Architosh News Reports
  Architosh Staff ([email protected])


Perfect PC for CAD...How about Mac? Part 2
26 July 99.

The Architosh article entitled "The Perfect PC for CAD...How about Mac?" provoked quite a bit reader feedback. In fact, the number of hits we received on the piece exceeded our previous best with our article on the AutoCAD 2000 coming to Mac OS X rumor. The article encapsulates reader feedback and criticism and includes new information and responses to reader feedback.

It's the Software Dumbo!

Many readers simply said that sure the Macintosh has great hardware specs and is easy to use and maintain but there simply isn't enough software for it (in the CAD space that is). As some readers put it:

" hi... sure, the Mac has great specs, but there's so few Mac SW packages for CAD! i do electronics design, and the PC choices far outclass the two Mac packages that exist (one of which, i use). this is obviously a big matter in any choice of machine. i am a big Mac supporter, but come on, you have to at least address this in your article." - reader

"The problem is that many of the really good CAD programs do not run on the Mac [anymore which is a real] pity." - reader

"Just read your article "What is the Perfect PC for CAD .. How about Mac?" You don't have to convince me. I am a ten-year Mac loyalist! You need to convince the industry leaders for high-end CAD.

For example, the authors of Pro-Engineer, SolidWorks, Microstation/J, and especially the ParaSolid kernel. Let's consider Pro-Engineer. It is currently something of a standard in aerospace. My company uses it, as do our most important customers [Lockheed Martin, U.S. Army]. Pro-Engineer runs on SGI Irix, Sun Solaris, and Windows NT. But not Macintosh. Ditto for ParaSolid, which many believe to be the emerging international standard for 3D CAD. It doesn't support Macintosh either"

"For example, my company has tasked me with the objective of placing a highly integrated SW system on up to 5,000 desktops within the next 5 years. The entire SW system has to be built around a single CAD product or system. This excludes Macintosh from the equation, because neither Pro-Engineer, nor the Parasolid kernel, nor Microstation/J, nor SolidWorks is compatible." - reader

" One point you left out in your short discussion: The software. As far as I know, AutoCAD, the PC Cad standard, still sells for around 3 grand per seat... VectorWorks and DenebaCAD, both of which work better on Macs, start around 700 bucks...and the price differential grows as you add more seats..." - reader

"The real-world disadvantage to the Mac is not hardware based, nor is it OS based. Clearly the Mac is the best choice for most users on both fronts. The Mac OS provides a far superior user experience, and Mac hardware definitely kicks butt.

The unfortunate real-world disadvantage to the Mac platform is that over the past several years a number of high end software developers have been abandoning their efforts for the Mac, most probably as a result of it being too thin a market to make their efforts pay off.

My business depends on the following applications, all of which have ceased being developed for the Mac (for the foreseeable future at any rate). - AutoCAD stopped at R-12 (now up to R-2000 for PC) - Microstation stopped at SE (now up to MS-J for PC) - Microstation Modeler stopped at 95 (up to MS Modeler PE for PC)" - reader


Without sounding too defensive, software was left out of the equation (and the price) in the previous article not because there are so few choices in the Macintosh market -- because that is not true -- but because the article was really about the machine itself, the hardware. No doubt, what good is a machine, no matter how bitchen fast and cool if the machine can't run those awesome CAD and 3D applications you wish to work in? Our feelings exactly!

Part of the reason for the creation of the Architosh website is to evangelize and inform Macintosh users everywhere that the Macintosh is a viable platform for CAD professionals, especially architects, engineers and construction professionals. That's why we have a software list. But yes, it is true that there are some serious deficits in the software spectrum for both architecture and engineering. Let's try to solve that problem together by continuing to believe in the platform by purchasing more Macs and Macintosh software. With more and more sales growth, unit growth and software developer faith and encouragement in Apple, we can have our cake and eat it too -- someday. But it will take some time. The number one thing to do is to NOT write Apple about it (cc them, of course to [email protected]) but instead write directly to the software company and tell them you want a Macintosh version of their software!

The Perfect Mac "Dream Machine" for CAD

The other item which came up in reader's minds was the technical description of the "dream machine" for the Mac compared to the PC Magazine version.

To see this description see the previous article. What we did was build a system from the choices in the Apple Store and then say, "what can we do to make it better?"

The target price to compare with the PC Magazine system was $9000.00 US. We know this is a lot, this is a "dream machine" exercise only and many of the descriptions and choices we made could be scaled back to create the ultimate machine of your liking.


Power Mac G3

courtesy of Apple Computer Inc.

