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Working around varying hard drive letters for Autodesk Inventor

William Warby - Hard Drive

In my new job working for an Autodesk Reseller, it’s quickly become apparent what a pain in the backside enforcing single project files is in larger design offices. Single Project files, in most cases are a must when you have Autodesk Vault deployed within the company, but there is also a decent argument for employing the same approach with Autodesk Inventor. The main problem with enforcing this policy within these larger design offices, is the range in specification of the workstations, specifically varying hard drive letters.

Everyone has had a hand me down PC at some point in their career, it was probably at least 3 years old by the time you had it, right? Well as time marches on, those PC’s inevitably require some form of upgrade, RAM, GPU or Hard Drive. It seems there are a number of PC’s out there which have needed larger secondary hard drives installed, I’m not entirely sure why they are necessary when you have network storage, nevertheless this is the reality. The trouble comes in those scenarios because the CAD data is often stored on these secondary hard drives…. which means the drive letter the CAD data is store on varies from PC to PC within the office. Pre-Inventor 2013 you could rely on the relative paths in the Inventor Project File sorting themselves out as you moved it between hard drives, the drive letter just didn’t matter. It has always mattered with Vault when it comes to enforcing the Working Folder, which from a CAD Management perspective is highly desirable. Along comes Inventor 2013 with it’s shiny new Materials and Appearance libraries… If you need to modify any of the stock Materials or Appearances, then Autodesk recommends you create a custom library, rather than editing the default Inventor one. The trouble is, these Material and Appearance library files don’t follow the same relative path rule, they are full paths…. which means their path includes the drive letter. Arghh!

There is a fairly easy workaround though, hopefully Autodesk tidy this problem up someday. In the meantime check out my video below to see how combining a local share and mapping a network drive will save your bacon.

Image Credit: William Warby


 

Lenovo 30 inch Professional Monitor Review

I was offered the opportunity to take some quality time with the 30” Lenovo ThinkVision LT3053p WQXGA IPS LED backlit LCD professional flat panel monitor. I’d never had the opportunity to use a display that large, so I was excited to say the least.

Lenovo LT3053pwA Flatpanel Monitor

I thought I’d offer some perspective here. My day-to-day Dell 23 inch monitor (right) is a nice large display, but it is dwarfed by the Lenovo 30 inch ThinkVision monitor (left). You really need to see it to believe it.

A very large box showed up in the office. I tried to get a good picture of all of it, the there was no decent way to capture that in a single image. There is a lot of stuff for a monitor. What was in there?

Lenovo 30 inch Monitor Box Contents

  • Monitor
  • Stand
  • 2 USB cables
  • DVI, HDMI, VGA, and DisplayPort cables
  • Hood / Shade
  • Cover
  • Instruction and calibration sheet
  • And a lot of Styrofoam

Specifications

USB Hub (5 ports: 1 x USB3.0 w/ Battery Charge 1.2, 2 x USB3.0, 2 x USB2.0)

VGA, Dual-Link DVI-D, HDMI1.4, DP1.2, MHL connections

USB Keyboard and Mouse Switch

ThinkVision PIP Anywhere Solution (software)

DaisyChain support

Detachable tool-less full ergo stand (Lift, Tilt, Pivot, Swivel)

Bundled Professional Hood

Max. Resoution 2560×1600

Brightness 350 cd/m2

Max Colors Built in Screen 1.07 billion

Contrast Ratio 1000:1

Display Type Backlit LED

Dot Pitch 0.251mm

Height 471.05mm (18.55 in.)

Width 690 mm (27.17 in.)

Depth 62mm (2.44 in.)

Weight 11.5 Kg (25.35 lb.)

Power Consumption + Units 88 W

Height Adjustment Metric 110mm (4.33 in.)

Monitor Technology AH-IPS

Viewable Image Height 400.8mm (15.78 in.)

Viewable Image Width 641.28mm (25.25 in.)

Stand Lift Tilt Swivel Pivot

Swivel +/-45 degrees

Tilt -5~30 degrees

Vertical Viewing Angle 178 degrees

MSRP: $1599 USD (Amazon.com)

The Lenovo ThinkVision 30 Inch Monitor

I enjoyed using the monitor. It’s BIG, clear, and of good quality. With the exception of a small technical issue that slowed us down a bit (discussed later in the section), there was nothing bad to say about the unit.

I started the review at a resolution of 1920×1080 because the NVIDIA Quadro professional workstation graphics chipset on one of the workstations used to test the monitor could not support its full resolution. Fortunately, we got past the technical holdbacks and were able to complete the review properly.

