TOP PRODUCTS-Cadalyst salutes top new hardware and software for CAD/CAM/CAE

31 May, 2005 By: Sara Ferris

This month we recognize the top products to come out in the past six months. The All-Star awards salute the best of the best—the most outstanding among all products that earned five-star Highly Recommended ratings from Cadalyst Labs. The Editors' Wow! awards come from the much larger pool of products introduced or upgraded during the first six months of the year. Some we've seen at industry events, others we saw in online demonstrations and many were outlined in press releases. Now that we post product news mainly to our Web site and in our e-mail newsletter, it's an especially valuable opportunity to draw your attention to new and innovative tools that that could help your business. We base our selections primarily on the Wow! factor: Is the product innovative? Distinctive compared with others on the market? Does it solve problems creatively?

IBM ThinkVision L200p, February

The IBM ThinkVision L200p ($949) is a 20.1" LCD display with a 4:3 aspect ratio. IBM avoids the legibility problems that can arise when dark buttons are placed on a dark housing by adding symbols to the housing and making the buttons raised, angular and glossy. The only flaws in its display were slightly dull yellows and oranges. What could be seen as a limitation—the inability to pivot to landscape mode—is actually an advantage in providing greater stability. Another nice feature is the internal power supply, which eliminates a bulky power adapter. Its only drawback is a slow response rate of 25ms.

ViewSonic VP201b, February

The ViewSonic VP201b ($849) is also a 20.1" display with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Its response time is a speedier, but not remarkably fast, 16ms. However, it suffers from black-buttons-on-black-housing syndrome, which makes the buttons difficult to locate and decipher. Once you find them, though, the on-screen menu is good. Display flaws included a slightly orange red and slight banding on continuous gradients. A nice extra is a video processor that turns the VP201b into a high-resolution television.

ArchiCAD, February

As a pioneer building-modeling program,Graphisoft's ArchiCAD usually earns high ratings for its various releases. According to reviewer Steve Ross, the program "provides a lot more power than the typical architectural design software package, but is still easy, nimble and intuitive to use." Its latest iteration at first appears to offer only incremental improvements, but they add up to an impressively capable package with strengths in drawing and conceptual design.

Adobe Acrobat 7 Professional, March

Adobe Acrobat 7 Professional is a tough call. Adobe packed in a tremendous number of new features, including 3D support and the ability to activate redlining so those using just the viewer can have their say in the review process. However, its choice of the fledgling U3D format means there aren't many options for creating PDF-ready 3D content at the moment. And doubts linger about its ability to handle some of the more esoteric graphics in engineering drawings (AutoCAD Wipeout, for example). We are unable to test all the myriad combinations of commands and objects that go into a typical CAD drawing. But we'll give it the gold because the 3D capability is exciting, and U3D should gain in popularity as vendors move to implement support. PDF's high profile and massive user base ensure that Acrobat Professional will find many eager users.

Honorable Mentions

All of the workstations in our last roundup (March) earned a Highly Recommended rating, making it impossible to single out one or two out for special commendation. Perennial industrial design favorites Alias StudioTools and form Z both commanded high praise in software reviews earlier this year. And IMSI's bargain-priced TurboCAD (June) continues to bulk up with features found in higher-end products that cost two to three times as much.


Hewlett-Packard Designjet 4000

HP once again delivers a winner with its Designjet 4000 series large-format printers ($9,995 and $12,495). New technology within the writing system allows the printers to double the print speeds of both color and monochrome documents compared with other HP large-format printers. There's no tradeoff in quality—the new models can achieve line accuracy of ±0.1% (sufficient to handle the most intricate line drawing) and resolutions up to 2400dpi. The Designjet 4000s deliver D-size printouts in 25 seconds and can complete a print job of 100 D-size formats within one hour, according to HP.

Motive Systems M-Files

Motive Systems, best known for its drawing publishing tools, enters the crowded world of document management with its M-Files product ($695 for up to five concurrent users). Like many such products, M-Files assembles all documents, both CAD files and regular office documents, in a single location. However, its versatile search options and dynamic views enable users to find and organize documents without the limitations of a traditional file and folder hierarchy.

3Dconnexion SpacePilot

3Dconnexion's SpacePilot continues the company's stream of innovative devices for manipulating 3D images,. The SpacePilot ($499) features an array of function keys powered by adaptive technology. A built-in LCD display lets users view dynamically labeled and extendable key assignments, providing an almost unlimited number of functions based on the user's current task. Speed keys provide access to frequently used application commands. These keys can be organized into multiple banks; the ability to switch banks gives the user access to an unlimited number of keys.