Some the of the comments we received concerned the graphics systems on both the PC and Macintosh system, compared:

"How do two graphics cards help to do anything other than run two monitors? Do they somehow piggyback or connect in series to run one monitor with the two cards giving you twice the video power for the one monitor? I don't get it. Otherwise, that's exactly the system I'm putting together for my new CAD system." - reader

Our mistake. Adding an additional graphics card and adding more graphic RAM do different things. We said adding an additional card, which doesn't really do anything for processing power at all, unless the two cards worked in conjunction somehow. A Formac engineer told us that this is not likely, though it is theoretically possible. In general adding an additional graphics card only allows you a second monitor capacity -- though it is possible to get this capacity with one graphics card in the PC space.

Another reader added this to the comments:


You recently posted an article about PC Magazine's "Dream CAD Machine" and attempted to build an equivalent Mac. Unfortunately, your response fell short in one simple but incredibly important respect. The "equivalent" Mac OpenGL card you listed was a Rage128-based 32mb PCI card, which you admitted had less memory than the one on the "Dream Machine." You suggested adding another card to double the RAM. Unfortunately, graphics RAM is not cumulative. Two slow graphics cards are still slow. The PC card you are comparing the Mac to is most likely one of the Oxygen cards from 3DLabs, based on a Glint-family chipset. The high-end Glint card has 96MB of RAM and uses it all, rendering complex, high-res 3D images far faster than any mainstream CPU can. These cards can easily top $2000. The Rage128 isn't even in the same league. Adding a similar card to a Yosemite (if there are any available for Macs . . .) could easily take it over the $9,000 level. The article is an interesting exercise, but I think the conclusions are wrong in this case. Add to that the lack of MP systems and weak support from the likes of AutoDesk, Maya, and Avid, and Macs look weak indeed. As much as I hate NT, Apple cannot compete with it in the high-end without better products in hardware (MP G4s w/ slots) and software (OS X Consumer & third-party support). We're going in the right direction, but Mac users will discredit the platform if we pretend to be what we aren't right now." - reader

This reader is absolutely right. We asked a Formac engineer at Expo if you could add additional RAM to a card by adding a card and he said not their cards. Such a card would have to be a daughter card on the main graphics card to add additional graphics RAM. We are not sure if such card arrangements even exist. This reader is also correct about the fact that an ATI RAGE 128 bit graphics card is not even in the same league as a Oxygen card from 3DLabs (see our Expo report on Formac's Permedia 3-based card) But he is assuming that this PC Magazine is using such a card. We think this is probably the case too.

On the other hand, what we learned is that the 32 MB ATI RAGE Nexus card is not the fastest card you can add to your Macintosh. Formac, a German company who has been a longtime supporter of Apple and the Macintosh has come out with their latest 128-bit ProFormance 3 graphics card and the claim is that it is up to twice as fast as the ATI RAGE cards (to see comparisons click here). The card is based on a 3DLabs Permedia 3 graphics chipset (which is not as powerful as the Glint chipset used in the 3DLabs' Oxygen cards). However, a Formac engineer told us that the Permedia chipset uses a Glint core in its silicon and has similar performance functionality at some levels. He didn't say that the Formac ProFormance chip is as a fast as a Oxygen card with 96 MB of memory because that isn't probably possible.

After discovering that Formac is basing their Mac graphics cards on 3DLabs' technologies one might wonder if they ever plan on bringing a super-fast, high-memory graphics card to the Macintosh similar to the industrial strength Oxygen cards. They said that the market for such cards is probably too small but things could change. Yes. Things can change and if you are interested in such cards with up to 96 MB of graphics RAM then write to Formac and ATI and ask them about it.

Closing Comments

Much of what we said in the first article still stands, with corrections being in order. One other correction is that the DVD video card is a daughter card that plugs into the ATI 128 RAGE card, leaving a PCI slot free. Perhaps we can have the Gigabit Ethernet after all?

Where do we stand on the "ultimate CAD dream machine" for Mac users? In terms of hardware we need multiprocessing G4's, AltiVec-enabled CAD and 3D applications and a company like Formac to create an industrial-strength 60 MB plus graphics card based on the Glint graphics chipset or something better. We also DO need some critical applications that are currently missing in the Macintosh space. With Mac OS X being similar to UNIX, some of these applications may be easier to port over to Mac OS X. If this is your situation, start letting those developers know that you want a Mac OS X version now. Don't wait until OS X comes out.


For more information about the ProFormance 3 card from Formac read our Expo Report: Part - 2. This discussion also talks about the usefulness of more graphics RAM, as we were told by Formac engineers.


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