It’s easy to test graphics boards in desktop computers: you pop off the lid, disable the existing board, stick in the new one in a spare slot, reboot the computer, and install the new display drivers. But laptop computers are different, because the graphics circuitry cannot be disabled or replaced. There is no spare slot; you can’t change what’s inside of them.

Another issue is that high-end graphics boards consume a lot of power, often 100 Watts or more. The computer needs a power supply that can provide the extra 100-150W. If the desktop computer’s power supply is too weak, you can pop in a stronger one. In contrast, laptops are designed to sip power to maximize battery life.

So when it came time to test NVIDIA’s new top of the line mobile graphics, the no-spare-slot and insufficient-power problems would be solved if only NVIDIA could provide a loaner laptop already outfitted with their new graphics system. There was a bit of a delay as we waited for HP to start making and then begin shipping their brand new ZBook 17 engineering laptops.

Although this is a review of the K5100 graphics board, I have to also talk a bit about the ZBook, because the two are integrated as one computer.

NVIDIA Quadro K5100M Graphics

As plain as its name may sound, the Quadro K5100M is a beautiful graphics subsystem from NVIDIA (see figure 1). The M is short for “mobile,” indicating it is meant for laptop computers. It uses NVIDIA’s new Kepler architecture, and so has more CUDA cores than earlier generations. And, it comes with up to 8GB of memory, which is useful for holding complex renderings entirely in its memory. NVIDIA reports that the mobile version is actually more powerful than its desktop equivalent.

nvidia_k5100m_graphics_fig.1
Figure 1: The K5100M’s GPU in the lower left corner, surround by eight 1GB RAM modules

CUDA is short for “compute unified device architecture” and is NVIDIA’s system of performing parallel computations on the hundreds or thousands of GPU cores (graphics processing units) that power graphics boards. GPUs are designed naturally to run calculations in parallel, unlike the CPUs found in Pentium or iCore chips; these are better suited to sequential operations. While most CAD software does not lend itself to parallel computations, application such as finite element analysis and rendering are readily processed through parallel operations, and so suited to CUDA.

Here are is full specifications list of the graphics board:

  • Parallel Processor Cores: 1,536
  • Maximum Memory: 8GB
  • Memory Type: GDDR5
  • Memory Interface: 256-bit
  • Memory Bandwidth: 115.2GB/sec
  • Maximum Power Consumption (TGP or total graphics power draw): 100W
  • OpenGL: 4.3
  • Shader Model: 5.0
  • DirectX: 11
  • Display Port: 1.2

The K5100M supports NVIDIA’s collection of utility software, including:

  • 3D Vision Pro for displaying images in 3D
  • Mosaic for displaying a single image over multiple monitors (up to eight)
  • nView for display management
  • Optimus for switching between integrated (power saving) and discrete (powerful) graphics

There are a whole lot of other features buried within the K5100M, but they pertain towards high-end rendering and gaming, two things that I don’t have enough knowledge about to speak to. However, I can talk about how well this card performed with SolidWorks. For instance, the 8GB of frame buffering means you won’t have lag with large assemblies and models.

HP ZBook 17

After the HP ZBook 17 mobile workstation arrived on my doorstep (see figure 2), I was able to get started. Being able to test out a top-of-the-line graphics card on a top-of-the-line mobile workstation is awesome. Sending it back will not be easy.

nvidia_k5100m_graphics_fig.2
Figure 2: HP’s Zbook 17 mobile workstation

First, let’s talk about what’s under the hood of the laptop, shall we? The ZBook I received came with Intel’s Core i7-4900MQ quad-core CPU running at 2.8GHz, with 16GB RAM and Windows 7 Pro 64-bit. It’s expandable to 32GB of memory and 2.8 TB of storage.

On the outside, it has a 17.3″ diagonal screen and a slew of I/O ports, such as three USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt port. At 7.67 pounds, it’s just over a pound heavier than my 15″ Dell. Not too bad a tradeoff for the extra horsepower.

I’ll admit it, it’s a sexy machine. While my Dell is only a year old, the HP makes it seem completely out of date and loud. The HP is a quiet, yet powerful beast. It’s sleek, has a great display and performs as well as any desktop workstation I’ve had in recent memory.

Running SolidWorks

My only other experience with an HP product was a tower which I was provided with at a former job, and I liked it well enough. But I loved how SolidWorks behaved on the new HP laptop. I messed around with it for hours, trying to bog it down – without success. HP has been a partner with SolidWorks for years, and so it stands to reason that they’d play well together; with the ZBook, they didn’t disappoint.

