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DE Contest Winner Norwood: Life with a New Dell Precision Workstation with AMD FirePro Graphics

Transparent view of Mark Norwood's tank design once took him 18 hours to render on his 2004 machine. On his new Dell Precision T3500 with AMD FirePro, it took him just a little over an hour to render the same shot.

Mark Norwood from Norwood Designs, winner of DE‘s cubicle toy design contest, is no longer spending 18 hours rendering. Previously, he would hit “render” in his program, go to bed, then wake up to find that his machine was still chugging away at his pixels. But the new Dell Precision workstation with AMD FirePro graphics — the prize he collected for his water-spraying Sherman tank — reduced the rendering jobs to merely hours.

Norwood, a designer by profession, didn’t have any problem churning out 3D models to convey his idea for a toy. His handicap was his workstation, bought back in 2004. Running SolidWorks, his primary CAD program, was fraught with suspense, to put it mildly.

“I had to be careful about how many times I rotated the model, because it could eventually crash,” he said. “And every time I added a detail, I had to save it, which took forever. And anytime I had to rebuild the model, it took quite a while.” He also had to compromise his design: “A lot of the details I wanted to put on were too complicated,” he said.

That’s because older machines with limited horsepower have a hard time remaining stable when operating new software with higher memory and processing requirements.

As his winning prize, Mark Norwood took home a Dell Precision T3500 with AMD FirePro graphics, retail value estimated at more than $5,000.

He did have a graphics card in his machine, but, he revealed, “It was for gaming, not for a workstation.”

By contrast, Norwood said, “The new system is so stable I don’t concern myself with crashing, but I still save changes religiously, out of habit … As far as rotating, I mean it’s effortless — absolutely smooth.”

Some of the renderings he submitted for the design contest, he admitted, took between 18-36 hours. Norwood’s renderings, complete with transparent materials and fine details, would have pushed the ray-tracing  power in newer machines. “I sort of had to go with whatever rendering I got,” he said. If he was unhappy with the way certain surfaces turned out, he couldn’t afford to re-render the scene because of the time it would take.

The same rendering that took him 18 hours on his old machine took “just a little over an hour” on the new Dell Precision T3500 with AMD graphics, he said.

The added horsepower in his machine has inspired him to refine the chain and belt around his tank’s wheels, previously created to look right but not accurate to his engineering standard.

To take his design to the next level, Norwood hopes to be able to get his parts printed in 3D printers, to turn his digital design into a physical prototype. “I was really happy with the details I got to put on the body of [the tank]. It would be really great to be able to touch it,” he said.

Specs of Dell Workstation with AMD FirePro Delivered to Mark Norwood

  • Model: Dell Precision T3500
  • Six Core Intel Xeon Processor
  • 12 GB RAM
  • Dell UltraSharp U2410 24-in Wide Monitor
  • 2.0 GB AMD FirePro V7900
  • C4 All SATA drives

For more, listen to the podcast with Mark Norwood below:


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About Kenneth

Kenneth Wong has been a regular contributor to the CAD industry press since 2000, first an an editor, later as a columnist and freelance writer for various publications. During his nine-year tenure, he has closely followed the migration from 2D to 3D, the growth of PLM (product lifecycle management), and the impact of globalization on manufacturing. His writings have appeared in Cadalyst, Computer Graphics World, and Manufacturing Business Technology, among others.


  1. Way to go, Mr. Norwood. Thanks for the follow-up.

  2. Thanks, Mr. Lockwood. I am really enjoying the computer and the exposure. It was great fun to do the design. Now that I have a world class workstation, I am looking forward to more exciting and challenging designs. Visit my website at norwooddesigns.com to see my other designs.

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