Hardware

Cadalyst Labs Review: Shining Stars

1 Dec, 2006 By: Ron LaFon

To finish out the year, Cadalyst All-Star awards honor the best of the best—the products that stood out among those that earned Highly Recommended ratings from Cadalyst Labs in the past six months.


Software

IMSI/Design • TurboCAD Professional v12 • www.imsidesign.com

July 2006. TurboCAD, recently purchased by IMSI/Design, released new versions of its Deluxe and Professional editions this year. The Deluxe version has the same interface changes as the Professional version but offers only minor improvements. The Professional version offers substantial improvements, including moving to the ACIS 15 modeling kernel (from 14).

LightWorks rendering v7.5 is included in both versions, and TurboCAD supports the LightWorks LWA format. TurboCAD is responsive enough—even on a slow laptop—to encourage experimenting, sketching and trying various changes. The interface change alone is worth the upgrade, and if there's something you don't like about the new look, you can easily customize it.

Two new specialized add-on packages are available, the Mechanical and Architectural Packs. The Mechanical Pack includes new bending, facet offset and hole tools, as well as a fully parametric and editable part tree and additional geometric constraints. The Architectural Pack features additional parametric window and door designs and styles, a profile editing tool for customizing windows and doors and an updated architectural tutorial that aids users in creating a full set of houseplants.



TurboCAD 12's file support is excellent, as is the manual that comes with it—in both printed and PDF file formats.

Pinion Software • Pinion Desktop Packager • www.pinionsoftware.com

July 2006. Though sharing design data is often necessary, the process can carry some security risks. Pinion Software's Desktop Packager offers multilevel protection for design files by encrypting a copy of the original design file.

Installation and use are simple and easy, and the application's characteristics make it well suited for small to midsized businesses. Creating a secure file using the Pinion Desktop Packager has two basic parts: creation, when the user selects the desired security options that will protect a file no matter how it's distributed, and receiving, when Pinion Receiver decrypts a secure file. During decryption, any attempt at tampering results in the automatic destruction of the copy of the design file.

 A rendering of a 3D assembly created in TurboCAD.
A rendering of a 3D assembly created in TurboCAD.

With protection on multiple levels—you can't, for example, copy a protected file to the clipboard or print it—and the ability to time- and/or user-protect the file, Pinion Software provides an easy software-based means of safeguarding your intellectual property.

Pinion Software develops several security-related applications in addition to the Pinion Desktop Packager, including a five-user Workgroup version that supports more file types, and SecureCD, which is designed to protect information distributed on a CD-ROM.

Graphisoft • Archicad 10 • www.graphisoft.com

August 2006. Graphisoft describes the tenth version of Archicad as a virtual building solution, avoiding the term BIM (building information modeling), though Archicad 10 certainly qualifies as BIM software.

The Archicad 10 graphic user interface is significantly improved. The placement of the drawing and configuration tools is more logical, and it takes fewer steps to get from design to the plotted sheet.

Pinion Desktop Packager secures engineering design files with multilevel security.
Pinion Desktop Packager secures engineering design files with multilevel security.

Archicad 10 can handle much more information than v9, and file sizes have been reduced considerably. Some files may be reduced to 25% of their original size. For those of you pushing the envelope with large project sizes, this factor alone is worth the price of an upgrade.

Archicad 10 is on the cutting edge of interoperability. Users can save to an abundance of file formats, including 3D PDF. You can open DWG and DGN files directly and import and export IFC 2x2 files without purchasing third-party software.

Longtime Archicad users will have to take some time adjusting to the new interface in this release, but they should find it to be an excellent change. Archicad 10 is fresh, innovative and solid.

Editor's note: Original Archicad 10 Cadalyst Labs Review was written by Cadalyst contributing editor Scott MacKenzie.

Autodesk • Inventor 11 • www.autodesk.com

August 2006. Though Autodesk was a bit late starting its 3D modeling application, Inventor, v11 not only catches up with the competition in many respects, it surpasses them in some. This release combines the work of Autodesk developers with capabilities made possible by the company's acquisitions, a pattern users can expect in the future.