Honestly, I could sit here and heap on the accolades for the rest of this article, but I won’t. I will, however, point out that the ZBook I tested out was their top of the line model, upgraded to the K5100M card and Intel CPU, which would cost extra. For instance, the K5100M adds $2,150 to the price of the laptop. On HP’s Web site, I was able to custom spec the machine in prices ranging from a low of $2,280 to a high of $10,230. HP also has 15″ and 13″ versions of the ZBook.

The Challenger

The downside is that I’d have to compare the K5100M to the AMD FirePro M5950 graphics in my Dell laptop. So be it. For comparison’s sake, the specs for the AMD FirePro M5950 graphics on my year-old Dell are as follows:

  • Frame Buffer: 1GB GDDR5
  • Stream Processors: 480
  • Engine Clock: 725 MHz
  • Memory Speed: 3.6 Gbps
  • Memory Bandwidth: 57.6GB/sec
  • Memory Interface: 128-bit

So it’s not exactly a fair fight, but I think that the AMD’s specs are more common among graphics cards than those of the high-end NVIDIA. But by comparing the two, it’ll allow you to see how the other half lives, as it were.

Testing

The first 3D model I chose to test in SolidWorks was one that I had on my hard drive (see figure 3). While not huge, it has a large number of edges which tend to wreak havoc on the graphics when manipulating it.

nvidia_k5100m_graphics_fig.3
Figure 3: My 3D test model of stacked containers has lots of edges

Here’s what I discovered: there wasn’t a whole lot of difference between the two cards. While the K5100M was slightly faster and smoother while rotating, I did not find it all that noticeable. To affect a difference, I applied different backgrounds and different materials, and changed system settings. But in the end it really made no difference.

This does not come as a big surprise to me. We’ve long known that unless we’re doing high-end renderings or animations, that a high-end graphics card isn’t going to help much. Time and again, it’s been proven that large assemblies will perform quite well with mid-range cards and that a high-end card is simply overkill.

Not content to accept such close results, I decided to run a test with a much larger assembly. Whereas the first assembly is about 3MB, the second assembly is a robust 61MB, chock-full of edges and patterns and configurations (see figure 4).

nvidia_k5100m_graphics_fig.4
Figure 4: : The 61MB test assembly of a lifting platform

As one might expect, the K5100-enabled HP handled the assembly beautifully, while the Dell was sluggish. These results were present during Realview and shaded with edges. On the other hand, there wasn’t a noticeable difference between the two machines when the view was simply shaded.

While I’m no rendering guru, nor do I have any special rendering software outside of Photoview360, I did see a speed difference when I rendered the above assemblies into the pictures below (see figure 5). These containers took 8:36 on my Dell and 7:29 on the HP – 15% faster.

nvidia_k5100m_graphics_fig.5
Figure 5: Rendering of the stacked containers test assembly with SolidWorks

The platform, however, was a much different story (see figure 6). On my Dell, the rendering 1:45:18 (hours:minutes:seconds); on the HP, 1:05:49 – 60% faster.

nvidia_k5100m_graphics_fig.6
Figure 5: Rendering the lifting platform

Granted, the HP is a more powerful workstation, but that’s not really the point is it? Most of the rendering processing is handled by the graphics board, not the CPU.

Conclusion

NVIDIA and HP both have come out with a great offering for those of us who need to use mobile workstations. The M5100-line of graphics boards shows a significant time advantage for complex renderings, as well as overall smoother performance for everyday SolidWorks designing. Together, they make for a screaming system that I’d love to keep.

March 2, 2014 · Posted in Hardware Review  
    

Over the past few months, I’ve had the opportunity to play with a few different computer systems; Xi, Boxx, HP and Dell. While the first three were desktops, and pretty much equal, the Dell is my M4600 and a bit lesser than the others. Unlike other hardware reviews, I’m not going to list the system specs. Why? Well, the Xi and HP were work computers and, sadly, I’m no longer employed and don’t have access to the specs any longer. Dammit. Also, I’m not a hard core hardware guy like others I know (Charles & Anna). When all is said and done, I want a computer that does what I need it to do without giving me a headache. Three out of the four did/do just that.

Let’s start with my Dell M4600. It’s my everyday workhorse. It’s what I write these incredibly in-depth blog posts on. It’s what I do my surfing on. My software testing. My Facebooking and much of my tweeting. While it’s not as fast as the three desktops, I have had only two issues with all of the Dells that I’ve used over the years. One was a BIOS issue and, just last week, two of my USB ports started screwing up. In both cases, Dell tech support responded quickly and extremely satisfactorily. I know that others have had less than stellar experiences with Dell, but that hasn’t been my experience. Honestly, I just love my Dell just as I loved my past ones. My sons now use my 5-year old Dell, God help it.

