AutoCAD installation two-step

31 Mar, 2002 By: Mark Middlebrook

In my CAD consulting work, I often install and configure AutoCAD on clients' computers. Frequently, this job first requires installing or reinstalling an OS (operating system) or at least configuring the OS so that the computer works well as a CAD workstation. Many CAD managers handle these tasks within their own offices. If you're one of those people—or you just want to know what the IS geeks and their high-priced consultants are doing to your CAD computers—read on.

My emphasis here is on simple but robust installation procedures. I use a series of easy-to-follow steps that I can document and describe to clients without a lot of fuss. I'll sketch out the main procedure and highlight a few important details. You'll need to fill in the rest based on your specific hardware, OS, software, and office needs.

Before you do anything to a computer, sit down and do a quick inventory of what's on it and how it's configured.

Hardware. Processor, memory, and local hard disk space. Are these adequate for the new OS and AutoCAD?

Operating system. What is the current OS? Should you reinstall or upgrade the OS?

Network. Current network settings. Are there any special IP addresses or server names? Are any user account names and passwords different from the local OS names and passwords?

Installed applications. Office applications (word processor, spreadsheet, etc.), special-purpose applications, utilities, and AutoCAD applications. Does the user need all of these, or can you simplify? If you reinstall applications, what custom application settings must be retained?

Data on the local hard disk. Ordinary data files (DWG, DOC, etc.), e-mail messages (such as Outlook's PST file), and other hidden data. If you reformat the hard disk, how will you back up and restore this data?

Internet settings. ISP connection settings (dial-up or proxy server settings), e-mail settings (mail server names, login name, and password). If you'll reformat, write down all this information so you can re-enter it later. Also, export or copy the user's Web browser Favorites or Bookmarks.

Backup. If you'll reformat the hard disk and reinstall the OS, the last preparation task is to back up local hard disk data. If the computer is on a network, simply create a temporary folder on the server and copy all of the files and folders to it. If it's a stand-alone computer, use a tape drive, removable hard disk drive (such as Jaz), or a fist-full of Zip disks. Because reformatting is forever, I do two backups—preferably on different media—and test them by restoring a few files from the backup location.

Figure 1. Reset Windows Explorer settings so that your files are shown in Details instead of Large Icons.

Operating system

With notes and backups in hand, proceed to install the OS. I currently use Windows 2000 Professional on my computers. My clients who've purchased new computers with Windows XP Professional preinstalled have had no problems running AutoCAD, even back to Release 14. Autodesk warrants that AutoCAD 2002 works with Windows XP Professional, but will not test or support it with Windows XP Home Edition. Some other current Autodesk applications aren't compatible with either flavor of Windows XP. See the Autodesk website for details.

Never simply upgrade from one version of Windows to another. It's an open secret that Windows becomes slower and less stable over time as you add applications and drivers and accumulate Registry settings. This problem is less pronounced in Windows NT/2000/XP than in Windows 95/98/ME, but it afflicts all Windows versions. If you're upgrading the OS, start with a clean OS slate.

Double-check data backups, take a deep breath, and reformat the hard disk. Then install Windows from scratch. If you have plenty of hard disk space, you can avoid re-formatting and restoring data by simply installing the new version of Windows into a directory separate from the old version. For the cleanest installation, tell the Windows program not to migrate settings. After the main Windows installation, perform these steps:

Network. Verify access to network disks and any other network resources. Map network disk volumes to letters (G:, H:, etc.) if necessary.

Internet. Configure the Internet connection and test access to the Web.

Restore Web browser Favorites or Bookmarks if necessary. Configure e-mail settings and test send and receive.

Printers. Configure Windows printers and plotters. Test each one by printing from Word, Notepad, or Paint.

Figure 2. Then turn on Display the full path in the address bar and Display the full path in the title bar, and turn off Hide file extensions for known file types.

Windows Explorer. Change Windows Explorer to use more sensible settings. As shown in figure 1, change the Files window view from Large Icons to Details. Turn on Display the full path in the address bar and Display the full path in the title bar (figure 2). Turn off Hide file extensions for known file types. Then click the Like Current Folder button to propagate the Details view to all folders.

Applications. Install applications and utilities. Two utilities that I almost always install are Adobe Acrobat to read PDF files (freeware; See Adobe Acrobat's website) and an unzip program such as WinZip to open and create ZIP files (shareware; See Winzip's website). In addition, be sure to install an antivirus program such as McAfee VirusScan or Norton AntiVirus.

Restore data and settings. Restore all backed-up data files and application settings.

User accounts. In Windows NT/2000/XP Professional, create an OS account for the computer's main user and additional accounts for any other users. In theory, you should assign something less than local Administrator privileges to these accounts so that users can create files but not install or uninstall software.

My experience with this theoretically laudable practice has not been very good. Software sometimes fails to work correctly when someone is logged on as a mere User. For example, Microsoft applications often need to install additional pieces of themselves when someone first tries to use a feature, and they can't do it if the current user has insufficient privileges. In addition, AutoCAD 2000 and later won't work unless the user has Power User or Administrator privileges. Because I won't be there when users run into these confusing problems, I usually just throw up my hands and leave them with Administrator privileges.

If you're installing AutoCAD on a shiny new computer with the OS already installed and some of the configuration steps already performed, verify that everything is in good shape before installing AutoCAD.


Installing and configuring AutoCAD is fairly straightforward as long as you've first configured the OS properly. Be sure to configure and test the network connection, Internet access, and printers before installing AutoCAD. I resolve any problems with these components first so that I don't waste time puzzling over an AutoCAD plotting problem that's caused by OS or network configuration problems.

After you install AutoCAD, make configuration changes to match your office standards.

Options. On the Open and Save tab of the Options dialog box, change the Minutes between saves setting from 120 to 15 minutes (unless you enjoy hearing the screams of hapless users who've just lost 119 minutes of work). On the same tab, disable the Demand load xrefs setting. Demand loading causes all kinds of xref file contention problems, especially on a network and especially for less knowledgeable users.

Demand loading doesn't improve performance for most drawings, so just turn it off. If your drawings do benefit from demand loading, you probably know it, and you probably also know that the Enabled with copy setting eliminates the file contention problems.

Custom support and font directories. On the Files tab of the Options dialog box, add two directories to the Support File Search Path: one for custom programs and one for custom SHX fonts. Move these directories to the beginning of the Support File Search Path, above the standard AutoCAD directories. Then copy any custom programs (AutoLISP, VBA, and ARX) to the first directory and any custom SHX fonts to the second one.

Printers. Test that your Windows system printer drivers work adequately for each of the devices that you want to plot to from AutoCAD. If not, use the Add-A-Plotter Wizard to install an HDI driver or create an AutoCAD-specific configuration for a Windows system printer driver. When upgrading from Release 14, use the Add-A-Plot Style Table Wizard to create a color-dependent plot style table (CTB file) for your office's standard color-to-lineweight mapping and make it the default plot style table (on the Plotting tab of the Options dialog box).

Figure 3. Some of AutoCAD's new tools are annoying at best. Turn off Active Assistance and the Today window.

Custom applications. Install and configure custom applications. Your office may require other custom settings and utilities. The preceding list covers the basics that I set for most of my clients and which I consider a minimum usable AutoCAD installation.

If you find yourself in charge of installing OSs and AutoCAD, use these procedures as the basis for your own installation checklist. Add and subtract steps based on your company's specifics. Each time you perform an installation, revise your outline based on what you actually did. In this way, you'll home in on a finely tuned documented upgrade procedure for your office. By that time, you'll have new versions of Windows and AutoCAD to worry about!

About the Author: Mark Middlebrook

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