CAD Tech News (#37)

17 Mar, 2016 By: Cadalyst Staff

▶ Cadalyst Labs Report: The Wide World of DWG-Compatible CAD Software

When it comes to 2D drafting, the market has moved far beyond copycats and knockoffs. Today, it offers a variety of mature, thoughtfully designed applications at budget-conscious prices.

By Randall S. Newton

For a generation, AutoCAD has been the de facto standard for 2D drafting. In the 1980s it emerged from a pack of new CAD products hoping to win over what were then known as "microcomputer users." Today it and its subset sibling AutoCAD LT are the most widely used CAD brand of all time, with more than 12 million seats sold between the two products (including educational licenses), according to Autodesk.

AutoCAD has never been the only choice for CAD, however. A variety of competing products offer compelling reasons to think outside the AutoCAD box. From free solutions (such as Dassault Systèmes DraftSight and the open-source LibreCAD and QCAD) to products in the same price range as AutoCAD (Bentley MicroStation), there are 2D CAD products for every budget and every application.

More Than Clones

In the early days of 2D software products supporting the DWG file format, the common (and usually derogatory) nickname for the genre was "AutoCAD clones." When MS-DOS was the operating system and CAD software relied more heavily on keyboard input, it was all too common for competitors to reverse-engineer the file format and mimic AutoCAD's command system.

As Windows replaced DOS and graphical input became common, most AutoCAD competitors started to show more originality in user interface (UI) design. Today the traditional keyboard commands are available in most of these products, but most users rely primarily on the on-screen command system instead. Some command systems, such as BricsCAD's Quad cursor, extend the user experience in new and interesting ways.

The DWG Ecosystem

Every software product that saves information does so in a standard way; we call that a file format. The DWG format was created by programmer Mike Riddle as a way to store vector graphics. In 1982, Autodesk licensed DWG and made it the native file format for AutoCAD. Other products in that era also used DWG as a file format for graphics software, including the once-popular Generic CADD. But AutoCAD's rise in the market meant that "AutoCAD" and "DWG" came to be seen as inseparable.

Most other 2D CAD products also use the DWG format as their native format; those that don't all offer built-in translation to convert other formats to DWG. If their translation software is based on the Teigha kernel developed by the Open Design Alliance (ODA), the translation will be of high fidelity. In recent years, vendors who specialize in CAD file translation have for the most part adopted the Teigha kernel for AutoCAD file translation. If a significant portion of your work involves using files created in AutoCAD, test the product with some of your most complicated files to ensure high-fidelity translation, or opt for a vendor you trust implicitly. Read more »

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Randall S. Newton is an independent engineering software industry analyst and journalist.

▶ Herrera on Hardware: Will AMD Challenge Intel's Dominance in CAD Workstation CPUs?

In the CAD workstation market, Intel is the undisputed processor provider — but an opportunity may be opening for AMD to re-enter the arena.

By Alex Herrera

Of the major hardware components that make up a CAD workstation — central processing unit (CPU), graphics processing unit (GPU), memory, and storage — all but one are addressed by multiple suppliers. GPUs, memory modules, and storage devices all bear the brands of a variety of top-tier suppliers, including Nvidia, AMD (formerly ATI), Samsung, Seagate, Micron Technology, and Toshiba. The CPU is the exception, because for all intents and purposes, Intel owns the market for workstations serving CAD applications.

Literally all workstations shipping to CAD markets from the three largest suppliers — Dell, HP, and Lenovo — feature Intel Core or Xeon brand CPUs. Even better for Intel bean counters, the company now ships more premium Xeon brand CPUs to workstation applications than it does the Core brand. That means it not only delivers more performance and reliability features for workstations, it also undoubtedly earns Intel more lucrative margins in workstations versus PCs, which rely more heavily on the less-expensive Core brand.

Intel dominates the market for workstation CPUs running CAD applications, and high-end Xeon brand CPUs are the big contributor. Data courtesy of Jon Peddie Research.
Intel dominates the market for workstation CPUs running CAD applications, and high-end Xeon brand CPUs are the big contributor. Data courtesy of Jon Peddie Research.

Improved Integrated Graphics Heighten Intel's Appeal for CAD

When Intel released its most recent family of processors last quarter, code-named Skylake, one interesting bit of information was revealed that most press and market analysts missed. For years, Intel had been shipping CPU-integrated graphics (branded HD Graphics P-series) in mobile and deskside workstations, but for some reason it had always reserved its highest-performing Iris Pro brand graphics for more mainstream commercial and corporate applications. Now, for the first time, Intel was not only shipping its CPU-integrated GPU in Xeon brand products, but it was planning to ship its highest-performing GPU in select Xeon parts targeting key applications including CAD.

Now, if that sounds counterintuitive to you, you're not alone. Intel has seen incredible success with its integrated GPUs in mainstream markets; they're now out-shipping the discrete GPUs from Nvidia and AMD. So why would the company choose to hold back its highest-performing GPU in one of the very applications — CAD workstations — that could benefit the most? The answer isn't clear, but it's possible the company didn't want to push its graphics technology into spaces where it may not yet be up to snuff. Workstations have until now been virtually 100% reliant on discrete GPUs, such as Nvidia Quadro and AMD FirePro. And while Intel would probably like some of that market, it knows that worse than missing out on that business would be charging into it too quickly and failing. Read more »

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Alex Herrera is a consultant focusing on high-performance graphics and workstations.


Gstarsoft Claims Forged Evidence Influenced Proceedings, Vows to Strike Back at ITC with New Lawsuit
Bad blood continues between the developer of GstarCAD and the IntelliCAD Technology Consortium in conflict over use of code. Read more »

Round 'Em Up with the AutoCAD Lasso
If you find yourself using multiple selection sets to get the objects you need, then the Lasso — introduced in AutoCAD 2015 — could be just what you need! Join Autodesk Evangelist Lynn Allen as she shows you how to save valuable drawing time with this easy-to-use, yet powerful object selection tool. Watch the video »

CAD Manager Column: To Become a Better CAD Manager, Hone Your Presentation Skills
You can improve your user trainings, budget negotiations, and customer interactions — all by becoming a better public speaker. Read more »

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