Next is the Boxx 4050 Xtreme Series, which I just sent back to them. What an incredible machine! I mean it was absolutely rock solid and fast. I will admit that it’s a bit tough to go back to using SolidWorks on my Dell after experiencing the Boxx. If I remember correctly, it had a Windows Experience rating of 7.1, with graphics and processor both at 7.9. Speaking of graphics, they were incredible thanks to the Quadro2000 graphics card. It was a quiet computer, too. Where it was speeding along, I expected the cooling fans to be louder than the dull hum that I did hear. I think the biggest drawback is the ~$4,000 price tag attached to it. That can be quite a bit to swallow, especially for smaller companies. The upside is you get what you pay for; Boxx loaded this thing. There was something like 12 USB ports on it! Seriously, who needs that many peripherals? I so wish I could have kept it, but it’s way outside my budget.

The HP Z420 was a solid machine. Obviously, it wasn’t as fast as the Boxx, but it was fast enough for what I needed. I believe its Windows Experience rating was about 7.0 with only the processor sitting at 7.9 (SolidState Drive). It, too, was a very quiet machine. I really liked it and, if memory serves me correctly, it was only around $2,000 with the upgrades we put in. Well worth the money and a great value for what you get. I’ve heard, though, that they can be a bit temperamental and can be prone to slowdowns. In the short time I used it, I didn’t experience slowdowns, but did have one graphics glitch which disappeared with a restart.

Last is the Xi. Out of the box this was a demon child. As soon as I started it, one of the cooling fans was making noise. I called tech support and got them to send me another fan. No bueno. Still had the noise upon startup. Thankfully, as the machine warmed up the sound would lessen. After going back and forth with them, and opening up the box a few times, I was able to determine that it was the fan on the cooling tower that was causing the issue. I couldn’t quite figure out why, when it was a mechanical issue, that the sound would lessen after warming up. Nonetheless, that issue was finally fixed. The fan didn’t stop me from using the Xi, and it was fast computer. Its Windows Experience was around 7.0, with the processor and graphics up around 7.7. The graphics were excellent. Then I got a BSOD. I haven’t seen one in 10+ years and never on a brand new computer. What got me though way Xi’s customer service. Their cavalier attitude about it (“these things happen”) really didn’t sit well with me at all. I lost complete confidence in the computer and the company, and returned the computer. I’m still a bit torqued that they were so “meh” about the BSOD. What does that say about their product that something like that would appear to be routine? Needless to say, I won’t be buying from them in the future.

If I were to rate them based on performance, it’d be: Boxx, HP, Dell, Xi.

If I were to rate them based on reliability, it’d be: Dell, Boxx/Hp, Xi

If I were to rate them based on preference, it’d be: Boxx, Dell, Hp, Xi

These are my opinions. Take ‘em or leave ‘em.

April 2, 2013 · Posted in Hardware Review, SolidWorks Community  
    

Mcor_IRIS DSC_2928

One of the things I enjoy about SolidWorks World is seeing all the technology out there that one can use with SolidWorks, be it hardware or software. Leading up to the show, I was contacted by Julie Reece, the Director of Marketing for Mcor Technologies. Unlike most marketing people who ask me if I’d be interested in looking at their product, Julie made it quite apparent that I didn’t have a choice in the matter lest I suffer severe bodily harm. (I suppose, too, it might be because I’ve known Julie for a few years now from her days at Z-Corp that I agreed. Plus, I was hoping to score some cool swag.)  It was a solid 30 minute interview that I recorded so I would be able to write a comprehensive article. Sadly, my iPhone picked up all the background noise as well, rendering the vast majority of the recording useless. Nonetheless, I’ll shall do my best.

I met with Dr. Conor MacCormack, Co-Founder and CEO of Mcor. Conor and his brother, Fintan, started Mcor in 2005 with the goal of creating an easy-to-use, low cost, full color 3D printer that used stable and readily available materials. They felt, too, that the offerings that were on the market were not environmentally friendly, were expensive and used unstable consumables. They also didn’t want to design such a printer but have it be so expensive that its price point was too high, so they chose a price they wanted to be at and designed to that. From that was born the Matrix and Iris printers.

