Product reviews, features, and tutorials for optimizing use of CAD software and hardware for mechanical (MCAD) and other product design.

Ten Tips for Success with Online Meetings

27 Mar, 2020 By: Lynn Allen

From simplifying your CAD environment to smiling, here are ten simple ways you can improve your online meeting experience when you’re working from home.

If it isn’t rough enough adjusting to working from home, now you need to deal with online meetings! Sure, you’ve had a few here and there in the past — but now your success with clients and coworkers practically depends on them. I recently taught a series of classes focused on mastering online meetings, and thought perhaps you could use a few insider tips to help you shine during this transition. Hang in there; we’ll get through this together!

Whether your company chooses to use Zoom (my favorite), GoToMeeting, Skype, or another application, these tips should come in handy for most any online meeting app. The goal here is to craft an online experience that’s as close to a face-to-face meeting as possible, thereby netting the best results.

Tip 1: Log on Early

Online meetings are notorious for having technical issues. (There, I said it!) Start off on the right foot by logging on at least three minutes early — or five, if you’re the meeting organizer. You can ensure you have time to load the app, if needed, and to check your speakers, microphone, and webcam (when applicable) before entering the meeting. (This also means you should try to avoid booking back-to-back online meetings.)

If you are the meeting organizer and you open the meeting early (which you should), don’t just sit there in silence; be a good host and make small talk. You wouldn’t ignore your coworkers and clients in a conference room before a meeting started — would you?

Tip 2: Select an Appropriate Location

Whether you’ll be on camera or not, you’ll want to choose a location conducive to success: Someplace quiet and free of distractions, with a strong Internet connection. Aim for good lighting and a professional-looking background free of clutter, if there is a chance you might find yourself on camera. It’s really as simple as turning around and looking at what is behind you! Some apps, including Zoom, allow you to customize your background — which certainly comes in handy if you don’t have a professional-looking location available. (Office in the bathtub, anybody?)

Are you the type that keeps a messy desk? Take the time to be sure that the area behind you is tidy, or use a custom background image instead. Image source: Tetiana Soares/

If you find your Internet is dodgy, kill the camera first. If you are still in trouble, then call into the online meeting by phone to make sure you at least sound good.

Close the door and put an “On Air” sign on your door to avoid unnecessary disruptions; this is especially important now that the kids are home! (I also close the lower blinds so my dog can’t see outside, to prevent any extemporaneous barking episodes.) And not to worry if your kid, cat, or partner accidentally makes their way into your online meeting during these unusual times of isolation. I’ve found that everyone is much more tolerant right now — and it might just lighten everyone’s mood! Just don’t make that the goal.

Tip 3: Speak Concisely, Loudly, and Slowly

Online meetings can be tough on the quiet introvert, because you really need to speak up for the other participants to understand you. Enunciation is key (especially if you are not on camera), and fast talkers are doomed. Think of yourself as a news reporter as you are presenting: While that style of speaking may seem slow and uncomfortable to you, it will sound clear and intelligible to those in attendance. And always use a headset or microphone! Don’t get lazy and rely on your computer mic, or you risk sounding faint or garbled.

Tip 4: Say Your Name, Say Your Name!

If you are not on camera, please don’t expect people to magically know who you are by the sound of your voice when you start talking. If you are in a small online meeting (or conference call) with people who have known you for years, perhaps this will work, but don’t try it in any meeting with more than four people (or with anyone who is new). When you decide to speak up, a simple “This is (insert name here)” should do.

Even if you are on camera, it doesn’t hurt to identify yourself, because it will take people time to determine which of the little boxes on their screen is speaking. Those who are pros at online meetings will do a quick wave of the hand to indicate when they are speaking.

When there are many participants in an online meeting, a wave can help everyone quickly identify who is speaking. Image source: Pormezz/

I’ve noticed that many of the online meeting apps are getting better at differentiating who is talking, and have various means of accentuating the speaker box, or even explicitly spelling out who is speaking. One accidental brush against a microphone, however, and the focus can be mistakenly transferred.