Appearance

The ThinkVision flat panel is black and attractive, with little frills or wasted space on curvature or fairings in the name of ‘frilly appearance’. I have always liked the Lenovo look, and this monitor is consistent with those lines. The frame is about 1” wide, not too bad considering the size of the unit. The thickness is stated to be 2.44 in., however the frame and display portion is only about 1 in. thick (remainder is taken up by electronics on the center rear section along with the stand mounting section). Controls were on the front side of the frame, at the lower right hand corner as expected.

Lenovo LT3053pwA Monitor buttons

The stand snaps firmly into small recess in the rear of the unit and requires no tools to install or remove. The stand / monitor recess and mount design takes less room than others that I have seen and is well thought out. This makes the rear of the unit simple and attractive as well.

There was nothing in or about the monitor that suggested a lack of workmanship. The unit was attractive and easily installed. The stand was sturdy, but adjusting the stand was a bit awkward. Let’s face it, that monitor is big, and will require more than a single hand to elevate. The exterior of the stand was plastic, and the tilt and rotate resistance was limited by friction joints. However, the stand held the unit properly, and I never experienced any fault with the stand. Once adjusted, the unit held its position well, and resisted vibration from the work area.

Ports, Connections, and Cool Features

It took me a bit of time to get a grip on all the connections that the unit comes with. Along the bottom of the unit is an array of USB / HDMI / VGA / MHL / DVI / DP ports.

Lenovo LT3053pwA Bottom view

The ThinkVision 30 in. monitor allows video inputs from DVI, HDMI, and MHL (Mobile High Definition Link) connectors. MHL allows displays from mobile devices to be viewed on the monitor while the mobile device is simultaneously charging. I didn’t try it but it sounds cool, especially if that functionality will work with PIP.

The monitor also provides a hardware switch that allows users to easily swap between multiple workstations, and keep a single display / mouse / keyboard without purchasing additional switching hardware. A USB cable is supplied to bridge the monitor and the workstations. Once connected, users simply have connect both displays and their keyboard /mouse setup. When it is time, the displays and controls between the workstations are swapped by the push of a button.

Lenovo LT3053pwA side view and connection panel

Lenovo has thoughtfully added an output panel so that audio and auxiliary USB connectivity is maintained with whichever workstation is in focus. (That yellow USB port is powered for charging).

PIP (Picture in Picture) anywhere support is available with a software install (provided). This allows users to select which display input channel they want to display in a PIP inset. This way they don’t miss the game while working. Audio from that source can be piped through the monitor’s output audio connection too.

The unit comes with a hood that helps keep direct light from room lighting off the display for better viewing and calibration.

Using the Monitor

I used the monitors for everything from CAD, Image editing, and landscape for numerous simultaneous support applications such as having my single bar Twitter client, Outlook, and Chrome up simultaneously when using CAD applications on the other monitor.

Initially I had dreams of mounting this beauty to the wall and putting all my communications and SharePoint panels up at once for quick viewing. Fortunately, I didn’t have the opportunity, and it would really be a shame to waste the beautiful color capabilities on communications software.

View Angles

The display remained bright and clear from viewing angles up to about 45°. Beyond that angle, the display was still completely legible, but generally darker, consistent with back-lit LCD.

Document Reviewing

It is by far the best PDF display I have ever encountered, and would rather have these documents up on the Lenovo Monitor than having them printed out. I can get an entire 18”x24” on the screen, and read it quite vividly without zooming. This makes reviewing construction plans and component details a pleasure. Having this display adjacent with my CAD monitor made it much easier to gather information from print documents, as looking at them no longer required me to look down at the table constantly; instead a mere glace to the left helped me maintain focus on what I was doing.

Color and Intensity

The Lenovo flat panel monitor supports optional color calibrations and has wonderfully rich display colors and nice brightness that my other monitors lack. Whenever I needed to do anything that was color intensive, I simply slid the application over to the lenovo display (plus the contrasting result packs a lot of punch, seeing the colors come alive when swapping from the lesser display to the Lenovo).

Kanazawa Japan shown on Lenovo Flatpanel monitor

The image above is from my home away from home in Kanazawa Japan. This is the closest I have ever seen the beautiful scene since I left. Thanks Lenovo for bringing this to life again (how I got this shot of the monitor in action to come out ok I will never know).

Color Calibration

This ThinkVision LT3053p display came with a calibration report from the factory. I visited a couple color calibration web sites and reviewed the unit performance using their tools. I understood that this method was not ideal, however purchasing color calibration hardware was not on my to-do list.