The media used in these printers is paper. Like the kind you can just go down to Office Depot and get. Regular old letter size paper. The skull you see above? Made from Paper. If that’s not eco-friendly, I don’t know what is. “What about the binding agent?” you ask? Slightly modified white, eco-friendly, glue. Should the need arise you can pour it down the drain, though I don’t know why you’d ever have to. Seriously, why would you need to pour it down the drain? I suppose if you caught your kid dipping fruit in it or…sorry, I digress.

The way that it works is pretty simple. The software cuts your model into paper-thin slices. Each of these slices are then printed on the aforementioned paper. The printer is a standard printer, using Mcor’s proprietary ink. This ink doesn’t just sit on the paper, it permeates it so that your 3D print doesn’t have white lines through it. You then load all the printed sheets into the 3D printer and it takes over from there. Should you drop any of the pages, they’re all numbered so you can realign it all. The printer, too, will recognize if the pages are out of whack and will stop printing. After each page is added, the platen rises up to press it to the existing pages. The blade then cuts the outline of the part and creates cuts outside of the part so you can easily remove the excess material. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. After a few hours, you have your part to play with. Their envelope is 9.4″L x 6.9″W x 5.9″H. You can put multiple prints together to create larger models, using the same glue. With x, y, z resolution of .0004″, .0004″, .004″ and 1,000,000 + colors, those models can be pretty impressive.

Mcor is also in partnership with Staples Office Centre, offering 3D printing to the masses. It would seem to be a strictly European partnership as I couldn’t find anything here on this side of the ocean. Just another case of trying to keep the colonies down, I suppose.

Conor, Fintan, and their team have come up with something pretty cool here. The printers have the ability to produce living hinges, full-color prototypes, and cool models, all in a desktop package. Well, that may be a bit of a stretch. It will fit on a desktop, but you’d want to use the table that comes with the printer. The prints can be sealed and sanded to better improve the resolution and to protect them from water. The examples they had on display were impressive, having been created with paper. The $30,000 price tag on the Iris isn’t too bad, comparatively speaking, but the consumables costs are lower than any others.

Am I sold on Mcor? I certainly like what they can do and I also like that they’re environmentally friendly. Their printing capabilities are on par with other companies out there. Their price point is very good, which should keep ROI on the short side. Taking all that into consideration, yes, I’m sold.

February 3, 2013 · Posted in Hardware Review, Interview, SolidWorks Community  
    

This past Friday, I spent the day at Z Corporation and SolidWorks. It was my first time actually visiting Z Corp, and I was excited for it. So much so, that I got my days messed up and actually went down Thursday. Sucks getting old…Anyway, Julie Reece, Z Corp’s Director or Marketing Communication, was kind enough to be my hostess and show me around their facility. Naturally, one thing that dominated the office landscape was 3D prints. There were  shoes and skulls and girls, oh my!

 

 

 

I’d love to know who got to scan that last one…

Ok, back on track. Something I didn’t realize was that Z Corp actually builds and ships right from their offices in Burlington. While the parts to make the printers are outsourced, everything is assembled and tested on site. They’ve even won an award for Lean Manufacturing. The culture in the office is very casual, as it appeared to me. Even their CEO, John Kawola, is a member of the cubicle farm. Quite refreshing in this age of executive excess.

Julie began to talk to me about “the video”, and how it had brought out a lot of curiosity seekers. I had to stop her and admit that I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. Turns out that National Geographic’s Known Universe did a story on Z Corporation and their printing capabilities. This ended up bringing out the curious and disbelievers. One guy even showed up at Z Corp’s office just to find out if what he saw was real. This technology, which so many of us are familiar with, is completely alien to the vast majority of non-engineer/designers out there. My Dad saw a clip about it on the local news (he lives in Maine), and likened Z Corp’s printers to Star Trek’s “Replicator”. Sorry, Dad, they’re getting closer but you still can’t get it to make a steak. For those of you who haven’t seen the video, here it is:

If you find yourself in the Boston area with nothing to do, get in touch with Julie. I’m sure she’d love to show you all that Z Corp can do for you.

August 30, 2011 · Posted in Hardware Review, Interview, SolidWorks Community  
    

How does one go about reviewing a book, without bias, when said book was written by friends? Well, if you’re me, you just do it. I’ve never had a problem separating business and pleasure and, in this case, this is all business.

Alex Ruiz, with help from Gabi Jack, has written a SolidWorks book for beginners. SolidWorks 2010: No Experience Required is, truly, written for the beginner. It starts you off by going through system requirements, then into how to start the program once installed, to the UI. They go through the UI in great detail which, I suspect, is highly beneficial to new users. Alex does a good job of explaining what the toolbars do, what the Feature Manager is for, and what shortcuts are available out of the box. (Though I didn’t see any mention of ctrl+1 (front), ctrl+2 (back), etc.)