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AutoCAD 2021 Helps Users Travel into the Past — of Their Drawings

25 Mar, 2020 By: Cadalyst Staff

The latest release of Autodesk’s venerable 2D/3D CAD software application includes a Drawing History feature, which enables users to see how their drawings have changed over time, and compare past versions with the present.

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff


Has Coronavirus Closed Your Office? Work from Home the Right Way

17 Mar, 2020 By: Lynn Allen

If you’re transitioning from a company office environment to a home office, these six tips will help you create a more positive, productive experience for yourself and your coworkers.


The Traditional Computer Memory Hierarchy — and Its Impact on CAD Performance — Are Evolving

18 Mar, 2020 By: Alex Herrera

Herrera on Hardware: The basic tenets of the tried-and-true memory hierarchy still apply, but it’s worth knowing how recent disruptors can improve performance — and perhaps shift the traditional balance.

Most of us know that the purpose of a computer’s memory (also commonly referred to as DRAM) is to store data and instructions, both for the operating system (e.g., Windows) and for our applications (e.g., SolidWorks). An application’s instructions are run by the processor, which reads and writes that data to and from memory as we load, design, and store our CAD models.

But fewer people realize that what we refer to as memory or DRAM is actually part of a larger, hierarchical data storage chain. DRAM is a critical component of that hierarchy, and one we heavily focus on when configuring and purchasing a new workstation, as insufficient memory capacity or bandwidth can cripple performance, throttling well below what the system’s otherwise high-powered CPU or graphics processing unit (GPU) would be capable of. But it’s not the only critical performance component, so understanding how it both supports and is affected by other subsystems — most notably storage drives — is helpful in determining the type and speed of memory best suited to your CAD workstation.

This month, I’d like to introduce the concepts and tradeoffs of different layers in the hardware memory hierarchy, and explain how the relative sizes can help — or hinder — performance on your CAD workloads. For now, we’re looking at this a bit more qualitatively, but I’m also planning a future column with more real-world quantitative metrics on how to help dial your next workstation hardware configuration’s CPU/memory/storage options to best streamline your workflow processing.

Why the Memory Hierarchy Exists, and How Its Structure Affects CAD Performance

With the exception of the computation that goes into 3D graphics, which is mostly the burden of the workstation’s GPU, all the code execution — for your CAD application execution as well as all the OS and user-processing overhead — falls to the CPU. And ultimately, how fast that execution completes is primarily a function of two limits: First, how fast that CPU’s internal datapaths and execution units can process instructions and perform the indicated mathematical and logical operations, and second, how well the system’s memory and storage subsystems can load and store data to and from the CPU to supply that instruction stream. And while we often focus on the GHz rating and core counts for the CPU model we spec in our workstations, how well your machine can handle that second limit that can often matter just as much in determining your ultimate computing throughput.

Now, when we talk about a computer’s memory subsystem, or perhaps more appropriately, when we consider the combination of memory and the storage drives supporting that memory, it’s worth understanding the multitiered makeup of that combination. That is, the computer components that might respond to a CPU’s call to read or write data are varied and structured in such a way as to complement each other and to provide the best balance of performance, cost, and practicality. All applications, but especially those with heftier dataset sizes processing concurrently across multiple cores — attributes more common to CAD applications than most others — benefit from quick-response, high-bandwidth service of data, because the less often busy CPU cores wait for data, the faster your workload gets processed. But as you might expect, the quicker the response and the higher the bandwidth of the device and overall subsystem, the more costly that subsystem becomes.

The long-standing and still-faithful representation of that hierarchy is a pyramid, where the highest-performance, highest-cost, and lowest-capacity (typically cache) element sits at the top, and conversely the lowest-performance, lowest-cost, and highest-capacity element sits at the bottom. Any time an instruction attempts to access data (for example, one of many parameters from your CAD models) that is not currently resident at one level, the data must be fetched from one or more levels below, which will be slower, both in terms of how long it takes to get the first piece of data (the latency) and the subsequent rate of data received after that first piece (the bandwidth).

