This series explains connectivity options for CAD hardware. The first post covered network connections and USB. Now we’ll discuss PCI, FireWire and eSATA.
Yes, the old standard PCI add-in card is still around, and from a user’s perspective is completely different than PCI Express. A PCI slot can’t support a PCI Express card, and vice versa. However, workstations will still include a PCI slot or two for low-demand legacy cards. Unless you have some special legacy PCI requirements, you’re unlikely to be disappointed by whatever your OEM provides.
In the age of first-generation USB, FireWire (also known as IEEE 1394) was pretty much a requirement, as USB’s bandwidth was too wimpy to handle video. That changed dramatically with USB 2.0, which more or less matched FireWire in performance.
At this point, if you plan to keep a legacy device that requires FireWire — and check it out closely, as many devices that support FireWire also support USB 2.0 — then of course make sure your machine has a FireWire port (and you can always add a PCI or PCI Express card).
Most modern workstations also include an eSATA connection, a high-speed computer bus interface that connects host bus adapters to mass storage devices such as hard disk and optical drives. With USB 2.0’s advance in speed, most of us just naturally opt for USB to accommodate external storage. And with USB 3.0 on the horizon, it’s hard to see what use eSATA will serve in the longer term, beyond supporting legacy devices.
Connectivity is a generic term that describes how a computer connects to other devices to transfer data back and forth. The term covers everything from networks to wireless to printer cables. Based on the nature of CAD work, some sort of connectivity options are going to be required. This series will cover the major areas of connectivity to help you decide the right ones for your situation.
Networking: Ethernet and Wireless
Every workstation comes with a wired Gigabit Ethernet network port; higher-end machines might have two or more. Wireless networking is typically available for desktop workstations, so you’ll need to decide whether to add that option.
Consider your security requirements with wireless networking if you are looking at mobile workstations. It’s one thing to be connected to your secure office wireless route (it is secure, right?). It’s another when you take the workstation on the road.
USB has certainly lived up to its name. The Universal Serial Bus is absolutely universal, in terms of its pervasiveness across platforms and device types. USB 2.0 began replacing the first-generation standard technology a few years ago and has become the de facto general-purpose I/O interface. It yields a tenfold increase in maximum available bandwidth, a jump that is easily witnessed when, for example, transferring large models or videos to a flash drive.
The jump to next-generation USB 3.0 will also be substantial — another tenfold increase — but its impact will be less pronounced. Version 2.0 has been a slam dunk for just about every user and for many types of media (music, pictures, even video to some degree). It’s harder to predict the benefits of moving to USB 3.0, as they will vary by use.
Still, USB 3.0 will in all likelihood supersede 2.0 over time. Some workstations today already support 3.0, not natively via the Intel platform but via an additional motherboard chip. It’s widely believed that Intel’s next-generation Ivy Bridge platforms (expected to launch by the end of 2011) will include native USB 3.0 support. Unless you frequently transfer huge files over USB, either version should suit your needs. Take whatever your model has as a default.
Think about the number and location (front vs. back) of USB ports you want — and for that matter, flash memory card access, if you need it.
The resources department filled your request for a new printer. It can handle your workload, media requirements, and color needs. You went the extra step and purchased multiple printing devices that will take the same core size of rolled paper and the same type of toner. Good job.
Did you contact the IT department (assuming you aren’t the IT department) to let them know? Will these new high-speed printing machines work on your network? Will they work with your software? Can the operating systems your users deal with handle them? Probably but it would be wise to make sure. This is a very crucial step in picking out new printers. Will they work with your system?
Some printers have special electrical needs. Many require dedicated power connections. Talk with the manufacturer about these topics. Where will they be set up? Is there ample room? Can the service technician get all of the way around them for maintenance?
A key issue to consider is how the printers will communicate with your network. Make sure to coordinate with your IT department on this as it can be tricky. Do not assume the printer will work because the salesperson says it should. If printers are being added to the network and are not replacing older machines there could be a capacity issue. Will there be a need to print from outside of the office? Will users need wifi printing abilities? How will their workstations communicate with the printers?
Once communication issues between workstations and printers is determined to be adequate, what software issues will there be? Printing from a word processor like Microsoft Word is completely different from printing from AutoCAD. Throw in other popular programs like Adobe Photoshop and there could be issues. Are specific drivers needed? Who is going to install them on the workstations? How will they be maintained?
Establish with your IT department who will maintain the printers. How will they be named? In AutoCAD, a printer name is important. If the printer’s name changes down the road, there will be issues. Page setups often rely on printer names for identification. AutoCAD isn’t smart enough to know it’s the same printer. Page Setups will have to be fixed. This is a good way to upset many users in one step.