With step-by-step instructions, the book walks the reader through each phase of part/assembly/drawing creation and, in the end, the user will have created a desk lamp. With tips and tricks throughout, the user will not only learn the basics, but can glean info that will help speed up their design processes.

SolidWorks 2010: No Experience Required is a highly detailed manual, and would seem to be perfect for the beginner. I think adding a section on repairing/understanding errors would be highly beneficial, though. Being able to handle errors early on makes life so much easier for the newbie, if you ask me.

I also disagree with showing Instant3D. Frankly, I think it can cause the new user more problems than not. It doesn’t take much for someone to inadvertently drag a face and not fully realize what they’ve done. Instant3D, in my opinion, should be shown at an intermediate level or, at least, have some sort of disclaimer in bold about the possibility of hosing things up quite easily if you’re not paying attention.

Overall, I think the book is laid out well. It’s written clearly and concisely, if not a bit too simplified. I can see this book being extremely helpful to students especially. I give it a solid B.

May 2, 2010 · Posted in Hardware Review, SolidWorks Community  
    

A couple of weeks ago, I was visited by Daniel Brown of Creaform. He flew in to demo one of their scanners for me. While I was familiar with them somewhat, it was good to have another up close and personal viewing.

Daniel took some time to go over Creaform’s 3D Laser scanner product line, then set about showing me what the scanner he brought could do. Initially, I’d wanted him to scan in one of the smaller parts we design, but he was quite up front about the limitation of the scanner; in this case, small parts. The particular part is around 3 x 1 x 1/2, with a compound curve and some tiny ribs. It was mostly the ribs that would cause the issue, but the dimensions of the part were under the minimum recommended limit (~6″) as well.

Daniel started off by scanning in a mask he brought. While not your typical reverse engineering application, it did a great job of showing how well the scanner picked up the smallest details. The colors and texture of the mask came through very nicely. It was pretty impressive compared to what I’ve seen in the past.

Next, he scanned part of a container that Ultimate Survival makes. This was a much larger piece than the mask, but not as complex. As with the mask, the scanner brought in the color and texture nicely. The acquisition software, which comes with the scanner, made it easy to fill in the data that the scanner couldn’t pick up. (For those of you unfamiliar with scanning, areas of high reflectivity tend to not get picked up by the scanner. Typically, when dealing with shiny surfaces, you’ll powder them to lessen the shininess.)

Now here’s the good thing. Back when I last reviewed a scanner, you needed a third-party software to translate the captured data so that you could use it in SolidWorks. With the improvements to ‘Scan to 3D’, that need is, partially, gone. From the acquisition software, you can have an optimized surface. You can use a 3rd party software to further things along, but the optimized surface gets you what you need if you’re just interested in the overall shape of the object you’ve scanned. Should the need arise, you can add to said surface.

From what I understood, most people who are scanning are doing so just for the data, so the need for additional software isn’t there. If, however, you wanted to scan in your ’34 Chevy Roadster to redesign that bad boy, then you may want to make a further investment.

As it is, Creaform’s scanners will run you from $40k-$75k depending on the model. They all come with the acquistion software and training. I can definitely see how handy one of these scanners would be if you, or your company, did a lot of reverse engineering. They are great tools. Daniel told me that they’ve scanned the nose cone of a 737 and cars with them. They’re also popular with prosthetic manufacturers. It allows them to accurately create custom prosthetic, reducing patients discomfort greatly.

All-in-all, I was impressed by the scanner. The technology has come a long way since I last reviewed one. It’d be nice to see the price come down in the future, otherwise my boss is never going to approve my request.

July 30, 2009 · Posted in Hardware Review  
    

The actual title is SolidWorks Surfacing and Complex Shape Modeling Bible, but that was just too much to put in the title. Written by Matt Lombard, this book is part of the “Bible” series published by Wiley. Matt also wrote the SolidWorks 2007 Bible and is about to release the SolidWorks 2009 Bible.

On top of being a published author, Matt is also an accomplished engineer and a friend of mine (not that being a friend of mine is worth anything). That will have no affect on this review though. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t pull punches. However, anyone who knows Matt knows he’s good at what he does and he doesn’t do things half-assed. The Surfacing Bible is no exception. Matt takes the time to not only explain the “how”, but the “why” as well. For someone like me, who has limited surfacing experience, this info in invaluable. As with his other books, this one is for intermediate to advanced users. You do need to have a pretty good understanding of SolidWorks, and its related terminology, to be able to adequately use the book.