The unit performed as advertised and I was successfully able to distinguish between colors down to the 2-3% margin. I tried to capture the results in an image, but found it nearly impossible to reproduce the color shading accurately without hiring a professional photographer.

For fun I tried the color calibration evaluation on the lesser monitor I am using, and thought the colors were moderately acceptable, until I slid the web page over to the Lenovo display. To my surprise I found color bands being displayed on the calibration chart that I didn’t even know were there. I’m really going to miss this unit.

Design work

At first, CAD at a resolution of 1920×1080 was nice and bright, but not the full MSRP worth of wonder. Upon getting the resolution up to where it needed to be on a digital signal, I was impressed. The colors really popped, and especially so on a black background typical of AutoCAD. The lines were quite crisp, and I was even able to finally distinguish all of those useless colors in the outer bands of the AutoCAD 255 color spectrum; and yes I mean all of them. Another example was working through some problems with an overlap of lines and interpreted intersections; the operation was necessary to revisit. The crispness and definition on the ThinkVision monitor made the operation easier, and required much less strain on the eyes.

CAD wasn’t the only sweet deal. There was one other arena of design software where the Lenovo paid off well. Validation! The vivid colors, brightness, and clarity were well matched to the color contours of analysis software.

Lenovo LT3053pwA Flatpanel Monitor Software  Lenovo LT3053pwA and CAD Software

I was having trouble getting these images to come out well without bringing my wife and her Nikon in. I hope it will still deliver the great impression it left on me.

The Technical Glitch

I mentioned earlier that there was a minor technical glitch. The HDMI port input was originally thought to cut out intermittently on both machines I tested with; however the analog port was fine at the lesser resolution. Lenovo was happy to swap the monitor out, but I was determined to work through the problem. Rewiring the whole thing with new cables, using the HDMI cable to the lesser monitor, and picking up DVI on the ThinkVision cleaned everything up. (It may well have been a flaky cable).

A note about docking stations: If the analog output channel on certain docking stations is used for either of multiple displays, the max output of the entire array is set to that of the analog signal. I don’t understand all the technical issues related, but losing the analog VGA signal was the final piece of the odd puzzle we were experiencing.

Conclusions

Lenovo’s ThinkVision 30” backlit LED monitor is truly a professional unit. It is well made, bright, and vivid. I doubt that I will be satisfied with lesser displays in the future.

I have always said that “I would never go paperless” as viewing documents on a display was frustrating and useless. This unit however changed my mind, and after a short period with the ThinkVision monitor, I only print paper plans for the benefit of others.

This is a pricey tool? Sure. However one thing I learned was that we only buy good quality tools. If a well-lit display full of powerful, accurate colors is part of your job, then this tool will likely be a great investment for you. I don’t think that professional artists or anyone needing the landscape will disappointed in with Lenovo’s 30” professional monitor, even at the MSRP.

Disclosure: D&M tested this monitor at the request of Lenovo, without fee or benefit. The monitor will be returned to that company.

My time with 3Dconnexion’s SpaceMouse Wireless

Old 3Dconnexion Navigator Vs New 3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Wireless

Back in October 2013, 3Dconnexion announced the release of the world’s first wireless 3D mouse, utilising 2.4Ghz technology in combination for the first time with their patented 6DoF sensor. I’ve had the privilege of using one since late September, so this review is long overdue. A number of things got in the way of writing this up, initially 3Dconnexion‘s Release 10 of their 3DxWare software & driver was buggy. I wanted this review to cover some of the excellent changes in that driver, so I felt it was only right I waited until it had a fighting chance. In 3Dconnexion’s defense they fixed those bugs by Christmas, by which time I was swamped. Last week they released a new version of the driver in readiness for the 2015 release of Autodesk products, interestingly it contains some lovely additions.

Hardware

The 3Dconnexion recipe is a successful & well respected one, their hardware is rock solid & performs flawlessly. I owned the SpaceMouses’ predecessor the Space Navigator for 5 years & it never missed a beat, not even once. Bearing this in mind it’s clear they didn’t want to change too much here, while being extremely keen to change things up. The key was to change just the right amount. So have they?

3Dconnexion SpaceMouse Wireless - Low Isometric

They’ve retained the base quality & functionality of the Navigator, but modernised the look & feel of the device. It now somehow feels as if its build quality has surpassed the Navigator as well as having a far more ergonomic product. The 2 buttons are larger, with a more comfortable contact point for your thumb and ring finger. I think that contact surface helps to improve the feel of the click, it’s smoother while being more positive, over time it just makes the device more enjoyable to use than its predecessor. 