Archicad 10 lets you model slanted walls like this one.
Archicad 10 lets you model slanted walls like this one.

Something that materialized in Inventor 11 is neither a command nor a toolset, but rather a method, or philosophy—something that Autodesk calls Functional Design. With Functional Design, form doesn't necessarily just follow function; instead, function can drive form. Although still relatively young with a lot of room to mature, Functional Design is a knowledge-content toolset that represents a movement from geometric descriptions to rudimentary knowledge capture.

Inventor 11 has grown up and is ready to meet the competition head on, because although it's not perfect, it has come a long way.

Autodesk • Map 3D 2007 • www.autodesk.com

September 2006. With the release of Map 3D 2007, Autodesk makes it clear that it's serious about integrating geospatial data into CAD. Integrating CAD drawings and GIS data has been frustrating, but that situation is changing thanks to the efforts from both sides of the discipline divide.

This rendering of a trenching machine, designed using Autodesk Inventor, demonstrates its ability to handle very large assemblies.
This rendering of a trenching machine, designed using Autodesk Inventor, demonstrates its ability to handle very large assemblies.

The strength of Map 3D 2007 is that it builds on the capabilities of AutoCAD and then incorporates a full range of tools for working with geospatial data.

One of the most promising features of Map 3D 2007 is multiuser editing. Users can access a collection of drawing files called a drawing set and make modifications to any of the drawings simultaneously. With a file-based system such as AutoCAD, only one user at a time can edit a drawing.

Map 3D 2007 loads much faster than previous versions. Autodesk has touted the increased speed and performance of Map 3D 2007, and for the most part the company has delivered. This capability is critical because GIS data sets are typically significantly larger than CAD drawing files.

Autodesk promotes Map 3D to GIS managers, GIS specialists, mapping technicians, planners and facilities and infrastructure designers and managers. Map 3D 2007 has much to offer for both CAD and GIS users.

IronCAD • IronCAD v9 • www.ironcad.com

November 2006. IronCAD released v9 of its versatile 3D modeling software. Positioned to compete with midrange solid modelers such as SolidWorks and Inventor, it's a hybrid modeler. In other words, it can use parametric as well as explicit methodologies. IronCAD 9 can be either history-based—using sketches and constraints to control how things are constructed in a particular order—or nonhistory-based—building geometry without regard to the construction order. That choice allows users to model the forms they want virtually without regard for how the software wants to do things. Modeling can be quite freeform, but controlled when appropriate.

Users can organize and manage their data as GIS features, providing a solid foundation for a smooth transition to a relational database in the future.
Users can organize and manage their data as GIS features, providing a solid foundation for a smooth transition to a relational database in the future.

IronCAD 9 is intended for tasks such as industrial design, where its powerful modeling capability helps to quickly generate iterative concepts; engineering and manufacturing, where accuracy and control are paramount; and product design and packaging, where ease of use is imperative. Just about everything in the program can be dragged and dropped. IronCAD 9 uses catalogs or collections of predefined geometry—features, parts and assemblies—that can be brought into a model from almost anywhere.

IronCAD 9 is a great software program for modeling designs. No matter what design discipline you work in, you'll find great value with IronCAD 9. It's not as high profile as some other midrange modelers out there, but is certainly worth checking out.

UGS • Solid Edge v19 • www.solidedge.com

December 2006. The latest version of Solid Edge, UGS's midrange 3D solid modeler, implements built-in support for the UGS-owned JT format to share information such as solid-body geometry, assembly structures, nongraphic attributes and faceted data.

Continuing to offer some of the best interaction with AutoCAD, Solid Edge v19 opens and edits AutoCAD drawings and can even save them back out to AutoCAD. Solid Edge v19 also implements a new Explode, Render and Animation interface that simplifies many aspects of creating an exploded view.

In IronCAD 9, users can push or pull a model one face at a time to get just the shape they want, without regard for what the program wants to do.
In IronCAD 9, users can push or pull a model one face at a time to get just the shape they want, without regard for what the program wants to do.