The book takes you from laying the groundwork to specialized techniques. There’s a great section that explains what surfaces are that then seques into when to use them versus solids. There’s a whole chapter on surfacing tools and how to use them, too. Throughout the book there are cross-reference links so you can easily find associated content. Matt also includes some excellent information on splines and 3D sketching.

One of the best features of the book, aside from the learning, is how Matt talks about limitations with the software and how to deal with said limitations. Bear in mind, this isn’t done maliciously but to help. It goes a long way to making your job easier to know what to expect, and not to expect, from the software.

The actual “lesson” chapters are clear, organized and easy to understand. Matt takes the time to not only show you how, but tells you why and mentions other ways this or that could have been accomplished. The illustrations are easy to understand, as is each step. There’s a chapter on evaluation geometry that covers all the various tools available to check your model (the check tool, curvature combs, etc).

As I’ve come to expect from Matt, this book is extremely thorough, even diving into post-processing (PhotoWorks, eDrawings). While I would have preferred a CD with the model files on it, a decision was made for a “Companion Website”. I suppose, though, that by doing it that way it allows for changes/fixes to be made to any files that may need it. I could actually write more about this book, but I don’t think it’s necessary. Matt’s knowledge of surfacing is well-known and he, seemingly, has put it all into the SolidWorks Surfacing and Complex Shape Modeling Bible. If you haven’t done so already, I strongly suggest you buy one today.

May 21, 2009 · Posted in Hardware Review, SolidWorks Community  
    

When 3DConnexions’s SpacePilot PRO came out, I, like so many others, jumped on the bandwagon and regurgitated the info from 3DConnexion’s marketing people. I then received a physical specimen to try out and ended up writing an open letter to SolidWorks and 3DConnexion because the drivers were messed up. My settings weren’t being saved, preset buttons weren’t working. Calls to tech support were useless. Were it not for the fact that there were others having the same issues, I’d have figured it was just me. I was extremely disappointed in 3DConnexion, and I’ve been a fan for years.

Well, that’s all in the past now. 3DConnexion updated their drivers and not only fixed the issues, but they made improvements, too. Previously, the LCD screen would just show a list of commands by number. This wasn’t very helpful, especially while getting used to the new set-up. With 10 different commands available via the five buttons, you had to know that the function assigned to #6 was the secondary function under button 1 (1/6, 2/7, 3/8, 4/9, 5/10). For me, it wasn’t overly intuitive. That, though, could just be a mental limitation on my part…
Back to my point. The new driver changed the visual to this:

spacepilotpro

As you can easily see, the interface is much more intuitive. Props to the folks at 3DConnexion for hitting the nail on the head there. I believe I mentioned that I was having the same sort of settings issues with my SpacePilot. While I haven’t had a chance to check it, I suspect this latest driver version would fix them, too. Both the SpacePilot and the SpacePilot PRO use the same driver.

I like the look and feel of the SpacePilot PRO. I always had issues with the 6 buttons that run across the top of the SpacePilot. I just didn’t like the layout. This didn’t stop me from using them, but I found myself stumbling once in a while. With the positioning of the buttons on the SpacePilot PRO, this doesn’t happen. Once I was able to remember what function I’d programmed to what button, I was able to find the button with my pinky quite quickly. The same holds true for the view buttons. By having my ‘S’ key macro mapped to the SpacePilot PRO, and having the shortcut bar set up the way I want it, my hand hardly ever has to leave the SpacePilot PRO.

Aside from stumbling out of the gate with the bad drivers I’d say 3DConnexion has another success story on their hands, especially with how quickly they fixed the driver. Granted, at US$499, it’ll be out of reach for some, but if you can swing the cost I’d recommend it. Look around, you can sometimes get a demo device to give it a test drive.

May 11, 2009 · Posted in Hardware Review, SolidWorks Community  
    

3dconnexion-logo

3Dconnexion has a new controller, one that makes my SpacePilot seem like last year’s technology (actually, it’s about 4 years old). The SpacePilot PRO is, basically, a SpacePilot on steroids. 3Dconnexion took input from their customer base and have squeezed all sorts of new goodies into the SpacePilot PRO.