You don’t realise how much of an inconvenience the old cable was until it’s gone. Once you have used a 3D mouse it’s extremely hard to do without it, so there was always a degree of comfort in the knowledge the device was wired. Wireless peripherals of years past, have been notoriously battery hungry and there simply isn’t anything worse than sitting down for a day of mouse jockeying to find the darn thing is flat (dead). So, have 3Dconnexion got the wireless setup sorted for this 3D productivity puck? YES! I nearly always forget to turn it off, admittedly I’m not using it 8 hours a day in my new job, but I am probably using it ~10 hours a week. I’ve charged it twice since September. I’m also secure in the knowledge that if the battery does die, unlike some hardware companies, 3Dconnexion weren’t d*cks about connectivity. They used a standard USB mini port, so you could always nick one from a nearby electronics device when you find yourself in a bind.

Beyond these points, the SpaceMouse Wireless still navigates around 3D space in much the same way as its predecessor. 3Dconnexion devices are a balance of highly functional hardware and intuitive productive software. So let’s see how that performs.

Software

3Dconnexion 3DxWare Config

With the release of the SpaceMouse Wireless, 3Dconnexion released 3DxWare 10. It brought with it a brand new architecture. They rebuilt the application and drivers from the ground up, so they could start from a fresh foundation. The Inventor add-in reflects this, gone is the configuration dialogue of old. You now have to configure everything via the 3DxWare dialogue running in Windows. At first glance it appears the contextual options have been removed, but digging deeper you realise they have created an even more powerful setup. You can now choose to assign up to four contextual commands to each button, which you can then click or configure it in a more traditional single contextual command manner.3DxWare Radial Menu config

With an Inventor Assembly document active, swing over to the 3DxWare dialogue, click on buttons, then you are able to assign one of the preconfigured radial menu’s to either or both of the buttons.

3DxWare Assembly Radial Menu

Here is a more detailed walkthrough for customising the SpaceMouse Wireless buttons in a single contextual manner:

1. With a part open launch the 3Dconnexion Properties tool from the taskbar.

2. Make the following changes in the 3DxWare dialogue, make sure you leverage the excellent search tool by typing in ‘2D Sketch’. Once selected click close

3DxWare Config 2D Sketch

3. Create a 2D Sketch in the part and the 3DxWare Buttons menu will now show Inventor – Sketch

4. Make the following changes using the same method as previously. This time customise both buttons. Notice I have ‘Finish 2D Sketch’ on the same button as ‘2D Sketch’ in the Part environment:

3DxWare Config General Dimension

5. Now you can quickly create 3 driven dimensions to drive the overall size of your component in all 3-axis for your Parts List & BOM. Bish, Bash, Bosh!

At first the setup of the driver seems weird, but it all makes sense once you poke around a bit. Autodesk’s command naming still doesn’t help matters when it comes to finding commands to assign to buttons. The Measure command for example, lists half a dozen results all called Measure, why it doesn’t say Measure Distance, Measure Angle etc.. is beyond me. Fortunately a bit of trial & error sorts it out.

I would use the Radial Menu’s extensively if 3Dconnexion enabled support for selecting the commands in the radial quadrants by moving the 6DoF puck in the appropriate direction. Having to move the mouse to click seems like an inefficient way to do it, I’d like to be able to do it exclusively from the SpaceMouse, rather than having to include the traditional mouse as well.

Summary

It Rocks! What are you waiting for? Go buy one.

disclaimer: 3Dconnexion provided Design & Motion with a sample of the SpaceMouse Wireless for the purpose of testing & providing product feedback to their team. I offered to write this review of their product & in no way have they imposed any restrictions on this article.


 

Interview with MMC Contest Judge Sean Young of HP

Sean Young of HP (Worldwide Segment Manager, Product Development & AEC), I love contests. Not only are competitions fun, but they promote wonderful creativity and they have free goodies! The Morgan Motor Company competition is better than most competitions. Why?

  • They supply the model files and software for everyone
  • The prizes are really hot!

I got the opportunity to chat with Sean Young of HP (Worldwide Segment Manager, Product Development & AEC), who is one of the judges in the competition. I thought his insight might prove useful to everyone planning to give the competition a go.

HP and Autodesk

D&M: “Why did HP and Autodesk partner up for this competition; what was the motivation there?”