Solid Edge v19 Assemblies has a new Gear relation. It's a mating condition that matches one set of surfaces to another as though they were either a gear and belt/chain or a rack and pinion. Working hand in hand with the gear relation is the Motor relation that users can apply to any cylindrical surface.

Solid Edge v19 continues its great sheet-metal capability with a simple and versatile sheet-metal Gusset command. It places one or many gussets where you indicate them in a pop-up form. Dynamic feedback tells users if they're trying to do something that's not possible.

A micrometer designed using Solid Edge v19. Image courtesy of L.S. Starrett Company.
A micrometer designed using Solid Edge v19. Image courtesy of L.S. Starrett Company.

Solid Edge claims an impressive track record for innovation—among its past highlights are design sensors that provide feedback on variables, virtual components that simplify assembly layout, interactive sheet-metal features and in-the-box data management functionality.

An interesting development this time around is that UGS is offering its Solid Edge 2D Drafting program for free. Also new are midrange versions of UGS's NX CAM and Teamcenter products designed for use with Solid Edge.

Hardware

NVIDIA • Quadro FX 3500 • www.nvidia.com

July 2006. Graphics cards from NVIDIA are noted for their high performance, and we tested three new ones in the July 2006 issue. Among those three, the Quadro FX 3500 stood out by offering a winning combination of high performance and moderate pricing. The Quadro FX 3500 seems to hit the sweet spot in the Quadro lineup, offering the best price-to-performance ratio in the Quadro line and giving the best performance per dollar spent.

A single-width 16x PCIe graphics card with 256MB of onboard GDDR3 memory, the FX 3500 offers two dual-link DVI connectors and a stereo connector. It can drive two digital displays at resolutions of 3840x2400 at 24Hz. The FX 3500 is SLI capable, should you wish to run two cards in tandem using an SLI bridge in a system that supports this hardware configuration.

NVIDIA's Quadro FX 3500 provides the best price-to-performance ratio in the Quadro graphics card line.
NVIDIA's Quadro FX 3500 provides the best price-to-performance ratio in the Quadro graphics card line.

The Quadro FX 3500 has a suggested retail price of $1,099 and, like all NVIDIA Quadro graphics cards, is covered by a three-year warranty. A broad array of drivers is available, covering a number of operating systems and including accelerated drivers for applications such as Autodesk 3ds Max and AutoCAD 2007.

Dell • Precision M90 • www.dell.com

August 2006. Taking your work on the road is a daily fact of life for a growing number of people, but the demands of CAD and engineering applications can make such work excruciatingly slow on mobile workstations. Dell's Precision M90 mobile workstation, however, sped through Cadalyst's benchmark series and earned a Highly Recommended rating.

The Dell Precision M90 evaluated included 2GB of dual-channel DDR2 DRAM memory (a total of 4GB can be installed) and a 17" wide-aspect-ratio (16:10) resolution screen. The M90 also had extensive connectivity options and weighed a moderate 8.6lb.

The Dell Precision M90 has an NVIDIA Quadro FX 2500M graphics card to provide excellent performance.
The Dell Precision M90 has an NVIDIA Quadro FX 2500M graphics card to provide excellent performance.

The test system featured an Intel Duo T2600 dual-core 2.16GHz processor and a Quadro FX 2500M graphics accelerator with 512MB of RAM. As one might expect, the performance scores were high—the highest ever for a mobile workstation—for all parts of all the benchmarks. The Dell Precision M90 offers plenty of power to speed through complex jobs.

The battery life running a continuous loop of the C2006 benchmark was a very good 1 hour, 58 minutes. With the system idling, the life extended to 2 hours, 55 minutes. As tested, the M90 was priced at $3,673, though versions are available starting at $2,089. Pricing includes the Dell base warranty Economy Plan, which provides 36-month coverage on parts, labor and onsite service.

The Xi MTower PCIe's good performance, combined with its attractive price, earned top honors.
The Xi MTower PCIe's good performance, combined with its attractive price, earned top honors.