The main features they’re touting:

  • Larger Full-Color LCD Workflow Assistant
  • Quick-Navigation View Keys
  • Navigation-Settings Keys
  • Intelligent Application Function Keys
  • Six-Degrees-of-Freedom Sensor
  • Optimized Comfort Design
  • Keyboard Modifier Keys
  • Sensitivity Control Keys
  • Standard 3D Mouse Keys
  • Workflow Assistant Control Keys

A color LCD screen that not only shows you available commands, it’ll show you your inbox or upcoming meetings or tasks. You can write your own code to create your own applet as well. How about a Twitter-like app for when you have multiple designers on a project or displaying PDM status?

Dual function buttons. I liked this more than the color screen. You have your typical view buttons: Right, Front, Top and Isometric. But, by holding any button down, you get a secondary view. Top/Bottom, Right/Left, Front/Back, Iso1/Iso2. There’s also a fifth button to rotate any given view by 90 Clockwise or Counter-clockwise. All told, you can get 32 different views with 5 button. Add to that the ability to not only toggle on/off rotation, but zoom/pan as well. Man, things just keep getting better!

The function keys are now dual function as well. Granted, this only adds four more functions, but with the whole ‘S’ key thing, that should cover most all that you’d want, right?

The SpacePilot PRO is said to be more ergonomic than the SpacePilot. From what I was told, 3Dconnexion’s engineers spent two months tweaking the shape until it was perfect, or at least their version of perfect. I’ll let you know if they passed of failed once I get my sticky fingers on one. I’ll also be sure to write a comprehensive review for the overall product. Being the techno-geek that I am, I can’t wait to try this one out once Mr. UPS/FedEx/Postman delivers it!:

spacepilotpro

The full press release for those who’d like to read it:

3Dconnexion Launches Its Most Powerful 3D Mouse Ever: the SpacePilot PRO

Integrated Color LCD Workflow Assistant, QuickView Navigation Technology, and Intelligent Function Keys Save Time and Reduce Interruptions

FREMONT, Calif. April 16, 2009 To meet the rigorous demands of design engineers working in powerful 3D applications, 3Dconnexion today announced the new SpacePilot PRO. The companys flagship 3D mouse is designed to deliver advanced control of 3D models, easier access to the power of professional 3D applications, fewer interruptions in the design workflow, and superior comfort. Specifically, the SpacePilot PRO features a new color LCD Workflow Assistant, second-generation QuickView Navigation technology, Intelligent Function keys, and an improved design for enhanced comfort and control.

3Dconnexions 3D mice have rewritten the rules on the way design engineers and professionals interact with 3D environments, said Dieter Neujahr, president of 3Dconnexion. Our new SpacePilot PRO builds on our market-leading industry experience, delivering the most powerful 3D mouse weve ever made. It enables increased performance that ultimately results in better designs, created in less time.

The SpacePilot PRO 3D mouse provides the highest level of performance features ever available from 3Dconnexion, including:

- LCD Workflow Assistant: The color LCD lists function-key assignments and provides at-a-glance access to Microsoft Outlook e-mail, calendar and task lists, allowing professionals to access important information for a fully integrated design experience with fewer distractions. Through 3Dconnexions open software architecture, the workflow assistant can be further customized to meet the needs of individuals, companies and software vendors.

- Advanced MCAD Navigation: Five new dual-function QuickView Navigation keys
improve error detection, design review, and design presentation by providing one-touch access to the following views: top and bottom, right and left, front and back, two isometric views, and 90-degree view rotation of any view either clockwise or counter-clockwise for a total of 32 views. A short press activates a keys primary view command, while pressing and holding a key activates a secondary view command. In addition, new Navigation Setting keys offer simplified and customizable control, allowing professionals to turn pan-and-zoom, rotation and one-axis control on or off, making it easier to define navigation settings for certain work modes.

- Intelligent Function Keys: Five new fully customizable, dual-function keys offer immediate, one-touch access to 10 frequently used commands within any supported 3D application. The SpacePilot PRO automatically detects the active application and assigns appropriate function keys whether default or customized. The color LCD denotes the function key assignments and application mode so engineers can easily identify commands and design states.

- Superior Comfort: The SpacePilot PRO has a new sculpted, soft-coated wrist rest that positions the hand in relation to the controller cap to support a balanced workflow. The micro-precision six-degrees-of-freedom sensor allows for fingertip control with minimal effort from the arm, wrist and hand, while frequently used commands are conveniently positioned at your fingertips. The intuitive and symmetrical layout of the function keys makes the device usable with either hand.

About 3Dconnexion 3D Mice

Unlike traditional mice confined to motion on one flat plane, 3Dconnexion 3D mice enable design engineers to move in all three dimensions simultaneously, using six-degreesof-freedom sensor technology. By gently lifting, pressing and turning the controller cap, design engineers can easily pan, zoom and rotate without stopping to select commands. Using a 3D mouse together with a traditional mouse engages both hands into a balanced and cooperative work style.

