AEC

Top Honors - Saluting Outstanding CAD Products (Cadalyst Labs Review)

1 Dec, 2007 By: Ron LaFon

Cadalyst All-Star awards honor the best of the best — the most outstanding among all software and hardware products that earned Highly Recommended ratings from Cadalyst Labs in the past six months.


Cadalyst All-Star awards honor the best of the best — the most outstanding among all software and hardware products that earned Highly Recommended ratings from Cadalyst Labs in the past six months. Not all Cadalyst reviews are published in the print issue, and some of the product reviews in this article appeared in the Cadalyst Daily e-mail newsletter. Beginning in 2008, Cadalyst will bestow its All-Star awards annually rather than every six months.



Software

Adobe Systems • Acrobat 3D v8 • www.adobe.com

September 2007. Adobe released the second major version of Acrobat 3D, and I noted in my review that this major design and collaboration application has a lot of tools that are both powerful and easy to use. And they're all based on the ubiquitous, user-friendly PDF file format.

To the feature set found in Acrobat 8 Professional, Acrobat 3D adds the ability to convert 3D designs from major CAD applications to PDF, as well as create rich documents that can include exploded views, animations, lighting, materials, textures, and color. It also can export precise geometry from PDF to STEP, IGES, and Parasolid to enable downstream use in CAD, CAM, and CAE applications.

Adobe has continued to forge alliances with major players in the CAD and engineering software community, and new announcements appear regularly. As a result of these alliances and technology acquisitions, Adobe Acrobat 3D works with a wide array of industry-standard software.

Adobe Systems • Photoshop CS3 Extended • www.adobe.com

September 2007. Considered by many to be one of the premiere applications of our time, Adobe's new version of Photoshop has features geared toward technical users.

An Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended screen showing a U3D 3D file open inside the application.
An Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended screen showing a U3D 3D file open inside the application.

Photoshop has long been an extremely useful application for design professionals in the visualization and digital content creation (DCC) pursuits, but the addition of support for 3D and the ability to obtain quantitative as well as qualitative data from images adds great depth to the product. With its additional integration with Adobe Lightroom and superb facility with digital images, Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended is an exceptional application that can be very useful tool for design professionals.

Photoshop CS3 Extended now directly supports several 3D file formats: U3D (no surprise there), 3DS, OBJ, Collada, and Google KMZ. Native support is provided for files with 1–1.5 million polygons. Users can import, view, and interact with most 3D models, and they can easily render and incorporate 3D content into their 2D composites and edit existing textures on 3D models directly within the application to see immediate results.

Autodesk • Maya 8.5 Unlimited • www.autodesk.com

July 2007. Maya is an extraordinarily capable design and animation application that has been used for a wide range of professional-level still images, renderings, and animations and to produce some of the remarkable effects in many popular movies. In my review, I noted that Maya Unlimited is a powerful tool and that Maya 8.5 offers artists enhanced creative control, which enables faster completion of complex animations and simulations.

With Maya nCloth, the first module based on the Maya Nucleus solver, artists can quickly direct and control a range of simulations, including cloth and inflatable materials, in entirely new ways.
With Maya nCloth, the first module based on the Maya Nucleus solver, artists can quickly direct and control a range of simulations, including cloth and inflatable materials, in entirely new ways.

Maya 8.5 boasts a number of evolutionary changes that improve workflow and development productivity, as well as new capabilities for character animation. This release includes Maya Nucleus technology, which is a unified simulation framework that allows artists to create elements that interact — in a 3D animation — with other dynamic objects such as fluids, cloth, or rigid bodies. The first module of Maya Nucleus is Maya nCloth, which facilitates cloth-on-cloth simulations that offer realistic movement.

More physically accurate realizations of outdoor scenes are easier with Maya 8.5's new physical sun and physical sky shaders, which let users create photorealistic skies based on the position of the sun using the mental-ray rendering engine. Additionally, new architectural and design shaders are included for creating architecture-specific effects.

ENOVIA MatrixOne • MatrixOne • www.matrixone.com

June 2007. Reviewer Mike Hudspeth noted that MatrixOne is powerful software that will help a large company increase efficiency, reliability, and quality — which in turn will increase profitability.