Sean: “HP and Autodesk go way back together. The competition had been planned for some time. We felt that Morgan Motor Company’s new 3-wheeler provided a great opportunity for the competition. Morgan Motor Company was excited about users designing their new ad. They are an interesting company; they love to help their clients customize their vehicles. Some owners even come into the factory. Everyone really gets into it.”

Competition

D&M: “What do you think is special or exciting about this competition?”

Sean: “That’s easy – it’s the prizes. You saw the contest page; a $5000 cash prize. Then we are providing an HP Zbook workstation nicely equipped and includes an NVIDIA graphics card. Also equally valuable is the exposure. Contest winners will get exposure for their work in Morgan Motor Company’s ads, in their magazine, on the web, and other places such as auto shows and so-on. It’s a great opportunity.”

D&M: “What criteria are the judges looking for?”

Sean: “Well it’s detailed on the contest page.” (I was digging for something a bit more personal.) “#1 is the originality of the design concept for the vehicle. What is amazing about this contest is that Morgan Motor Company is supplying the vehicle model for CAD. Users can focus on customizing materials, etc. and making a unique vehicle.”

Sean continued, “Then there is the overall quality of the rendering; overall quality of the ad concept; and the overall quality of the completed page.”

D&M: “What can contestants do to increase their chances?” (again, more digging for that gem suggestion)

Sean: “Knowledge is power. We have provided numerous helpful learning tools on the contest page; start there. Even experts can pick up a thing or two. There is also a link to chat with the experts; you can ask the contest team questions at the bottom of the page. We are very responsive to these.”

D&M: “Can participants enter more than one design?”

Sean: “No, one entry per participant.”

Morgan Motor Company ContestD&M: “What type of ad layout would be preferred?”

Sean: “It can be anything. It doesn’t even really have to be an ad per se. This competition isn’t really about making a great ad. If the people simply want to submit a great rendered customization, that’s fine. Something as simple as the rendering on the contest page is great. “

D&M: “Is there anything else that you’d like to tell folks that are considering those sweet prizes?”

Sean: “It’s super-easy to participate in the contest. We are providing everything you need. It’s still quite simple even if you don’t have much experience. Just open the supplied files, and customize the vehicle anyway you like. We even offer Showcase and 3DS Max files with the model ready to go. You can add decals, new material types; really create an original design. Autodesk even provides a free image editor to complete your ad page; it’s Pixlr. “

Sean’s “tips for success”

  • Think about the overall theme of the ad, something that connects the 3 Wheeler, background/environment, and any graphics/logos/text. Get creative with the theme, and focus on something that inspires you
  • Get creative with the ad background/environment as it is such a prominent element of the ad.
  • Spend time decorating the 3 Wheeler. It’s the focus of the ad, and it should look amazing, interesting, and original.
  • Reference other car advertisements to learn about camera angles and lighting.

How to Get Involved

This competition isn’t really about making a great ad. It’s more about having fun customizing the 3-wheeler in the most creative and original manner. References to all the software you need is provided on the Talenthouse webpage. (Pick the ad at the top of this article to go straight there). Once there, pick the green participate button to get started.

clip_image006

That will take you to the page with all the goods. They even offer Autodesk Showcase and 3DS Max ready files. You can open it up and immediately start customizing. To help you along Design & Motion have prepared an excellent quick start tutorial for rendering the Morgan 3 Wheeler with Autodesk 3ds Max Design. Be sure to check it out & GOOD LUCK!


 

HP ZBook review – But what does the Z stand for?

ZBook 15 Rear Cover image

HP released the next generation of their mobile workstations back in September 2013 and are the first model range of theirs to take advantage of the Haswell generation of Intel CPU, which is great news for the ‘mobility’ of these mobile workstations. This is also the first time HP have applied the ‘Z’ branding to their mobile workstations, so with that comes a new look for the units. I’ll be reviewing the 15” model since this is my new day to day rig, but it’s important to note that the range includes a 14” model which HP tout as the first ‘Ultrabook’ class workstation on the market.

Design

HP ZBook 15 Feature Map

  1. Optional HD Webcam
  2. 15.6 inch diagonal LED-backlit HD anti-glare display
  3. USB 3.0 ports (1 on side, 1 just around corner on the back), memory card reader, optical drive (select models), monitor port
  4. Finger print reader
  5. Spill-resistant keyboard
  6. Point stick
  7. Touchpad with scroll zone
  8. Security cable slot, USB 2.0 port, Thunderbolt port, DisplayPort, USB 3.0 charging port, Smart card reader, ExpressCard port

At first glance the HP ZBook has an entirely different appearance to its predecessor the Elitebook Mobile Workstations. But upon further inspection its clear the overall shape of the ZBook is an evolution of the Elitebook, this observation mainly comes from the side view and the way the hinge is mounted.

