Archive for December, 2011

Technology Makeover Supplies CAD Hardware/Software to Deserving Small Business

December 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Autodesk Building Design Suite 2012Autodesk and Lenovo have recently teamed up to help create Technology Makeover, a program that supplies hardware and software to a deserving small business.  For the first ever award of this program, Autodesk reseller Ideate was asked to recommend a customer. That customer turned out to be Alan Mascord Designs.

Alan Mascord Designs is an architectural design firm in based in Portland, Oregon. They were an early adopter of technology when founder Alan Mascord went cold turkey from the drafting table to an AutoCAD equipped PC back in the 1980s. For the next couple of decades, the company grew as did their reliance on current hardware and software technology. In the mid-2000s however, as the economic crisis hit, Mascord was forced to make some tough choices. Staff was reduced by half and company morale was at a low point. It was also during this time that Mascord avoided making large investments in hardware and software.

This is where Autodesk and Lenovo came in this year.  As a result of the Technology Makeover, Mascord received eight seats of Autodesk Building Design Suite 2012, five new Lenovo workstations, one new Lenovo server, a Lenovo tablet, two 3D mice, and twenty five Autodesk training guides — all free of charge.  Autodesk reseller Ideate also provided three days of training for five employees.

“Lenovo and Autodesk were excited to team up on this Technology Makeover,” said Amy Bunszel, vice president of AutoCAD Products at Autodesk.  “We know many of our customers are still struggling through this down economy, and both Autodesk and Lenovo wanted to do something that could make a significant impact.”

Other than the obvious, Mascord has witnessed a boost in morale among employees and a very tangible benefit, an increase in business due to the new 3D design services they now offer.

Gary Higginbotham, Director of Marketing, Graphic Design and Green Building at Alan Mascord Design Associates says, “Autodesk’s generosity and fantastic new tools and resources give the staff a huge morale boost and provides our business an opportunity to innovate and redefine what we can do for our clients — which will help us recover from the economic turmoil the residential construction industry has experienced in a more efficient, streamlined and much faster fashion than we would have otherwise been able to do.”

If you are wondering about future awards of the Technology Makeover, Melissa Christensen, Director of AutoCAD Marketing says, “Due to the positive response from Mascord and the public, Autodesk will soon be launching a contest to find the next small business for a Technology Makeover. Look for more information on the AutoCAD Facebook page in the coming weeks.”

For more information on this story, catch the five part series on YouTube at:

Author: R.K. McSwain

AutoCAD WS for Facilities Management – Part 2: Managing Your Space from the Cloud

December 22, 2011 4 comments

Welcome to the second part of the series of AutoCAD WS for Facilities Management (or FM as we call it).

In Part 1, we talked about how easy it is to work with our FM drawings in the cloud using AutoCAD WS and a mobile device, such as a tablet. So, this time we are going to go in to a bit more detail.

Managing Your Space from the Cloud

Space management is a must in FM and rooms need to be “tagged” with an identifier, such as a room number (see Fig.1) below.

An FM drawing with room numbers shown.

An FM drawing with room numbers shown.

As you can see, the rooms are classed as RM-0012 and RM-0013. So, based on Part 1 of this series, what happens if those rooms are re-numbered on site in Abu Dhabi and we need to let the facilities manager in London know?

Step 1

That’s where the wonder of AutoCAD WS kicks in. Using the uploaded drawing in AutoCAD WS on a mobile device, our FM technician in Abu Dhabi can update the room numbers on the fly, saving the drawing as he/she goes.

Room number revised in AutoCAD WS on mobile device.

Room number revised in AutoCAD WS on mobile device.

Step 2

The facilities technician then shares the saved drawing from AutoCAD WS using the Share button which sends an email back to London.

The AutoCAD WS Share dialog box.

The AutoCAD WS Share dialog box. Click photo to see larger version.

Step 3

The facilities manager in London receives an email with the share invite and can open the drawing in AutoCAD WS or just download the revised drawing in full AutoCAD with the changes already in place.

Email received from AutoCAD WS with option to download revised drawing from the cloud.

Email received from AutoCAD WS with option to download revised drawing from the cloud. Click photo to see larger version.

So, again, AutoCAD WS on a mobile device provides that 24/7 timeline and allows space management from the cloud.

Author: Shaun Bryant

Connectivity Options and the CAD Workstation, Part 2: PCI, FireWire and eSATA

December 20, 2011 1 comment

Connectivity OptionsThis 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.

Author: Alex Herrera

Connectivity Options and the CAD Workstation, Part 1: Networking and USB Ports

December 16, 2011 1 comment
CAD Hardware Connectivity

CAD Hardware Connectivity

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 ports

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.

Next we’ll talk about PCI, FireWire and eSATA.

Author: Alex Herrera

AutoCAD WS for Facilities Management – Part 1: Collaboration in the Cloud

December 13, 2011 8 comments

I was one of those CAD geeks who did the loop around my small office when AutoCAD WS was released. It is a sophisticated mobility tool that Autodesk was savvy enough to release for free. Now available on the App Store for Apple devices and native Macs as well as the Android Market for Android devices, it gives a massive scope to CAD users and facilities managers alike.