MatrixOne is aimed at the large, diversified company with global locations and collaborative needs. This software is meant for the enterprisewide approach to product management. In a nutshell, MatrixOne makes engineering data (and more) available to an entire enterprise. It can bring together documents and files from vastly different programs and make them work together to fully define every aspect of a design.

MatrixOne can read and store any number of CAD formats, so it can handle just about everything. It will allow users to examine what they're doing to their designs and then identify who else will be affected by any change — at any level. It can provide feedback so users can examine processes and optimize their product stream.

MAXON • CINEMA 4D v10 • www.maxon.net

June 2007. When Mike Hudspeth reviewed MAXON's CINEMA 4D v10 he commented that it is intended as an animation tool for the product pipeline. As such, integration is vital, and CINEMA 4D v10 works well with most software packages. It is platform independent. Only 5% of the program is OS dependent, so it's very stable. It also takes advantage of multiprocessors, meaning that it's fast and can handle very large files. CINEMA 4D v10 is easy to learn and use, which is important because unless you work in the entertainment business or your company has you dedicated to this sort of thing, you won't be using it every day.

CINEMA 4D v10 has a great new user interface that places emphasis on quick recognition of color-coded icons. The icons can be rearranged however you want, so you can tailor your workflow for efficiency. Reviewer Mike Hudspeth noted that he couldn't tell you how many times he had needed a tool like CINEMA 4D v10 to show someone how a mechanism worked. All it would've taken would have been to create a short animation of the mechanism going through its paces.

Newforma • Newforma Project Center Fourth Edition • www.newforma.com

November 2007. Jerry Laiserin reviewed Newforma Project Center Fourth Edition in the November 2007 issue of Cadalyst, noting that the product is "the Swiss Army knife of AEC productivity." Newforma applies a radical but all-too-rare approach to developing its Project Center software. Everyone in the company believes that the way a piece of software works should match users' behaviors, not force users to change their behaviors to conform to the software.

Newforma Project Center relies on an inside-out rather than outside-in approach to sharing information within a project team. Most so-called extranets, project-specific Web site services, and similar project-collaboration networks shift the management of shared information outside any individual firm. Those services centralize a document repository, messaging clearinghouse, and transactional database. This approach would be ideal if only one such system existed or if firms only worked on one project at a time. However, hundreds of these services operated prior to the dot-com implosion in mid-2000, and dozens of contenders — from online plan rooms to full-blown electronic collaboration systems — are still out there. This diversity means that project managers dealing with multiple projects on behalf of any firm likely will face multiple interfaces, each with its own login and file structure and each demanding its own cycle of file uploads and synchronization.

NewTek • LightWave v9 • www.newtek.com

July 2007. LightWave v9, from NewTek, is an integrated 3D modeling, rendering, and animation program par excellence. With its wide range of tools, users can model just about anything they can imagine — and make it look like the real deal! The workspace defaults to a four-view layout that is very reminiscent of Alias. You have three orthographic views and one perspective view.

Reviewer Mike Hudspeth noted that for professional graphics software, LightWave v9 is surprisingly easy on the pocketbook. To get the kind of quality output that LightWave v9 offers without breaking the bank seems to be a win–win scenario.

Modeling in LightWave v9 is very freeform. Users just go in and start clicking. They can always adjust things later. Biomorphic shapes are a breeze for LightWave v9. Users can turn symmetry on, and whatever they do to one side happens to the other. The nice thing about this function is that users can build one side of a model and the other side will be done for them automatically.

Siemens PLM Software • Solid Edge v20 • www.ugs.com

September 2007. Solid Edge v20 is part of the UGS Velocity series, which also includes Teamcenter Express v2 to manage data and processes for design through manufacturing, Femap v9.3 for engineering analysis, and NX CAM Express v2. Solid Edge v20 includes 2D and 3D systems. So Velocity covers PLM, 3D solid modeling, engineering analysis, drafting, and CAM — all in one package! No wonder Solid Edge has seen a 19% annual license growth each year from 2005 to 2007.

The Relationship Assistant in Solid Edge v20 helps users assign constraints to their assemblies — no matter where they came from.
The Relationship Assistant in Solid Edge v20 helps users assign constraints to their assemblies — no matter where they came from.

