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-- by Serdar Yegulalp
Smartly designed, low-priced CAD programs like DesignCAD 97 are challenging AutoCAD's lock on the market. While AutoCAD and DesignCAD offer many similar features, they differ radically in terms of overall packaging and pricing.
AutoCAD Release 14
Because it is entirely 32-bit, AutoCAD Release 14 is compatible with Windows 95 or Windows NT. NT yields the best performance, since there's support for true multithreading and less 16-bit CPU overhead. AutoCAD makes the most of the Windows interface by offering dockable toolbars and standard dialog boxes. In addition, it introduces intelligent OLE support, which allows you to perform powerful tasks like pasting links to a specific view of an AutoCAD drawing.
AutoCAD also supports a sophisticated level of scripting and programmability through AutoLISP. With Release 14, the program incorporates more aggressive use of the standard Windows interface objects and ActiveX technology.
The program offers two types of 3D polygonal (nonray traced) rendering: fast-and-basic or anti-aliased (closer to presentation quality). You can balance quality vs. speed by choosing between Phong and Gouraud shading. However, even at slow speeds, AutoCAD does not produce the kind of photo-realistic rendering available from programs like trueSpace. For photo-realistic rendering and animation, Autodesk offers 3D Studio software through its Kinetix division.
With the extremely sophisticated ObjectARX program, AutoCAD can treat parts of drawings as discrete objects instead of just raw shapes. ObjectARX allows an object's function to be exported with the object to other applications, such as CAM programs. However, it's only useful where supported.
This Internet-ready software can export objects and scenes as VRML worlds and attach hotlinks to elements of a drawing.
Like AutoCAD, DesignCAD 97 is an Internet-ready 32-bit program that offers better performance on Windows NT than on Windows 95. It resembles AutoCAD in its use of dockable toolbars and standard dialog boxes, and its support for scripting and programmability.
DesignCAD offers the BasicCAD language, which supports a rich range of VBA-like commands. DesignCAD also provides extensions that allow it to be driven from Visual Basic or Visual C++
DesignCAD's two types of 3D polygonal rendering allow you to balance quality and speed when working with Phong and Gouraud shading. This program cannot produce photo-realistic rendering, but it can export files to 3D Studio. In addition, DesignCAD 97 has built-in animation tools that let you render VRML or AVI files.
Several DesignCAD 97 features will appeal to creative users. A unique Hammer tool lets you deform shapes creatively, albeit with precision. Shapes are treated like objects and can be grouped and handled as a single entity.
Two tough competitors
AutoCAD's tools are more precise than those of DesignCAD. Both programs let you specify tolerances between objects, but AutoCAD has far more tolerance measurements to apply.
The applications differ in their levels of programming sophistication. Despite its features, BasicCAD is less refined than AutoLISP, although it is easier to learn and exploit.
AutoCAD, with its attendant high price tag and learning curve, is for the pros. It's designed to be integrated into manufacturing and high-end simulation. Diehard pros and long-standing AutoCAD mavens should grab Release 14. However, if its price, learning curve and extensive features are overkill, consider DesignCAD 97.
AutoCAD and DesignCAD include a wealth of features aimed at different types of users, which is why both appear on our WinList.