 HP 8570w vs HP Zbook 15 Side Elevation Comparison

The front of the ZBook has been dramatically undercut giving it a much more lightweight appearance than the bulkier 8570w on the left. But it’s clear the genealogy of the ZBook is very similar when you compare the rear profiles, they use the same extremely sturdy hinge mechanism.

The advancement in display technology is evident in this image as well, the ZBook’s display appears as if it’s nearly half the thickness of the older model. Inevitably this continues to contribute to the more slim line footprint of the ZBook.

I was never a fan of how bulky the last generation of Elitebooks were, so combining this with the new contrasting rubber & satin metal finish lid really adds up to a stylish unit in my opinion. It’s not the most stylish laptop on the market, but this ZBook is a lot more capable in the Graphics department than most consumer laptops, so it has more gear to fit in as well as more hot air to get out. HP have done a great job here!

HP ZBook 15 Open & Cover Shot

Specifications

  • Intel Core i7-4800MQ – 2.70GHz Quad Core, 6MB L3 Cache
  • Intel QM87 (Lynx Point) Chipset
  • 24GB DDR3 SDRAM, 800 MHz (PC3-12800) – 2x8GB & 2x4GB (expandable to 32GB)
  • Intel HD Graphics 4600 – Integrated
  • Nvidia Quadro K2100M – 2GB dedicated GDDR5
  • Intel 520 Series 180GB SSD
  • Display – 15.6″ diagonal LED-backlit UWVA eDP anti-glare (1920 x 1080)
  • Windows 8 Pro
  • Dimensions (w x d x h) 15 x 10.1 x 1.2 in OR 38.15 x 25.7 3.05 cm
  • Weight 6.2lb, 2.82 kg

Benchmarking

I’ve followed Design & Motion’s usual procedure with benchmarking our test machines. I have used the latest versions of the respective benchmarking tools however. So the results aren’t comparable to a certain degree.

Cinebench R15

  • CPU (Single Core) = 143
  • CPU = 613
  • MP Ratio = 4.39
  • OpenGL = 67.56 fps
  • OpenGL Reference Match = 99.62%

SPECviewperf 12

All the tests were performed with a window size of 1900 x 1060. The following Composite scores for their relative Viewsets are listed below, with a historical test result from the Lenovo E31 in brackets.

  • Catia-04 = 18.70 (Catia-03 = 17.75)
  • Creo-01 = 18.48 (ProE-05 = 9.42)
  • Energy-01 = 0.16
  • Maya-04 = 15.61 (Maya-03 = 38.49)
  • Medical-01 = 2.01
  • Showcase-01 = 9.88
  • SNX-02 = 19.96 (SNX-01 = 13.24)
  • SWx-03 = 22.78 (SWx-02 = 34.37)

The Lenovo E31 was tested using SPECviewperf 11, so the tests used have now changed. Nevertheless it’s clear this is an apple to oranges comparison, but when you consider this is the mid-range HP mobile workstation against a high end desktop, I think it stacks up well. Interestingly I believe this test also shows how much more efficient the PTC Creo product is vs PTC ProE of old, since there is no way the HP ZBook would outperform the Lenovo E31.

SPECviewperf is by far the most relevant benchmarking tool of the 3 used here for workstation grade PC’s. To read more about what this benchmark puts these workstations through, you can shoot over to the SPECviewperf 12 page.

Real World Performance

I figured there are two simple tests Design & Motion can run on all the hardware we review from now on. Using Autodesk Inventor we can:

  1. Load a ‘normal’ sized model from Windows Explorer, cold starting Inventor while we do so.
  2. Run a ‘Good’ quality Ray Tracing job within Inventor. Best often takes too long

I had a bit of a think which dataset we could use to do this. It struck me fairly quickly that our own Gus Petrikas has a lovely car he designed inside Inventor, the ‘Petrikas P2’. While not a massive model, it does have a reasonably high level of detail using 644 file references of which 312 are unique.

So here goes Design & Motion’s first Petrikas P2 Inventor Benchmarking test:

A total time of 23 seconds isn’t too shabby. No doubt Gus will be quite jealous of that having had to open this thousands of times on his student grade laptop.