AutoCAD WS and Facility Management

So here’s an FM scenario that is all too familiar. The facility management company is based in London. The facility being managed is in Abu Dhabi. Communication is hindered by the time difference, and paper drawings or emailed drawings just don’t cut it.

The solution is AutoCAD WS on a mobile device. An iPad, a Dell Streak or Motorola Xoom, perhaps, allowing the man on the Abu Dhabi facility site to implement immediate changes to the AutoCAD drawing. The process would be as follows:

Step 1

The drawing originator in London uses the AutoCAD WS plug-in for full AutoCAD to upload the FM drawing to the AutoCAD WS “cloud” from their PC or Mac.

Using the AutoCAD WS plug-in in full AutoCAD to upload to the cloud. Image courtesy of Autodesk, Inc.

Using the AutoCAD WS plug-in in full AutoCAD to upload to the cloud. Click for larger image. Image courtesy of Autodesk, Inc.

The originator will be prompted that saved changes will be updated online.

AutoCAD WS prompts about saved changes. Click for larger image. Image courtesy of Autodesk, Inc.

AutoCAD WS prompts about saved changes. Click for larger image. Image courtesy of Autodesk, Inc.

Step 2

The drawing originator then shares the drawing by sending an AutoCAD WS email to the facility manager in Abu Dhabi, with the appropriate permissions.

Sharing the drawing from AutoCAD WS. Image courtesy of Autodesk, Inc.

Sharing the drawing from AutoCAD WS. Click for larger image. Image courtesy of Autodesk, Inc.

Step 3

Upon receipt of that email, the facility manager clicks on the link in the email and open ups the drawing in AutoCAD WS on their mobile tablet. The device shown is a Motorola Xoom with Android running AutoCAD WS.

Using a mobile device on-site to make live room changes. Image courtesy of Autodesk, Inc.

Using a mobile device on-site to make live room changes. Click for larger image. Image courtesy of Autodesk, Inc.

We can use mobile devices to enhance our productivity by bringing drawings in to the real world. It is environmentally sustainable (no paper – more rain forests), and it speeds up the communication process. As soon as the drawing originator uploads that drawing to AutoCAD WS, the facility manager can work on it. They can make changes on their mobile device that the originator will see on the main drawing and make sure the original drawing is fully up to date.

More importantly, the timeline is 24 hours. Everyone has access to the drawing in the cloud 24/7 providing they have AutoCAD WS permissions. They can view and edit the “cloud” drawing anytime using their mobile device or using their PC or Mac.

Next we’ll talk about AutoCAD WS and space management.

Mobility is here. Period.

Author: Shaun Bryant

CAD Workstation Storage, Part 2: Guidelines for Choosing HDD or SSD

December 8, 2011 3 comments
Advantages and Disadvantages of HDD versus SSD for CAD Workstations

A stark contrast between the advantages of hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs).

This series is comparing hard disk drives (HDD) versus solid state drives (SSD) for CAD workstation storage. Read part 1 here.

Now there’s no one answer that fits all when it comes to choosing any piece of hardware, so let’s boil down all those distinguishing characteristics to yield some useful guidelines for outfitting your workstation’s disk storage. Have high performance demands and a high budget to match, and don’t demand much in the way of capacity? Go SSD. Tight on dollars and need the storage space? Go HDD, and take a look at the price delta for going to 10,000 RPM over 7,200. (And if bandwidth is really a hot button for you, check out your options for SAS — Serial Attached SCSI — which can range up to 15,000 RPM, albeit at a non-linear increase in price and reduced capacity.)

The Best of Both Worlds

There’s another interesting middle ground to take in all this. Consider populating two drive bays, one with a smaller SSD and one with a big HDD. Then allocate your SSD to run your operating system and the HDD to store your models and working data. Remember that if you’re fetching big, contiguous modeling data structures, latency isn’t the main problem, it’s bandwidth. And the difference in bandwidth between HDD and SDD isn’t as significant, or at least nowhere near commensurate with the difference in price per GB. Besides, if you have a lot of model or analysis data, a 160 GB SSD isn’t going to be enough, anyway. But it will be enough room for the OS, whose performance by contrast tends to be more latency sensitive, making the SSD a great fit.

What About Mobile Workstations?

If we’re talking mobile workstations, there are another couple of angles to consider. First, you might be limited to one drive bay, making today’s 160 GB limit for SSDs an issue. And second, your machine could really benefit from another of the SSD’s major advantages I haven’t yet mentioned: shock tolerance. Since there are no moving parts like the HDD’s platters or drive heads, there’s much less risk of bricking your machine should it take a hard fall. Both considerations make SSDs a more compelling choices for mobiles.

Ultimately, the goal in selecting any workstation component ought to be a well-balanced system, one in which there is no glaring weak link, but where all components are of comparable capabilities. And that means paying attention to the more mundane specs as well as the glitzy. Of course, zeroing in on the perfect storage subsystem that will be superior on all criteria in all situations simply isn’t possible, so don’t sweat it. Think about where you need capacity, where you need bandwidth and where you can tolerate latency. And most importantly, remember the budget.