Whatever system is put in place, keep it and keep it simple. Later on if it is found that the system just doesn’t work, then fix it. Try to impact everyone as little as possible. Maintain the printers through the network as much as possible. It could be a long day if you had to go from workstation to workstation to fix a renamed printer issue.
In part one of this series, I discussed ways to determine your needs. This is the most important step. It won’t matter what printer is purchased if it can’t do what you need it to do. This post will cover the different types of large format printers.
Inkjet or Laser?
There are many different types of printers to choose from. These days’ printers are typically either inkjet or laser. Dot matrix and pen plotters are rarely used anymore even though they can be fun to watch.
Inkjet printers are typically less costly than laser both in initial cost and in ink/toner refills. However they do not produce the same quality print as a laser nor are they as fast. One popular option for some CAD firms is to purchase a laser printer for black and white prints and an inkjet for color prints. For smaller document sized prints, a color laser printer could still fit within the constraints of a budget. Keep in mind your needs. If color, large format prints are produced on a daily or regular basis, then a large format laser printer may be required. The cost can be justified.
Printing documents is a key part of your office’s workflow. It’s important to remember your company’s needs when looking at large format printers to determine how many you need and what kind is best for you. If printing doesn’t happen very often then spend less. If printing happens often, spend what is needed to fit the workload.
When You Need More Than One
Many times more than one printer is needed. Do yourself a favor and plan ahead. Try to purchase the same kind, same manufacturer, same core size (for rolled media), the same everything as much as possible. This makes purchasing maintenance easier and less expensive. It also reduces the space needed to store items. If your two printers are different makes and models then they will require different ink or toner. You will need to purchase ink for printer one and ink for printer two and store them. However, if the two printers took identical ink cartridges then if you purchased one extra it can be used in whichever printer runs out first. Keep your maintenance costs down be making sure as many printers as possible use the same media, ink, etc.
Next I’ll discuss tips for setting up a new large-format printer.
Before CAD became our main design tool, we drew our creations on “the board.” Once drawings were complete, there was a physical product — the drawing itself. It was very likely a piece of vellum or mylar or perhaps just a simple sheet of bond paper. I have even worked with drawings on linen. These drawings could be presented to a client, approval board or municipality. All you needed were copies. That was easy — fire up the diazo and try not to inhale too many fumes.
When CAD replaced the drafting board, there was a fundamental shift in the drafting process. Engineers and architects no longer handed their master drawings to a designer, who handed it to a detailer, who perhaps eventually gave the approved drawing to a tracer or even to an inker. With CAD software there is no physical object to pass through the ranks. Everything is digital. We don’t get a physical sheet drawing until the design is over.
It’s not always easy getting your design on paper.
Each CAD program has its own methods of printing, but we all have similar hardware issues to address when we print from CAD software. When it’s time to get a new plotter (and when I say plotter, I mean wide-format printer), there are a few things to consider when buying the right one for you.
What Do You Need to Print?
Every company is going to have different printing needs. Different design industries will have different requirements as well. The first step in picking out the printer hardware is to determine what your firm prints. Create a list of what this new machine will need to accomplish. Start with the size of the drawings your company produces. List every size and frequency. Will any printing be outsourced or will multiple sheet sets be printed in house? This will help determine the tray and feed roll capacities. If multiple sets will be printed, then print speed will have to be considered.
Who Will Be Printing?
Think about the end users as well. Will multiple users be printing at the same time? This could clog up printing and frustrate staff. Depending on workload, two printers may be a wise choice.
Color or Black and White?
Perhaps a department needs the ability to produce color exhibits. Get one color printer for them and a black and white for everyone else. Or simply only use the color printer only for color prints.
Figure out what will be printed, who will print, when, and how often. Next we’ll talk about the types of printers and how to choose the right one for you.
With any design program, no matter how novice or experienced you may be, you’re probably prone to making the occasional error. Start off the right way by checking the basic system recommendations before installing Vectorworks CAD software. System requirements can be found on the Nemetschek Vectorworks website. Also spend some time learning how you can optimize your desktop or workstation and get the most out of your Vectorworks experience.
With Vectorworks software, users at all levels have very likely made some common mistakes. All of them are related to settings and shortcuts that are intended to make design work faster and more enjoyable, but for the uninformed user these shortcuts can also cause some frustration. But fear not—they are all very easy to remedy.
Problems with Plug-Ins
Vectorworks is rich in plug-in objects, such as doors and windows, which help users efficiently place intelligent objects in their designs. However, if you’re not familiar with these plug-ins, you might find difficulty inserting doors and windows into your walls. This is because these objects have ‘modes’ which provide several additional controls when using the tools. If a door or window isn’t inserting, it may be because “Wall Insertion Mode” has been accidentally turned off, thus preventing you from inserting doors/windows into walls. It’s simple to fix. Just enable the Wall Insertion Mode by clicking on the icon in the mode bar.