@Xi Computer • Xi MTower PCIe • www.xicomputer.com

November 2006. @Xi Computer is noted for high-performance workstations that frequently test at or near the top in any given roundup. The MTower PCIe that was awarded Cadalyst's Highly Recommended rating in the November 2006 dual-processor workstation roundup offered a winning combination of performance and value.

The Xi MTower PCIe featured a single dual-core Intel Core2 Extreme X6800 2.93GHz microprocessor, supported by the Intel P975X chipset. A total of 2GB of DDR2 800MHz PC6200 was installed, with a maximum capacity of 8GB. Graphics on the test system were accommodated by an NVIDIA Quadro FX 3500 card with 256MB of onboard memory.

Along with excellent benchmark performance numbers, the system offered numerous expandability options, good warranty coverage and high-quality components throughout. As tested, the MTower PCIe was priced at $3,979, which includes three years of warranty coverage for parts and labor and one year of onsite service coverage.

The Best of Cadalyst Daily

The print issue of Cadalyst is not the only place where we publish product reviews. Reviews of the following products, which garnered high praise and Highly Recommended ratings, appeared in the Cadalyst Daily newsletter. Read more reviews at www.cadalyst.com/dailyreviews, and sign up to receive Cadalyst Daily at www.cadalyst.com/newsletters.

With Maple 10, You can plot your math in 3D shaded graphics to get an at-a-glance picture.
With Maple 10, You can plot your math in 3D shaded graphics to get an at-a-glance picture.

Maplesoft • Maple 10 • www.maplesoft.com

Maple 10 is a very strong mathematics program with more functionality than you're ever likely to use. When you install it, three icons appear on your desktop: Maple 10, Classic Worksheet and Maple Calculator. All represent different ways of entering and using information. Maple 10 is the latest interface. Worksheet is an older interface through which information can be entered using programming syntax. Maple Calculator is like the Windows calculator on steroids. It uses the Maple 10 core, so it's got enough horsepower to get you what you need.

Thousands of mathematical symbols are available in Maple 10. If you can't find the particular symbol you seek, Maple 10 has a truly innovative way to help you—the Symbol Writer. It's a menu window where you write or draw the symbol you want. Below your graphic, Maple presents a couple of guesses as to what you've drawn—you select the one you want.

Deep Exploration 4.0 shows some of the variety available in Render mode.
Deep Exploration 4.0 shows some of the variety available in Render mode.

Maple's live technical documents capture the whys of calculations. Users can add comments and suggestions to their math that explains what they were thinking when they plugged in a particular variable. Anyone can open the document later and understand the thinking behind the work. Maple 10 doesn't make you convert units—enter whatever unit seems appropriate and Maple 10 understands what they are and converts them to ten decimal places.

Right Hemisphere • Deep Exploration 4.0 • www.righthemisphere.com

Right Hemisphere released two new versions of its Deep Exploration 4.0 product: a Standard edition and a CAD edition that includes eight CAD-related modules that had previously been available separately.

Deep Exploration 4.0 CAD edition bundles Right Hemisphere's CADTools, Illustration, CoreCAD and other modules into a cohesive and tightly integrated program that adds several new features while building on its already considerable strength. The CAD edition can transform CAD models into lightweight product graphics and author a wide range of 2D and 3D product graphics. You can publish finished graphics and documents or augment high-volume 2D and 3D graphics processes. Deep Exploration can be used in conjunction with Right Hemisphere's Deep Server product for expansive enterprise-wide publication of design data with the incorporation of additional security measures.

Workstation Wish Lists
Workstation Wish Lists

Performance is enhanced in Deep Exploration 4.0 in a number of areas, as are workflow operations. The files created are even more compact than in previous releases. The functionality of Deep Exploration 4.0 CAD edition can be extended with plug-ins.

Deep Exploration Standard edition is designed for digital content creation professionals whose work doesn't include CAD data, but it offers many of the same features found in Deep Exploration CAD edition, such as multiple viewports, steps, model views and advanced material capabilities.

Ron LaFon, a contributing editor for Cadalyst, is a writer, editor and 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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