CAD Tech News (#32)

6 Jan, 2016 By: Cadalyst Staff

▶ Choose the Best Keyboard for CAD

The right design and features can boost comfort and productivity for heavy computer users.

By Nancy Spurling Johnson

Your keyboard: It just needs to make letters and numbers when you press on keys — right? For many users, that is indeed true. But for CAD users, keyboards can be so much more than a character-input device. The right keyboard can increase comfort and productivity; the wrong one can cause frustration, pain, and even injury. Yes, something as commonplace as a keyboard really can make a difference. If you spend most of your day using CAD, small improvements can add up to a much-improved work experience, and a few seconds of productivity gained in each working minute can add up to hours saved over time. Investing in the right keyboard is well worth the time and money for any heavy computer user.

Kensington Keyboard

But, you should know that there's no such thing as a CAD-specific keyboard. Although you'll find mice that are optimized for CAD use (such as RollerMouse Red and options from 3Dconnexion), such is not the case with keyboards. So you'll have to evaluate each model on its own merits and determine how it lines up with your needs and budget. The information and advice to follow should help you make the right choice.

Keyboard Shopping Basics

Here are some general tips to consider when you set out to find the best keyboard for CAD.

  • When possible, shop for your new keyboard in person to get a first-hand impression before you buy. Possibly more than any other device, keyboards call for hands-on evaluation to determine whether the product offers the right tactile experience and comfort for you personally.
  • If you buy online, be sure the vendor has a suitable return policy and that you are aware of all return requirements (such as unopened packaging) and costs (such as return shipping and restocking fees) in case the product doesn't work out.
  • Check customer reviews on a variety of manufacturers' web sites and retail outlets such as Amazon, Best Buy, Newegg, and the like. Be wary of reviews by unverified purchasers or those who received products in exchange for their reviews.
  • Use your new keyboard for two weeks before deciding whether to keep it. Making the necessary adjustments to a new design can take at least that long.

Wired vs. Wireless

Wireless keyboards are everywhere, but that doesn't mean they're right for every user. Consider these primary advantages and drawbacks of wireless and wired options before you make a choice.

Wired keyboards draw power via the USB connection — no batteries required — and are typically less expensive than comparable wireless models. You'll need a free USB port on your workstation to connect, and you'll have a cord on your desk to manage (and plug/unplug if you connect/disconnect your full-size peripherals to a mobile workstation that you move frequently). An example in this category is the Microsoft Wired Keyboard 600 ($17). Editor's note: Prices quoted in this article are approximate retail prices, were accurate at the time of publication, and are subject to change.Read more »

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Nancy Spurling Johnson is the content director for Longitude Media, publisher of Cadalyst.

▶ Configuration Considerations for Modern Mobile Workstations

A mobile machine provides benefits that desktop models can't offer — but only if it's configured correctly.

By Thomas A. Salomone

In the past, desktop workstations — long considered the powerhouses of the industry — were thought to be the only machines capable of delivering the performance engineers need. Yet mobile workstations have proven increasingly capable of powering the resource-intensive applications engineers and other CAD professionals use every day, freeing them from the confines of the office and enabling them to execute demanding workflows wherever they are. But are these users truly getting the most out of their mobile machines?

In this article, we'll explore mobile workstation configuration, and discuss those features CAD professionals often undervalue when configuring their systems. I'll also offer suggestions for configuring a machine that offers the right combination of mobility, usability, and reliability for the CAD user.

Putting the "Mobile" in Mobile Workstation

With each new generation of mobile workstations, hardware developers realize a higher level of performance than what was previously achievable, in part thanks to smaller, more powerful components. For example, Intel's mobile Xeon processors have enough power to handle the most demanding CAD and rendering applications, while NVIDIA's latest Quadro line of graphics processing units (GPUs) — including the M5000M and M4000M — offers the ability to visualize more complex designs at dramatically increased speeds as compared to previous technology.

In selecting components, however, CAD professionals often use the same criteria that they would when selecting desktop machines, which is a mistake. By putting too much emphasis on speed and performance, they may be missing out on the greatest benefit of mobile workstations: portability. Mobile workstation technology enables users to take their work on the road, into the field, or onto the shop floor, and configuration choices should capitalize on this advantage.

So which features are most important for supporting and enhancing mobility? Read more »

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Thomas A. Salomone is currently the worldwide product development and AEC market segment manager for Lenovo ThinkStation.

▶ Herrera on Hardware: Input Technologies for CAD: What's the Best Mouse for Your Workflow? Part 2

In addition to the standard and more elaborate models for general use, the market offers CAD users mice designed just for them — and the future holds new possibilities in gesture-recognition technologies.

By Alex Herrera

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. But if you build a better mouse pointer, will the CAD community do the same? It turns out the standard three-button mouse is tough to beat, partly due to its simple yet functional design, and partly because many of us never stop to consider whether we could — or should — look for something better. That's a missed opportunity, because the right mouse can make a huge difference in productivity: CAD workflows rely on the ability to quickly and accurately select objects, manipulate views, and crank through commands.

SpaceMouse Pro

In Part 1 of this series, I presented three categories of mouse products to consider for CAD — general-purpose devices with mainstream features, general-purpose devices with premium features, and CAD-optimized devices — and discussed the first two. The first category essentially consists of the wired, optical (LED emitter) three-button mouse that comes free with every machine you buy. The second dials up capabilities with features like wireless connectivity, higher-precision laser tracking, programmable buttons, and ergonomic styling.

CAD-Optimized Design

The first two classes of pointer serve virtually all traditional computer applications. Picking up where those categories leave off is a much smaller group of mouse and controller products specifically designed for CAD users. While occasionally other companies might dabble in 3D CAD mouse products, today the conversation about such products essentially begins and ends with one company: 3Dconnexion.

The 3D mouse. Not a replacement for your regular mouse, but rather a complement to it, the 3D mouse specifically and exclusively controls 3D navigation. 3Dconnexion's 3D mice allow six degrees of model motion, all controlled via the controller's cap (what some might call a puck). Simply do to the cap what you want to happen to the model; push, pull, twist or tilt the cap to intuitively pan, zoom, and rotate the model with one hand, while your other remains on your regular mouse. Read more »

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


Newly Divided HP Unveils New Mobile Workstations and Thin-Client Platforms
Just days after Hewlett-Packard split into two different companies, executives showed off new and enhanced offerings with appeal for CAD users, including a 2-TB solid-state drive for its desktop workstations. Read more »

IMAGINiT Tricks Tutorial: Use Wire Sequencing to Your Advantage in AutoCAD Electrical and Inventor
Learn about how wire sequencing in AutoCAD Electrical works with multiple components or pins in a circuit, and how to use it for the Inventor Cable & Harness environment. Read more »

Onshape Moves from Beta to Commercial Release, Adds App Store
The 100% cloud-based CAD software had 10,000 users during testing, with more than half of sessions conducted via mobile device. Read more »

CAD Manager's Toolbox: Access Learning Resources with a Free AU Account
Whether or not you use Autodesk products, you can benefit from Autodesk University online content. Read more »

Autodesk University Report: The State of CAD Management in 2015
Conversations at the annual conference shed light on what's happening in the trenches. Read more »

AutoCAD Video Tips: A Couple of DText Tips
We often work with drawings that contain single line text (dtext). It can be a little frustrating when you need to add another text string underneath the existing dtext strings! Join Lynn Allen as she shows you a couple of clever dtext tips that will make working with single line text so much easier! Watch the video »

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