There are a plenty of great choices to be had … and honestly, with the performance and prices out there, it’s pretty hard to go too wrong.

Author: Alex Herrera

CAD Workstation Storage, Part 1: The Evolving Tradeoffs Between HDD and SSD

December 6, 2011 2 comments
Advantages and Disadvantages of HDD versus SSD for CAD Workstations

A stark contrast between the advantages of hard disk drives (HDDs) and solid state drives (SSDs).

When it comes to thinking about what should go in our workstations, we — both hardware suppliers and users— too often dwell on the glitzier technology inside, the “speeds and feeds.” How many CPU cores or GPU shaders there are, what frequencies they’re clocked at, and how many polygons/second or texels/second the GPU can churn through.

But just as often as any of these specs might be the bottleneck in your CAD workflow, so might something far less glamorous, like disk I/O performance. To maximize throughput, for both you and your workstation, all the components in your system need to be up to snuff, even — or in some cases especially — your machine’s storage.

And what sort of storage subsystem should CAD professionals be considering today when configuring their workstation? Well, there are two basic choices today, the traditional, tried-and-true spinning-platter hard disk drives and the relatively new solid-state drives (SSDs). Which is right for your machine depends on a few criteria, namely capacity, performance and price.

Hard Disk Drives

Beyond their huge capacities available in mind-boggling pennies per Gigabyte, conventional spinning-platter disk drives offer impressive performance as well. Rotating at 7,200 or 10,000 RPMs (5,400 for some mobiles), today’s SATA drivers deliver a peak 3.0 Gbps, enough to satisfy most, though certainly not all, CAD applications. (3.0 Gbps is typical for SATA version 2.0, supported by the vast majority of drives shipping today. In the future SATA version 3 will be closer to 6 Gbps. In either case, sustained usable bandwidth will be less.)

Solid State Drives

By contrast, SSDs, which are comprised not of spinning platters of magnetic media but of an array of SRAM chips, offer bandwidth boosts of around two to three times that of HDDs. The SSD’s edge in bandwidth is certainly substantial but not necessarily game-changing for most CAD use, not unless you’re frequently fetching and storing lots of big models.

Read Latency

But always remember there are two aspects to storage performance. Most think of bandwidth first, but read latency — the time from when the read is requested to the time when data is first received — can often be the bottleneck. Latency is the more serious performance issue when workloads and workflows mandate many short reads that bounce around between different data structures. And more so than bandwidth, it’s in the context of latency where SSDs truly shine.

Read latencies for HDDs can range from 10’s of milliseconds (seek and/or rotational delay) to a few seconds if those disks have to be spun up from an idle or power-saving mode. With no disks to rotate and no mechanical read heads to move around, read latencies for SSDs are comparatively trivial.

So the answer’s easy then, just outfit your drive bays with SSDs, right? It’s not that simple, as the HDDs have their compelling advantages as well, namely cost and capacity. Because while SSD prices per byte have come down a lot, they’re still down-right exorbitant compared to their disk-based siblings, in the range of 15 to 20 times more expensive. And while the differences in capacities are not quite as dramatic as that, the HDD has the clear advantage. Where 1.5 TB SATA drives are now commonplace, SSDs today are maxing out at around 160 GB.

My next post will help you sort through the options to find the right one for you.

Author: Alex Herrera

Four Things to Do With Your Old CAD Hardware System, Part 2: Donating and Recycling

December 1, 2011 1 comment

Donating or Recycling Your CAD WorkstationWe’re talking about what you can do with the older CAD hardware systems after an upgrade in this two-part series. The first section reviewed possible internal needs. Now we’ll look at what to do with hardware systems that are surplus or simply too outdated to be reused.

Note: before donating or recycling old computer equipment, consider your data security needs. If your CAD data is proprietary or classified, take steps to make sure you don’t inadvertently transfer information along with the hardware system.

3. Donate It

If you really have no use for an old machine or two around the office, call your local nonprofit organization or school district. Sometimes tech schools also accept old computers to use in labs or as training tools. Many organizations have minimum donation standards, so be sure to ask to make sure your potential donation truly meet their needs. There’s no point donating a machine that will only be a burden, not an asset.

Many charitable organizations, like Goodwill, take your old computer parts and sell them to raise money. Look for a company in your area.

4. Recycle It

It’s important that you do not throw your old computer parts into the trash. Computers include many hazardous chemicals that should not end up in landfills. Many states have a law about the disposal and recycling of electronics.

Find a reputable recycler in your area that will dispose of the electronics properly. The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of organizations that accept computers as donations or for recycling on their website. If you don’t know of any local organizations that accept computer systems, start here.

Make a Plan for Your Old CAD Systems Too

Some PC manufacturers have their own donation programs. Dell, for example, works with a foundation that provides computers to disabled children ( We recommend asking manufacturers or retailers if they have an in-house donation or recycling program when you are planning your software and hardware upgrade, which can simplify the logistics for your IT team.

What do you do with your old CAD systems after a hardware upgrade? Let us know in the comments below.

Author: Cadalyst Staff