But why a hierarchy and pyramid? Why not just populate all the memory you’ll need with the fastest possible option? The answer is pragmatic, both from a dollars and an engineering standpoint: Costs rise going up the pyramid, not linearly but exponentially, as do the practical limits of how to engineer maximum theoretical performance.

The traditional memory hierarchy pyramid.

And therein lies the domain of a huge amount of engineering and design history: how to best optimize where data is so that — as often as possible — the data is immediately available, and if not, it takes the least amount of time to retrieve it. We’re not going to get into the esoterics of all kinds of clever techniques to accomplish that (e.g., cache types, organizations, prefetching). Instead, we’ll focus on how the characteristics of performance, cost, and capacity can help indicate a good balance of DRAM and storage types and sizes when building a workstation for CAD.

The pinnacle of that pyramid, cache, ends up being generally beyond the purview of CAD users looking to customize. For those machines, cache is all integrated as static RAM (SRAM) in CPU silicon and therefore fixed per CPU model, and as such we all rely on the vendor’s (Intel and AMD) choices about how to best balance the CPU’s throughput capabilities (i.e., number and speed of cores and microarchitecture) with cache size and organization. But there are user-configurable choices in type and size for the lower tiers of that pyramid, with respect to both DRAM and storage drives.

The run-time workhorse of the pyramid is system memory, also known as DRAM or just memory. Dynamic random access memory (DRAM) is just one type of memory device, but today it happens to be the ubiquitous type making up system memory, which is why DRAM has become a synonym for many. Attempt to access a page of data not currently stored in DRAM, and your computing throughput will likely experience a hiccup similar to a cache miss — the pipeline stalls while the data is fetched — but via a different mechanism with much longer latency. Where accessing an address that misses in cache causes that data to be retrieved from DRAM, the next level, a page fault initiates the retrieval of a page from system storage below. Sizing DRAM appropriately to minimize page faults is one of the most important ways to tune a data-intensive workflow.

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About the Author: Alex Herrera

Alex Herrera

3D Printers

Gravity Industries Relies on 3D Printing to Make Jet Suits Real

28 Feb, 2020 By: Cadalyst Staff

Rapid iteration and testing are key to creating a wearable human flight system that defies gravity in spectacular fashion.

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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Cloud-Based CAD

The Best Reason to Adopt Cloud Innovation Software

26 Feb, 2020 By: Jim Brown

Don’t move to the cloud for the cloud’s sake; do it for the business value that cloud solutions offer.

About the Author: Jim Brown


The End of SOLIDWORKS World — and a New Beginning

14 Feb, 2020 By: Cadalyst Staff

Dassault Systèmes struck a new note in Nashville, debuting the 3DEXPERIENCE World user conference in place of the venerable SOLIDWORKS World.

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff


AMD CPUs for CAD Workstations: Third-Generation Threadripper Makes Impressive Debut

19 Feb, 2020 By: Alex Herrera

Herrera on Hardware: Three years into the era of AMD’s Zen architecture for central processing units (CPUs), the company has climbed into a better position to compete with Intel, equipped with a high-performance workstation-caliber CPU.

About the Author: Alex Herrera

Alex Herrera

Product Lifecycle Management (PLM)

Benchmarks Reveal Common Struggles in Product Development Processes

16 Feb, 2020 By: Cyrena Respini-Irwin

For manufacturers on a mission of self-improvement, Tata Technologies creates baselines of comparison for evaluating maturity in digital engineering, product lifecycle management (PLM) analytics, and more.

On-Demand Manufacturing

Xometry Extends Custom Manufacturing Capabilities in Europe

10 Feb, 2020 By: Cadalyst Staff

New quoting capabilities and the acquisition of the Shift on-demand manufacturing marketplace further the company’s aggressive growth.

About the Author: Cadalyst Staff

Cadalyst Staff

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