster access to applications and enhanced productivity. With the introduction of the FirePro V7900, which supports up to four displays, and AMD FirePro V5900, which supports up to three displays, engineers and designers have an expansive desktop space from which to see more data, open more applications, and view more information at the same time.

New for this generation of FirePro products is AMD PowerTune power management technology and GeometryBoost, a hardware capability that processes two primitives per clock cycle for fast geometry performance. The FirePro V5900 and FirePro V7900 also feature DisplayPort 1.2 and HDMI 1.4 support, as well as a large 2gb GDDR5 frame buffer.

FirePro V7900 cards feature four outputs from one card for a low total-solution cost, enabling users to drive four independent displays from a single slot card. This graphics card includes the ability to support framelock and genlock via the AMD FirePro S400 synchronization module, as well as 3D stereo with the included expansion bracket.

FirePro V5900 cards deliver a mid-range, high-performance solution without exceeding 75w power draw, with power-saving techniques for reduced wattage. Coupled with AMD Eyefinity technology, the AMD FirePro V5900 supports three display outputs.

Pricing for the FirePro V7900 starts at $999, while FirePro V5900 pricing begins at $599.

Intel Releases Thunderbolt

Intel has announced the availability of Thunderbolt technology, a new high-speed PC connection technology that brings together high-speed data transfer and high-definition display onto a single cable. Running at 10g bit/sec, Thunderbolt technology can transfer a full-length HD movie in less than 30 seconds. This Intel-developed technology is coming to market through a technical collaboration with Apple, and is available first on Apple’s new line of MacBook Pro laptop computers.

The vision for Thunderbolt technology (formerly codenamed “Light Peak”) is to move media faster, simplify connections between devices, and foster new ways to build and use PCs. Combining high-speed data and high-definition video connections together onto a single cable is instrumental to achieving that vision. Thunderbolt technology delivers this goal by using two communications methods, or protocols: PCI Express for data transfer and DisplayPort for displays. PCI Express has the flexibility to connect to almost any type of device, while DisplayPort can drive display devices with greater than 1080p resolution and as many as eight channels of audio simultaneously.

Thunderbolt technology is compatible with existing DisplayPort displays and adapters. All Thunderbolt technology devices share a common connector, and let individuals simply daisy-chain their devices one after another, connected by electrical or optical cables.

Thunderbolt technology is designed to meet the demands of serious HD media creators. For example, videographers can unleash their creativity using high-bandwidth audio and video capture/mixing devices, and get both low latency and highly-accurate time synchronization for real-time processing. At 10g bit/sec, larger media files are transferred faster, so there is less time spent waiting to edit videos. Data can be backed up and restored quicker, so there’s less waiting for archived content.

For mobile PC users, the technology offers a single connector on their ultra-thin laptop that extends their high-speed media and HD display capabilities at home or in the office. Thunderbolt technology is complementary to other I/O technologies that Intel continues to support.

“Working with HD media is one of the most demanding things people do with their PCs,” says Mooly Eden, general manager of the PC Client Group at Intel. “With Thunderbolt technology, Intel has delivered innovative technology to help professionals and consumers work faster and more easily with their growing collection of media content, from music to HD movies. We’ve taken the vision of simple, fast transfer of content between PCs and devices, and made it a reality.”

Thunderbolt technology is powered by an Intel controller chip, and uses a small connector suitable for mobile devices that will be included in products supporting the technology. Several companies have announced Thunderbolt technology-based products or currently plan to support Thunderbolt technology in upcoming products, including AJA, Apogee, Avid, Blackmagic, LaCie, Promise, and Western Digital. Intel is working with the industry on a range of Thunderbolt technology-enabled products, including computers, displays, storage devices, audio/video devices, cameras, docking stations, and more.

Adobe Gets Creative with CS5.5

Adobe Systems rolled out its new Creative Suite 5.5 product line, enabling designers and developers to target popular and emerging smartphone and tablet platforms, as the revolution in mobile communications fundamentally changes the way content is distributed and consumed. Substantive advances to HTML5, Flash authoring, digital publishing, and video tools, as well as new capabilities that kick-start the integration of tablets into creative workflows, anchor the new CS5.5 product family.