Right now for the Ray Trace test. I used the following settings & Environment:

Autodesk Inventor Petrikas P2 RayTrace Settings

This is the end result:

Autodesk Inventor Petrikas P2 Ray Trace Rendering

Based on my previous PC & the numerous times I’ve spent waiting for the ‘Good’ Ray Trace job to finish, 307 seconds is pretty good. I was suitably surprised if I’m honest.

Observations

I love this machine, I’ve never been a fan of super lightweight laptops. I want them to feel like they are sturdy, I want it to feel like it’s worth all that money I paid for it. It’s a grunty little beast, but if I was doing a lot of GPU intensive work every day, then I would need to stump up a fair few more dollars for the bigger Quadro cards only available in the ZBook 17 model.

HP ZBook 15 Spill Resistant Keyboard

Keyboards are very important to me and the ZBook has a great one. There is something odd about the placement of the delete, home & end keys though. It’s taken me nearly 2 months to get used to their positions. I seemed to constantly hit delete instead of home, it’s not just me either, since I’ve watched other ZBook noobs commit the same error.

I have a MacBook Pro at home, it’s a lovely piece of engineering. I’m not a fan of OSx but the one thing I have missed every time I’ve used a Windows based laptop is the incredible touchpad on the MacBook Pro. Apple really nailed the gestures on that baby. This ZBook is the first Windows laptop which has come close. The most common gestures found on Apple touchpads are found on these, in addition the Synaptics touchpad driver enables the user to customize the gestures to suit their preferences.

HP ZBook 15 Touchpad

Unfortunately the HP ZBook has an Achilles heel. While it has wonderful Display Port & ThunderBolt connectivity, it doesn’t have a HDMI port. It does however have a VGA port. This means that most of the monitors sitting in offices around the world will have to use VGA to connect to the ZBook, unless of course you use an adaptor or purchase a HP docking station. Docking stations are nice, but I can’t really justify one for my home office. So I’m using a VGA cable to connection my 22” Acer LCD monitor for use as my second screen. This worked perfectly well on the HP Elitebook 8530w I had prior to this ZBook.

Just a quick comment about battery life. The stated duration for the HP Long Life 8-cell Li-Ion 75 Whr found in this unit is up to 14 hours, in practice it is no where near that long. I don’t think anyone really expects it would. Nevertheless, I have had it unplugged with a USB 3.0 external hard drive attached, running a Virtual Machine and a session of Autodesk Inventor along with various Office applications for a solid 5 hours without having to plug it in. I think I’m asking a lot of it by doing that, so to be fair to the ZBook it does pretty damn well out in the harsh reality of the working world.

BUT!

Unfortunately, the ZBook’s VGA output is blurry to the point of it being quite tiring on the eyes at times. I’ve tried several different monitors of different resolutions; I’ve tested them while in the BIOS (still blurry) and spent well over 10 hours playing around with drivers.

HP have been very helpful, they’ve replaced a number of system components in the hope it would fix the issue. Last week I had the opportunity to test another HP ZBook 15 as it came into the office, which unfortunately turns out to have the same issue. Luckily for the recipient they will be running dual screens from the Display Port. The case is now with 2nd Level Support at HP, their first response was all their test ZBook’s in their lab aren’t exhibiting the issue. I managed to capture the following image comparing the quality of the ZBook display vs the 2nd monitor output via VGA:

HP ZBook 15 Blurry VGA Output Comparison

Notice how each character has a ‘halo’ around it on the VGA output, but the Laptop Display produces sharp text so that the colour changes immediately from one pixel to the next. There’s no blurring.

Questions for HP

I had a few unanswered questions while writing this review, curiosity got the better of me. So I contacted HP to see if they could help out and they came through.

1. What were HP’s aims when they set out to develop the HP ZBook series?

We wanted to reinvent the mobile workstation and infuse it with the HP Z DNA that provides customers with the best performance and reliability for their mission-critical operations.

2. There’s some confusion about the version of Thunderbolt released with the ZBook… can you clarify if the coming update is a software or a hardware change?

The HP ZBook 15 and 17 offer Intel’s Thunderbolt technology for high-speed data transfer. Thunderbolt enables the most demanding data intensive workflows to incorporate external storage, video processing, and other high performance peripherals.

3. What would you say is the biggest innovation with the HP ZBook?

The new HP ZBook Mobile Workstations feature a new thinner and lighter industrial design. The HP ZBook 14 is in fact the first workstation to be recognized by Intel as an Ultrabook, weighing 1.62 kg and is 21mm thick. Packed into the thinner and lighter form factor are 4th Generation Intel® Haswell dual- and quad-core processor options, next-generation graphics technologies from NVIDIA and AMD. The ZBooks also feature innovative tool-free chassis for easy upgrades and serviceability.