Reviewer Mike Hudspeth noted that collaboration is a big theme for Solid Edge v20. You can rest assured that whatever you model, someone's going to want to do something with it, and Solid Edge v20 is up to the task of sharing information. All you need to do is set your server so everyone can access it via the Internet. In a service-oriented architecture (SOA), all of your important data may be controlled by that one server, which is accessible to everyone who has permission.

Hardware

@Xi Computer • Xi PowerGo 2Duo XT Mobile Workstation • www.xicomputer.com

August 2007. @Xi Computer has a reputation for building speedy workstations that are among the fastest CAD and DCC systems to come through Cadalyst Labs, so it was no surprise that the Xi PowerGo 2Duo XT laptop was among the top in the class.

The Xi PowerGo 2Duo XT has a wide-aspect-ratio 17" screen with a crisp, bright display.
The Xi PowerGo 2Duo XT has a wide-aspect-ratio 17" screen with a crisp, bright display.

The Xi PowerGo 2Duo XT laptop is a mobile workstation for those with decidedly large laps, because it measures 15.6" x 11.5" x 2.3" (H x W x D) and weighs 8.9 lbs with the lithium ion battery installed. The unit Cadalyst received for review was based on a full-blown, dual-core processor — the Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 — running at 2.66 GHz, rather than a chip specifically intended for mobile systems.

The system was very attractive and well designed, finished in high gloss (Piano) black and matte black, and featured a wide-aspect-ratio 17" screen with a native resolution of 1,680 x 1,050. The display panel provided excellent quality and was very crisp and bright. In this case, the display was driven by an NVIDIA GeForce Go 7950 GTX graphics card with 512 MB of memory installed.

Dell • Dell Precision M90 Mobile Workstation • www.dell.com

August 2007. If you need to take your CAD or DCC work on the road with you, the Dell Precision M90 is certainly up to the task: It offers good performance, reliability, and good battery life, not to mention very good warranty coverage.

The M90 is targeted at engineers, animators, and other design professionals who need a powerful system. The Dell M90 can accommodate as much as 4 GB of high-speed DDR2 memory to handle large models or datasets, though the system Cadalyst received — at the magazine's request — was equipped with 2 GB of DDR2 667 MHz RAM.

The Dell M90 that Cadalyst received was based on an Intel Core 2 Duo T7600 2.33 GHz microprocessor and included a 100 GB 7,200 rpm hard disk. It supported a 667 MHz front-side bus speed. The Precision M90 features a 17" wide-aspect ratio (16:10) WUXGA resolution, active-matrix TFT screen that is both bright and crisp, with a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200. The dimensions of the M90 are 11.3" x 15.5" x 1.6", and the weight is a moderate 8.6 lbs with the battery installed.

Dell • Dell UltraSharp 3007WFP-HC Flat-Panel Monitor • www.dell.com

September 2007. In the annual Cadalyst roundup review of large flat-panel monitors, I noted how impressed I was with the Dell UltraSharp 3007WFP-HC's size as well as its overall construction quality and its excellent display quality.

The 30" active matrix TFT LCD panel offers a native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600, response times of 12 ms black-to-white and 8 ms gray-to-gray, and a 92% color gamut. The brightness rating for the UltraSharp 3007WFP-HC is 300 cd/m2, and the contrast rating is 1,000:1.

The display quality of the Dell UltraSharp 3007WFP-HC is excellent, and it sailed through the benchmark tests with perfect scores. The display has a rated 178° viewing angle both horizontally and vertically, and this seemed to be fairly accurate, with no noticeable fall-off or screen darkening when viewed off angle.

Hewlett-Packard • HP LP3065 Flat-Panel Monitor • www.hp.com

September 2007. In reviewing the HP LP3065 flat-panel monitor, I observed that if you need a high-quality and very large display, the HP LP3065 is a well-built and attractive choice.

The HP LP3065 aced the benchmark test with excellent scores for brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, color purity, geometric distortion, and raster rotation.
The HP LP3065 aced the benchmark test with excellent scores for brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, color purity, geometric distortion, and raster rotation.

The HP LP3065 offers a 30" diagonal screen with a 92% color gamut to provide a large, high-quality display that is suitable for a wide range of applications. These applications include CAD and DCC, presentations, and visualization.

