Newest Autodesk apps marching to the 64-bit beat

August 11, 2010

Autodesk's latest releases of their design applications Revit Architecture 2010 and AutoCAD 2010 both come with extensive new features that completely transform the programs' user interfaces, allow more freeform and conceptual modeling, and increase their ease of use. The 2010 products also feature one-license, out-of-the-box compatibility with both 32- and 64-bit machines. This will give design firms even more reason to switch to 64-bit sooner.

Revit Architecture 2010: New ribbon interface

Revit Architecture 2010 introduces new features in the most significant redesign of the program since 2007. The most immediately apparent is the ribbon interface similar to the AutoCAD 2009 and Microsoft Office 2007 ribbons. Some longtime Revit users have been griping about the new user interface, but since the ribbon is now standardized on nearly every Autodesk product, I wouldn't expect it to go away anytime soon.

The Revit toolbar is made up of contextual icons that are grouped by task and change to show tools relevant to the task you're performing. The tools designers use most often are on the ribbon. The new interface also contains a customizable quick-access toolbar to which any tool on the ribbon can be added, allowing even quicker access to your commonly used tools. Tips and images appear in rollover states on each tool in the ribbon. The contextual nature of the new UI also improves feature discoverability for both new and old users alike, making adoption easier.

"The ribbon is based on the tasks that are most commonly performed in Revit," said Chico Membreno, technical marketing manager for Revit Architecture. "The product design team got a lot of feedback from users saying, 'Make the UI easier to use,' and many of the requests went into this new design."

The objective of making Revit easier was extended to the new conceptual design tools. While there's been a lot written on the Web about the UI, the biggest difference between the new release and Revit 2009 is support for freeform modeling. Revit Architecture 2010's freeform modeling tools allow designers to test out shapes and curves before committing them to a final model. The tools allow users to design in 3D where forms such as sweeps, extrusions, and lofts are easily created; these forms can be easily warped and twisted with direct manipulation of points, edges, and faces in 3D, just as with NURBS (nonuniform rational B-splines) surfaces. Designers have long used NURBS programs such as Rhino 3D to create organic forms and then import them into Revit.

Revit's geometric modeling engine supports solids and surfaces. Revit is not a polygonal modeler. It deals with "analytics," or smooth surfaces and solids, not representations. It supports many different surface types, such as planes, cylinders, spheres, ruled surfaces, and NURBS surfaces. Intricate and complex forms can be created within the Revit Architecture 2010 family editor environment and loaded directly into a project, or even created in place on a project; the forms will retain all their data and be editable when used in another project. The gap that previously existed between importing outside geometric information into Revit—which could cause data loss and the need for rework—has been narrowed.

Other Revit Architecture 2010 improvements:The 3D hardware acceleration has been moved over to Direct 3D from OpenGL. Direct 3D is more integrated into the Windows OS than OpenGL, so this should lead to faster processing and increased stabilityBetter control for line weights and patterns used for underlays: When printing views, you can specify that halftones print as thin lines to retain print fidelity, a small change that makes a big difference for presentations and print accuracy.AutoCAD 2010: Customized by profession

AutoCAD also adds a lot of revolutionary features with the 2010 release, the first of which you'll probably see when you first open the upgraded program. Before AutoCAD 2010 launches, a screen pops up and asks you which AEC field you work in—architecture, civil engineering, MEP, structural engineering, manufacturing, or the default "other." Your response determines the tool palette and workspace that pops up, instantly customizing it with the most common tools for that sector. It's a nice timesaver for IT managers used to having to instruct or customize UIs for different disciplines.

I tried architecture, MEP, and structural with my beta and box copies of AutoCAD and found the customized palette and workspaces very useful. Geometry, space volume, and other features are there automatically. The 64-bit out-of-the-box version moved a lot faster on my performance machine with an Intel Nehalem, 2.8-GHz dual-core processors, but still worked capably on my older Intel Core 2 Duo 32-bit machine.

AutoCAD added a ribbon UI in 2009, but you can now "tear away" a panel from the ribbon and float it over the drawing window you're working on. You can also customize contextual ribbon states, meaning you can pick the ribbon tabs and panels that are selected when an entity is chosen or a command is active.

The biggest changes in AutoCAD, though, are not in the UI, but in the advanced support for PDF insertion and creation and freeform and parametric drawing tools.

With AutoCAD 2010 you can add geometrical and dimensional constraints to objects. You can force a line to remain perpendicular to another line, or a circle to remain tangential to a line no matter how the original is modified. This is something Autodesk Inventor has been able to do for the last few versions, and the functionality has finally made it to AutoCAD. The parametric constraints are robust, too. You can add line parameters that are coincident (share a point), collinear, concentric, vertical, tangential, symmetric, smooth, or equal.

Freeform 3D design. AutoCAD keeps adding 3D tools, and AutoCAD 2010 adds the most significant 3D design tools yet, surface functionality with 3D editing. With these tools you can grip-edit faces, vertices, and edges of basic shapes created with lines and turn them into complex surface meshes. It's a quantum leap for 3D design in AutoCAD.

The enhanced PDF output functionality includes layer support, which is important because you can now attach PDF files to drawings as underlays. With layer support it's now possible to snap to objects within the PDF underlay and control the visibility of layers within PDF underlays. For example, an MEP engineer can now access accurate data from an architectural drawing without an architect having to give up control of the original drawing file.

PDF output from AutoCAD 2010 now creates much smaller files. Most of the data savings comes from exporting True Type text as fonts rather than as graphics. This also makes outputted PDFs easier to search and copy text from. AutoCAD 2010 now supports 3D printing more directly.

Autodesk's new versions of its design applications have significant enhancements that can deliver productivity gains to design firms that use them properly. They also play better with each other thanks to the UI enhancements.

A recommendation I would make to any AEC firm considering upgrading is to make the switch to 64-bit workstations along with BIM tools such as Revit. With both versions available out of the box, switching to 64-bit allows your hardware to deal with the large file sizes of 3D models much more quickly and efficiently, especially if your firm is looking to upgrade its hardware anyway.


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