This launch marks a major change to Adobe’s product release strategy for Creative Suite. Adobe now plans to have milestone Creative Suite product introductions at 24-month intervals and—starting with 5.5—significant mid-cycle releases designed to stay ahead of the latest advances in content authoring.

To this end, Adobe debuted a flexible subscription-based pricing plan. New Subscription Editions ensure that customers are always working with the most up-to-date versions of the software, without the upfront cost of full pricing. With subscription pricing, customers can use flagship products, such as Adobe Photoshop, for as little as $35 per month, Adobe Design Premium CS5.5 for $95 per month, or Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection for $129 per month.

The new Creative Suite 5.5 Web Premium Suite is packed with innovations in HTML5 and Adobe Flash authoring tools, empowering customers to create, deliver, and monetize rich content and applications for virtually any screen. This release helps enable designers and developers to deliver mobile applications on Android, BlackBerry Tablet OS, iOS, and other platforms; create rich browser-based content across screens using HTML5; and leverage Flash Player to deliver premium video content, casual games, and rich Internet applications.

With the launch of Adobe Flash Builder 4.5 Premium (available in Creative Suite 5.5 Web Premium) and the Flex 4.5 framework, developers can easily develop and deploy mobile applications to more than 200 million smartphones and tablets by the end of this year.

With more than 131 million smartphones expected to have Flash Player installed by the end of the year, Adobe Flash makes it possible to bring rich content to desktops and devices inside the browser. Flash Player is supported on Android, HP webOS, and Google TV today. BlackBerry Tablet OS, upcoming versions of Windows Phone, Samsung SmartTVs, and others are expected to support Flash Player in the near future.

Creative Suite 5.5 Design Premium Suite builds on Adobe’s recent product innovations in digital publishing. Using Adobe InDesign CS5.5, in combination with the integrated Folio Producer tool set, designers can add new levels of interactivity to their page layouts targeted to tablet devices. Documents can include video, audio, panoramic views, 360-degree object rotation, pan and zoom of images, integration of HTML and HTML5 content, as well as other interactive overlays.

With these announcements, Adobe is extending the creative process beyond the desktop by helping integrate tablet devices into creative workflows. The new Adobe Photoshop Touch Software Development Kit (SDK) enables developers to build tablet applications that interact with Photoshop from Android, BlackBerry PlayBook, and iOS devices. Adobe also announced three new iPad applications that demonstrate the creative possibilities of using tablets to drive common Photoshop workflows—Adobe Color Lava for Photoshop, Adobe Eazel for Photoshop, and Adobe Nav for Photoshop.

For video and audio professionals, Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Production Premium Suite delivers breakthrough performance, workflow improvements, creative innovations, and new audio editing capabilities that build upon the customer momentum Production Premium is experiencing with broadcasters, filmmakers, and video professionals worldwide. In just one of the innovations, the Adobe Mercury Playback Engine, introduced in Adobe Premiere Pro CS5, broadens its GPU hardware support to include laptops and more supported cards, allowing users to open projects faster, get real-time feedback, and work more smoothly at higher resolutions.

The new Creative Suite product lineup is headlined by Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection, which includes, in a single package, all of Adobe’s industry-defining creative tools, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Acrobat, Flash Builder, Flash Catalyst, Flash Professional, Dreamweaver, Adobe Premiere Pro, and After Effects. These products are available separately or as components of one or more of the five Creative Suite editions. The complete Creative Suite 5 lineup includes Creative Suite 5.5 Master Collection, Creative Suite 5.5 Design Premium, Creative Suite 5.5 Web Premium, Creative Suite 5.5 Production Premium, and Creative Suite 5.5 Design Standard.

Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 products are available now at $2599 for CS5.5 Master Collection, $1899 for CS5.5 Design Premium, $1799 for CS5.5 Web Premium, $1699 for CS5.5 Production Premium, and $1299 for CS5.5 Design Standard. Upgrade pricing and volume licensing are available.