The HP LP3065 features a 1,000:1 contrast ratio display with a brightness rating of 300 cd/m2, combined with a fine dot pitch of 0.25 mm. The native resolution of the panel is 2,560 x 1,600 and, when combined with the fine dot pitch, produces text that is readable at 9 pixels (6.8 points) in size.

On the test bench, the HP LP3065 performed the benchmark suites without any difficulty and produced excellent scores in terms of brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, color purity, geometric distortion, and raster rotation. No flickering or ghosting was present at any point during testing. Grays were generally a bit on the warm side — typical of recent HP flat-panel displays — with grayscale ramps that were smooth and showed no discrete steps.

LaCie • LaCie 321 Flat-Panel Monitor • www.lacie.com

September 2007. The LaCie 321 is a 21.3" 4:3 aspect ratio monitor, but it is small in size only, producing an onscreen image that is exceptionally good. The LaCie 321's native resolution is 1,600 x 1,200, with the dot pitch given as 0.27 mm on an SA-SFT panel. The response time is 20 ms.

The LaCie 321 is equipped with a removable cowl — called the easyHood — to block unwanted light from the monitor surface. It provides off-the-scale good color rendition with vibrant, accurate, and extremely pure colors.
The LaCie 321 is equipped with a removable cowl — called the easyHood — to block unwanted light from the monitor surface. It provides off-the-scale good color rendition with vibrant, accurate, and extremely pure colors.

The LaCie 321 is a high-gamut display, offering CRT-grade 72% NTSC gamut in combination with a screen brightness of 250 cd/m2 and a contrast rating of 800:1, making it an excellent choice for those who consider color fidelity and accuracy paramount. Color gradations are extremely smooth, with subtleties that are lost on most displays displaying onscreen.

On the test bench, the LaCie 321 performed flawlessly, with no ghosting or flickering. Grays were neutral, with both grayscale and color ramps being smooth and step free. Brightness and contrast were excellent. The color rendition was off-the-scale good, with vibrant and accurate colors that were extremely pure.

NEC Display Solutions • MultiSync LCD2470WNX Flat-Panel Monitor • www.necdisplay.com

September 2007. In the September 2007 Roundup of large flat-panel displays, I observed that NEC Display Solutions has been producing high-quality monitors for a very long time, and that its accumulated experience and knowledge tend to show in high-quality products such as the MultiSync LCD2470WNX monitor. Based on a 24" wide-aspect ratio SPVA panel with rapid response technology and dynamic video mode, the MultiSync LCD2470WNX offers a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200. The dot pitch for the display is 0.270 mm, and the brightness rating given is 500 cd/m2. Contrast for the MultiSync LCD2470WNX is rated at 1,000:1, and the response time is a relatively speedy 6 ms gray-to-gray.

In addition to a good-quality image, the MultiSync LCD2470WNX has many digital and analog connectivity options, including four USB 2.x connections.
In addition to a good-quality image, the MultiSync LCD2470WNX has many digital and analog connectivity options, including four USB 2.x connections.

The four-way adjustable stand adjusted smoothly throughout its range of settings and showed no sign of wiggling, even when the large panel was configured in vertical mode. The stand is removable so that the panel can be mounted to a wall with the incorporated VESA standard wall mount.

ViewSonic • VX2835wm Flat-Panel Monitor • www.viewsonic.com

September 2007. The ViewSonic VX2835wm display is based on a 27.5" wide-aspect-ratio (16:10) thin-film transistor active matrix panel with a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200. The VX2835wm has a brightness rating of 500 cd/m2, a contrast rating of 800:1, and a dot pitch of 0.309 mm.

For the categories in which Cadalyst tests — brightness, contrast, focus, convergence, color purity, geometric distortion, and raster rotation — the ViewSonic VX2835 achieved top scores. Color purity tests showed reds that were very slightly orange but with excellent renditions of both yellow and green. Grays were slightly on the warm side, with grayscale ramps displaying some very slight steps, though not significant enough to warrant a deduction. Warranty coverage is a standard three-year limited warranty on the LCD, parts, and labor.

Cadalyst Daily Software and Hardware Reviews

Altima Technologies • NetZoom 6 • www.altimatech.com

Altima Technologies' NetZoom 6 is a very capable application that combines a lot of feature depth with an easy-to-use interface. Its use of intelligent object libraries based on real-world equipment is a real bonus for IT and audio/video (A/V) professionals who create network designs and diagrams. It also provides intelligent equipment shapes for diagramming applications such as Microsoft Visio, AutoCAD, and netViz and supports Microsoft Office applications.