3Dconnexion provides advanced and affordable 3D mice that are supported by more than 130 of todays leading and powerful 3D applications, including Autodesk InventorTM, SolidWorksTM, CATIATM, Pro/ENGINEERTM, NXTM and Solid EdgeTM. For a complete list of applications supported by 3Dconnexion, visit www.3dconnexion.com/solutions.

Compatibility, Pricing and Availability

The SpacePilot PRO is backed by a three-year warranty, and is currently available at a suggested retail price of $499. The SpacePilot PRO is supported by Windows XP, Windows Vista, Sun Solaris 8 (SPARC), Sun Solaris 10 (x86), and Linux (Redhat Enterprise Linux WS 4, SuSE 9.3 or later). Linux and Solaris support workflow assistant function key assignments only.

The entire 3Dconnexion product line, including the Professional Series with the SpacePilot (MSRP $399) and SpaceExplorer (MSRP $299), and the Standard Series with the SpaceNavigator (MSRP $99) and SpaceNavigator for Notebooks (MSRP $129), are available from professional CAD resellers and major online resellers including CDW, Insight, PC Connection, and PC Mall. For a complete list of resellers or to buy directly, visit www.3Dconnexion.com.

About 3Dconnexion, a Logitech Company
3Dconnexion, a wholly owned subsidiary of Logitech (SIX: LOGN) (Nasdaq: LOGI), is the leading provider of 3D mice for 3D design and visualization. 3Dconnexion devices support todays most popular and powerful 3D applications by offering users a more intuitive and natural way to interact with computer-generated 3D content. 3Dconnexions award-winning 3D mice serve a wide variety of industries and are used by 3D designers, animators and artists worldwide. 3Dconnexion is headquartered in Fremont, Calif. with European headquarters in Seefeld, Germany and offices worldwide. For more information, visit www.3Dconnexion.com.

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2009 3Dconnexion. All rights reserved. 3Dconnexion, the 3Dconnexion logo, and other 3Dconnexion marks are owned by 3Dconnexion and may be registered. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

April 16, 2009 · Posted in Hardware Review, SolidWorks Community  
    

About two weeks ago I came home to find a large box addressed to me. Inside was a test computer from ATI loaded with their FirePro V5700 graphics card. ATI asked that some of us bloggers test out this card some time ago and I got to be one of the first. I haven’t touched an ATI card in four or five years. I had all sorts of annoying problems and haven’t heard enough good things in the intervening years to want to. However, I was looking forward to trying this one out. In the past few months, there’s been some rumblings about ATI and the progress they’ve made with their cards.

The machine they sent was an HP wx4600 with the following specs:

  • XP Pro – 32 bit
  • Core2 Duo E8600@3.33 GHz
  • 4Gb Ram
  • ATI FirePro V5700 (Driver version 8.543.0.0)
  • It came loaded with SolidWorks Premium 2009 as well.

I created all sorts of funky models, assemblies and their related drawings and was not unhappy with the results. I loaded up a large assembly I have (~4500 parts) and, again, not unhappy with the results. I didn’t see any of the “ghosting” I’ve seen, and heard about, nor was there any choppiness or any other funky graphics issues. In the model/assembly arena, the card did very well.

The one area that I did see a problem was in PhotoWorks. Some of the renderings I did just weren’t quite right. The part would have striations running through it and I kept losing the reflection off the floor. Obviously, if you use PhotoWorks, this would cause you great pains. Just to be sure, I tried the exact same thing on my M4300, and didn’t see the same thing. As a matter of fact, the renders looked much nicer.

Another thing that I couldn’t quite figure out was the settings for the card. With nVidia cards, there’s a nice interface where you get choose your 3D package and let it drive the settings. For someone like me, that’s a huge bonus. With the ATI interface, I saw no such options. There were a bunch of different categories to choose from, and you’d get previews of changes, but I, personally, just wasn’t sure about what I was changing sometimes. Obviously, this could be attributed to my lack of knowledge in the graphics settings area.

Overall, the card wasn’t bad. Would I run out and buy one? No, it just didn’t impress me enough to switch from nVidia. Plus, the issues with PhotoWorks make me a bit leery. However, individual test results may vary. Over the coming weeks, the other bloggers will be writing about their experiences with the same machine, so stay tuned.

April 9, 2009 · Posted in Hardware Review, SolidWorks Community  
    

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