Vendors Display Minor Updates, Workflow-Altering Solutions at AU

12 Dec, 2013 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin,Nancy Spurling Johnson

Autodesk University 2013, part 2: The exhibit hall showcases technologies for CAD users that range from the familiar to the disruptive.

At the annual Autodesk University conference, users of AutoCAD and other Autodesk software products gather to take part in keynotes and forums, classes and certification exams, and diverse networking opportunities. But there's another major draw as well — one that features not Autodesk itself, but a host of partners, resellers, and third-party developers: the AU Exhibit Hall. This year, close to 200 exhibitors showcased their hardware and software solutions, services, and training materials; here's a sampling of the new and noteworthy offerings.

Hardware: Workstations

BOXX Technologies debuted its GoBOXX 1920 mobile workstation, which features a fourth-generation (Haswell) Intel Core i7 mobile processor (running at up to 3.9 GHz in Turbo mode) as well as NVIDIA Quadro K2100M workstation graphics and up to 32 GB of 1600-MHz memory for 64-bit applications. The GoBOXX 1920 is designed for professional applications including CAD, animation, video editing, and light rendering. The workstation starts at $2,544 for the recommended base configuration.

Lenovo had its own mobile workstation on display: The new ThinkPad W540, which boasts a roomier keyboard and bigger touchpad than its predecessor, as well as Thunderbolt support and an optional 3K display with 2880 x 1620 resolution. Despite these enhancements, this model is half a pound lighter and 5 millimeters thinner than the previous generation; even the power brick is 30% smaller and lighter. The workstation incorporates fourth-generation Intel Core processors, two NVIDIA Quadro Kepler-based graphics cards, as much as 32 GB of 1600-MHz RAM, and optional X-Rite PANTONE color calibration. The W540 costs $1,300–$3,000, depending on the configuration, and will be available later this month.

Hardware: Displays and Printers

BenQ is a name more familiar to technophiles in countries outside the United States, but the developer of specialty monitors is busy trying to change that. Its first foray into the U.S. market is the BenQ BL2710PT ($699), described as the world’s first custom-built, wide quad high-definition (WQHD) CAD/CAM monitor. The 27” monitor features an IPS panel, 178-degree viewing angle, 4-ms response time, a color map that is optimized for wireframe display, and a special mode for rendering that improves detail display in shaded areas. “It’s packed with resolution,” said Robert Wudeck, associate vice-president of strategy and business development, adding that the feature is unique among CAD monitors on the market today. The BL2710PT also pivots and is height adjustable and glare-free. A light sensor automatically adjusts brightness as lighting conditions change in the user’s workspace. A 32” model is coming in January, priced at less than $1,000, Wudeck said.

The BenQ Display Pilot software detects the monitor's physical rotation and will automatically rotate the image to landscape or portrait orientation (above left). And with one click, the software can partition active windows (above right).

The SMART Technologies booth featured one of the largest displays on the show floor: the 84" SMART Board 8084i. According to Rick Kennedy, vertical account director for SMART Technologies, the touch-enabled, ultrahigh-definition display is ideal for architects, general contractors, and other AEC professionals collaborating on and off the job site.

The need for collaborators to travel to meetings is greatly reduced; Kennedy cited an economic impact study conducted at Stanford University that found architects could get a return on their SMART Board investment in seven weeks of use. For general contractors, that estimate dropped to one week. The SMART Board 8084i costs $16,000, including software, and began shipping in September. Smart currently offers Navisworks, Revit, and AutoCAD plugins, which increase the utility of the solution; an Inventor plugin is in the works.

HP was exhibiting several of its wide-format printers, including the Designjet T2500 eMultifunction Printer, which was released in October. Todd Hatfield, AMS category manager for HP's large-format Designjet business, explained that this second-generation model has been "taken from the ground up with a brand-new design" that features two print media rolls up front, a lower height that allows for easy operation from a seated position, and a document stacking tray at the back. More subcontractors are buying — or renting — such printers and distributing building plans themselves, said Hatfield.

Users can scan and print on the compact HP Designjet T2500 from a USB drive, or e-mail projects directly to the printer.

The HP Z5400 PostScript ePrinter, which was released in September, is intended for the graphics market — including GIS professionals who need to print internal and field maps. Support for two rolls of media cuts labor significantly, said Hatfield, as users don't have to swap out regular paper for specialty media. A reduction from eight colors to six in this model yields more speed without significant quality loss, he explained, thanks to a high-quality printhead. "We're bringing color more effectively to end users," Hatfield stated.

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