NetZoom6 allows users to create IT and A/V network designs and diagrams and runs in numerous diagramming applications such as Microsoft Visio.
NetZoom6 allows users to create IT and A/V network designs and diagrams and runs in numerous diagramming applications such as Microsoft Visio.

Central to NetZoom are intelligent, high-quality, manufacturer-specific shapes that people can use in the supported host applications. NetZoom offers multiple views (front, rear, blank, and 3D) that are of particular use for network professionals and provides tools that A/V and IT design professionals can use to create logical and physical network designs.

Dell • UltraSharp 2707WFP Display • www.dell.com

Dell seems to have a knack for producing interesting and high-quality displays that manage to keep the company at the forefront of technology. The UltraSharp 2707WFP display is a 27" high-gamut, flat-panel display with a native resolution of 1,920 x 1,200.

Based on a 27" wide-aspect-ratio panel, the Dell UltraSharp 2707WFP monitor has a typical contrast ratio of 1,000:1 and a typical brightness rating of 400 cd/m2. The pixel pitch for the display is 0.303 mm. The display offers automatic horizontal scan frequencies of 30–81 kHz and automatic vertical scan frequencies of 56–76 Hz — with the exceptions at resolutions of 1,680 x 1,200 and 1,920 x 1,200, which are 60 Hz only. Response times are a speedy 6 ms gray-to-gray and 16 ms black-to-white. Viewing angles of ±89 degrees apply both horizontally and vertically. The display quality of the Dell UltraSharp 2707WFP is remarkable. The TrueColor technology with 92% color gamut delivers a displayed image that can only be described as vibrant.

Eos Systems • PhotoModeler 6 • www.eossystems.com

PhotoModeler 6 is a rarity — a scientific tool that also lends itself to creative pursuits. With the new features and enhancements, PhotoModeler 6 photogrammetry software is a great tool.

PhotoModeler 6 photogrammetry software provides image-based modeling for accurate measurement and 3D models.
PhotoModeler 6 photogrammetry software provides image-based modeling for accurate measurement and 3D models.

PhotoModeler 6 is suited for many endeavors, including accident reconstruction, industrial and scientific measurement, AEC and preservation efforts, film and animation production, and Google Earth projects.

In the area of AEC, for example, PhotoModeler 6 can be used to generate elevation drawings of existing buildings, perform measurements of structures, extract data from historical photographs, or produce 3D outlines from one or more buildings for massing, sun, and/or wind studies. PhotoModeler can export Google Earth KML and KMZ files, so users can lay their PhotoModeler models on top of orthophotographs to obtain a true location in Google Earth.

Polywell Computers • Poly P3503-DDR3 Workstation • www.polywell.com

Based on the Intel Quad Core Extreme QX6850 microprocessor running at 3.0 GHz, the Polywell Poly P3503-DDR3 workstation was the first system reviewed by Cadalyst that uses DDR3 memory — in this instance, a full 2 GB of 1600 MHz RAM. A beefy 1000 W Enermax provides room for expansion and enough power to drive the newer high-performance graphics cards. The case provides five external 5.25" drive bays and one 3.5" bay, with an additional four 3.5" bays internally. You'll find six more USB 2.0x connectors on the back of this model, as well as a FireWire connector.

The Poly P3503-DDR3 from Polywell Computers.
The Poly P3503-DDR3 from Polywell Computers.

The system is based on an Asus P5K3 Deluxe motherboard that uses the Intel P35 chipset that supports the 1333 MHz front side bus. A total of four RAM slots reside on the motherboard, but the maximum DDR3 RAM allowed is 2 GB. The Poly P3503-DDR3 included a 74 GB Western Digital 10,000 rpm SATA hard drive and a Lite-On DVD ROM and LightScribe optical drives. For graphics, the Poly P3503-DDR3 included an NVIDIA Quadro FX 4600 graphics card with 768 MB of integrated onboard memory.

Ron LaFon, a contributing editor for Cadalyst, is a writer, editor, and a computer graphics and electronic publishing specialist from Atlanta, Georgia. He is a principal at 3Bear Productions in Atlanta.


About the Author: Ron LaFon


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