4. In your opinion what is the future of Mobile Workstations?

We cannot give details on future product roadmaps but we are focused on designing our workstations to meet the rapidly evolving needs of the most compute-intensive industries where our customers operate in, to offer them differentiated value so they can be more productive and efficient.

5. What does the Z in the Z series of workstations stand for?

The HP Z sub-brand is a hallmark for professional products engineered to the highest performance and quality standards, for the most demanding computing and visualization needs.

6. Would HP like to comment on the HP ZBook 15 blurry VGA output issue?

*I haven’t received a reply from the HP PR department regarding this issue*

Conclusion

Despite the VGA output problem, this is a wonderful bit of kit. I enjoy using it every day & hopefully I will either get a new Display Port/ThunderBolt enabled monitor or a docking station in the not too distant future. It’s more than powerful enough to simultaneously run full blown CAD applications, photo/video editing software, as well as 2 or 3 Virtual Machines running servers of various types. I very rarely find myself waiting for it. I wouldn’t have minded 1 more USB 3.0 port though.

Oh and this is one of the prizes up for grabs in the Morgan Motor Company design advertisement competition. So if you like the look of it and fancy your chances, then just click through to the competition page via the advert either at the top or the bottom of this post. Earlier this week we posted a thorough tutorial on how to use Autodesk 3DS Max with iRay for this competition, so swing over and take a look.

I really do enjoy using this workstation, it fits nicely inside my Autodesk University shoulder bag with all my peripherals while weighing just the right amount for it to be hard to lose. I do have one bone to pick though, it seems the ‘Z’ doesn’t stand for Zombie! If it was a reference to the Zombies in World War Z then it would be no insult. Those things are badass & fast to boot!

World War Z Zombies running & escalating wall

Update

Since writing this article HP have replaced my ZBook with a new one from a different supplier. The new one does output a much improved VGA signal, however it’s still not quite right. It is much more tolerable for day to day use, so I’m quite happy now. If you see this issue with your ZBook make sure you speak up & let HP know, they have a higher chance of finding a solution with more data. I’ve been told my old ZBook is being tested in HP’s lab, I look forward to hearing from them with an update on the issue.


 

Setting up Windows Readyboost

Ralph Grabowski had some suggestions in a recent post on his WorldCAD Access blog about making computers run faster. One of his suggestions was to use ReadyBoost which is something I had heard of but never used before [On a side note if you aren't reading Ralph's various posts and articles get on it now, the guy is a legend and very well informed]

It got me thinking, what am I to lose to try this out?

What is ReadyBoost?

ReadyBoost is a built in disk caching option that Microsoft has built into Windows (starting with Vista). Microsoft describes it as a method to add “instant RAM” to your system. So as your memory gets full ReadyBoost provides another source for your system to use which is faster than your hardrive. It will also cache just about anything, not just the page file or system DLL.

With Windows 7, a FAT formatted device will give you 4GB of cache and with a NTFS formatted device the maximum is 32 GB of cache. What is interesting is that you can use multiple devices (up to 8) for a total 256 GB! [although who has that many unused USB ports!].

A big note here is that if you are using a solid state drive, ReadyBoost will be disabled as you don’t need it, just max out the page file on your solidstate for the best performance.

What do you need?

A USB thumbdrive (ideally 32GB or bigger) or a SD card. Make sure its faster than your HD being used as you’d be defeating the purpose. Look for a device with an access time of 1 ms (or less) and  2.5 MB/s read speeds (minimum).

Microsoft has some suggestions, but you should use something with at least double the amount of RAM in the system.

What do you do to use it?

Stick the device into the system.

Find the device using Windows Explorer, right-click, and access the properties. You should see a ReadyBoost tab in which you can enable it and specify how much space Windows can use

Windows ReadyBoost

What do I think?

I tested this in two systems. One was an older HP Workstation that has 6GB of RAM that we’re using as our test machine for betas and the such. The other is the Dell Latitude laptop I’m bringing with me to AU to teach my classes, it has 3GB of RAM. Both systems are running Windows 7 (64bit).

Its a tough thing to quantify but what was easy to gauge is how much faster applications start on these systems. I also noticed significantly less temporary freezes and delays (white screens – not responding) on the laptop, which in itself is a boost in performance.

So all I can say is for the cost and little effort to get setup, there is no reason not to use this. Especially, with older systems or systems a little bit lacking on RAM. Give it a try, you might be surprised… and worse case the stick goes back to being just a thumb drive.