Skittish Selection Tool
Have you ever run into a problem where you suddenly can’t use your selection tool to resize something? If you’re like most users, you probably have. Just like our first common mistake, this behavior is caused by accidentally enabling a mode in the mode bar. In this case, you have enabled the mode “Disable Interactive Scaling,” which means you’re no longer able to interactively re-size an object with the selection tool. Again, this has a simple fix. With the selection tool selected, simply click on the Disable Interactive Scaling button in the mode bar to turn it off.
Cursor Cue Concerns
Keyboard shortcuts can be a very wonderful thing. Once you learn them, they save you time and dramatically improve your drafting/modeling efficiency. But, as helpful as they can be, these shortcuts can sometimes lead to errors. For example, you may have experienced suddenly losing all your SmartCursor Cues (visual screen hints that appear when hovering over specific points of objects, such as endpoint, center, midpoint, etc.). The cause of this sudden loss of cues is quite simple. You’ve likely accidentally hit the “Y” key, which has disabled your cursor cues. The quick fix for this? Hit the “Y” key again.
I hope these tips will help you avoid some of the common mistakes users make and allow you to maximize your efficiency when working with Vectorworks. For more Tech Tips, please visit the Vectorworks YouTube Channel.
Author: Juan Almansa, Product Support Manager, Nemetschek Vectorworks, Inc.
Each mouse driver is slightly different, but all have the same basic functions. You will always have the ability to program mouse buttons when you have a multibutton mouse.
I try to buy mice with the standard right-click and left-click buttons and wheel, plus one additional button for the thumb. (Sometimes it’s nice to have a mouse with a “thumb” button on both sides of the mouse — similar to the Logitech MX310 shown below — so you can program it for a right- or left-handed user.)
To reprogram a multibutton mouse such as a Logitech MX310, G5, or G3 (or any typical gaming-style mouse), start by going to Control Panel and selecting Mouse Properties. You will typically find a Button tab at the top of the Mouse Properties dialog box.
The normal AutoCAD settings for a Logitech mouse are as follows:
- Left mouse button (shown above as item 1) is set to Click/Select. This is the normal default setting.
- Right mouse button (shown above as item 2) is set to Context Menu/Alternate Select. This is the normal default setting.
- Wheel button (shown above as item 3) is set to Middle Button. This is a change to the standard setup. To do this, pick item 3 from the pull-down menu, click the Modify button, then click the Middle Button option as shown below. The Middle Button option gives the user the proper Zoom and Pan functions within AutoCAD.
Last is the “thumb button” (shown in the first image as item 4), which is set to the Escape option in this example.
The MX310 has two thumb buttons — one on either side of the mouse — so you can program it whether you are left- or right-handed. Based on many users’ experience, the best approach is to program the correct button based on the individual’s dominant hand, then program the opposite button to “unassigned.” This prevents the user from accidentally pressing a command with the pinky finger.
(Note: Many multibutton mice, such as the Logitech G5, have the capability to assign the key to the thumb button by simply pressing which key to assign.)
Typical settings for the G5 are as follows:
- Select Button: Choose item 4 (right thumb button) in the Select Button window.
- Select Task: Click on the Keystroke Assignment button, move your cursor to 3a, and specify Keystroke. For example, to select the Esc button as shown below, press the Escape key on the keyboard so the word “Esc” appears in the box at 3a. Click Apply and OK.
Once you get used to activating custom CAD functions with a touch of a button, you will never want to go back.
Author: Richard Leveille
As a CAD user, you rely heavily on your pointing device to interact with your software and get the job done. The wrong mouse can cause frustration, inefficiency, and repetitive stress injuries, but it can be a challenge to find the perfect combination of ergonomics, power source, programmability, and other features.
To help you in your search, Cadalyst readers have offered up their opinions about which pointing hardware is best suited to CAD work, including mice, trackballs, joysticks and tablets. Be sure to check that any mouse or other device you’re considering is compatible with your operating system and software before making a purchase.
Regardless of which brands or styles you choose, staying healthy is essential. Designer Carol McKeough advocates using a variety of mousing devices, thoroughly customizing each one, and learning to mouse ambidextrously. “Start by playing a few games of solitaire, then continue mousing left-handed through some easy, repetitive CAD tasks. Give yourself time, and forgive yourself for adapting slowly, but stick with it. Work left-handed for at least a couple of hours, without giving in to the temptation to switch back. It will feel like trying to sign your name with a jackhammer at first, but will get easier each day.”