Arel Spotlight

Arel Spotlight is an enterprise conferencing tool that encompasses voice, video, and Web-based application sharing. It's designed specifically for graphics-intensive applications and large files, making it a good fit for product design in CAD/CAM applications. Arel says its approach to application sharing ensures low latency, and to further inprove performance content can be pushed to desktops before a session starts to reduce time spent waiting to download content. Attendees can join meetings from multiple devices—desktop/laptop computer, PSTN (telephone), H.323-based video conferencing systems and IP phones and cell phones.

Immersive Design IPA Tool

Immersive Design impressed us with how quickly it moved to support the U3D format, the 3D format used by Adobe's Acrobat 7 product line. The capabilities now available in its IPA Web publishing tool will surely spark users' imaginations to think up new uses for interactive 3D PDF files. The IPA tool imports a CAD model to which you can add animation, then publish as a Web page (or PDF file) that presents product information such as bills of materials, assembly sequences and disassembly instructions. But the best recommendation is to check out the sample PDFs on the Immersive Design Web site (you'll need the Acrobat 7 viewer to see the 3D in all its glory).


CAD Schroer continues to develop MEDUSA, a 2D drafting program that originated in the United Kingdom and passed through a series of owners, including Computervision and PTC. CAD Schroer has released MEDUSA4 for Windows and UNIX. It features an updated interface as well as styles, groups, and a symbol manager.

CAD pioneer Patrick Hanratty continues to refine his ANVIL product and now offers AnvilCAD Lite for 2D modeling for only $595. The product, which is available in modules, provides 2D and 3D design tools, parametric drafting, surface modeling tools, CAM capabilities, rendering and animation. Its suite of translators handles IGES, DWG, DXF, STL and


Lightwork Design is not a traditional vendor in that its product, the LightWorks rendering engine, is incorporated into CAD products developed by other companies. Lightwork deserves credit for catering to those who use LightWorks-based rendering applications by producing a variety of free material libraries available on its Web site ( The latest addition covers Sherwin-Williams paint ranges. The materials show not only the actual paint color, but also the glossiness and reflectivity of the real paint ranges.

SolidWorks earns a nod for its DWGgateway, a free utility that provides AutoCAD users with back-compatibility. Users of AutoCAD versions going back to Release 14 can use it to read, edit and save DWG and DXF files created by more recent versions, including AutoCAD 2005. The DWGgateway also allows AutoCAD R14-2005 to produce DWG and DXF data in older formats, going back to AutoCAD R2.5. Best of all, support for generating PDF files in AutoCAD is planned for the future.

In keeping with our free theme, we tip our hats to ProgeSOFT, an Italian company that offers a free IntelliCAD-based application called ProgeCAD LT 2005. It supports AutoCAD 2004/2005 DWG files as well as DWF and PDF files, according to the company. It also features an xref manager and block manager. The company is also experimenting with grassroots learning by encouraging users to tag tutorial content via Flickr and


Wide-area file services are becoming almost as ubiquitous as document management products at the various user group meetings we've attended this year. These services combine software and hardware to link remote offices via a central server, with none of the painfully slow performance that characterizes opening a file over a typical WAN (wide-area network). With all data stored in a central location, file backup becomes simpler and the likelihood of file duplication is diminished.

Cisco Systems' acquisition of Actona Technologies helped raise the profile of this technology. The Actona solution comprises the ActoStor CoreServer, which resides in a central location, and multiple ActoStor EdgeServers, which are located at remote offices.

Tacit Networks takes a similar approach. An appliance is placed at each office to enable centralized file data to be accessed in real time from any office. In addition, Tacit software identifies temporary files and so eliminates unnecessary file transfer over the wide-area network. For example, AutoCAD temporary files are initially saved on the local appliance. Once work on the file is complete, only those changes made since the file was opened are transmitted back to the datacenter.

Likewise, Riverbed installs Steelhead appliances at all remote locations to access the central server. Riverbed speeds up file transmission through technologies such as SDR (scalable data referencing), which removes all redundancy from WAN traffic by storing data in a proprietary form on disk on both ends of a WAN link, and Transaction Prediction, which optimizes latency by reducing the number of WAN roundtrips required for various protocols.

About the Author: Sara Ferris

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