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Why is everyone going head over wheels for Keyshot 5?

A render of Dino-bike created using Keyshot 5“Dino-bike” (Model Credit: Flying Kiwi Motorcyles)

It’s hard to imagine how you could take the most loved-up rendering software of 2013 and make it better. But they have, and they’ve done it in style. I’d buy it just for the new user interface, but there’s so much more in this release. Is it perfect yet? Well, you’ll need to read on to find out, but if you’re looking for a canned demo of what’s new, there’s a video further down this page that wraps it all up nicely.

The rendering software market is a crowded and often confusing place but Keyshot pitches itself as “fastest and easiest to use 3D rendering and animation software available” so I’m going to take a look at both claims. Keyshot 5 is the “fastest” – at what? Fastest at sucking you in with its new slick new user interface – yep. I’ll give them that one. With most rendering solutions, you can quickly lose your model under a pile of dialogs and windows, but the new UI in Keyshot 5 keeps these windows in check by allowing you to stack, dock, stack-tabbed and so on. It makes focussing on the task of say lighting, or texturing, an absolute joy without having to close a bunch of other windows. But you’d hardly describe the product as being the “fastest” when discussing model import workflows. You’ll very quickly discover that the importers for mainstream CAD products like Solidworks & Inventor are 2 years out of date, Alias needs to be installed, Maya needs to be licensed… (Hang on – Maya? Why would you render in Keyshot if you already have Maya installed and licensed?) So if your CAD software is up-to-date, you’ll have to export your models as an alternative format, then import them into Keysot. That’s not particularly “fast” in my book. If you are lucky enough to have either an old copy of your favourite CAD product, or other geometry-creation software that’s one of Luxion’s favoured partners, then the new “Live Linking” your models will certainly be of interest. Change the CAD model and the Keyshot scene updates – I would describe as “fast”. Bring on some updated importers and this might catch on!

“Easiest to use”. Let’s be honest, “easy to use” usually translates as “limited features”. But Keyshot really is superbly easy to use: Import – wait – image! You can then spend some time lighting and texturing, but that almost-instant image surprises you every time. So if you want an image-in-a-can, then I really can’t argue, it’s certainly down there with the easiest of all the rendering software. If you want a bit more, then you need to go digging. Software only becomes “easy to use” as you become familiar with it. It’s not a living organism that changes between uses, you just get used to where the buttons are – so “easy” is a bit of a meaningless quality here. Sadly, this is also where I started to find some limitations. Functions like motion-blur and caustics are on/off toggles. To blur one object more than another becomes a complex task of animating objects at different speeds. It’s time consuming and certainly not “easy”. There’s a collection of canned animation cycles, but if you want to get a bit more advanced, it’s certainly not the animators dream. To be fair though, I don’t have the $500 Animation add-on, I’m only driving the “Pro” version so I know I’m missing out on some more goodies.

Looking at the marketing images, the target audience appears to be existing CAD users, or creative media-types who’ve probably already invested in good hardware. So why is “CPU rendering only” a good thing? There isn’t even an option to invoke the 600 Cuda-cores on my laptop’s standard graphics card. It seems a bit of a “missed opportunity”, not a feature. Sure it makes sense on a consumer-grade computer that only has basic on-board graphics, but even the most basic gaming graphics cards have GPU capabilities begging to be used.

Dino-bike rendered in Luxion Keyshot 5“Dino-bike” (Model Credit: Flying Kiwi Motorcycles)

Getting back to the good stuff (because there’s plenty of it), if you watch the video at the end of this post you’ll appreciate the ability to wind back the number of CPU cores used for the real-time rendering. (It’s a handy way to regulate the temperature of your coffee if you leave the mug by the vent on your PC.) Importing models can be a disappointing exercise if you’ve already textured it in the host application, but the new Keyshot library of physically accurate materials, coupled with the scene tree, makes texturing easy. It’s actually fun watching the model come to life as you drag and drop the materials into place. The library has a good selection of pre-built materials that you can tweak, and then there’s always “Keyshot Cloud” where you can upload your hard work and share it with others.

Lighting in Keyshot 5 received a boost with the Sun and Sky System (Pro version only). There’s plenty of granular control in this lighting system and when you’ve created your perfect daylight, you can save it out just like other HDRI’s for re-use on another model. On the subject of HDRI’ – there’s now an HDRI editor (in all versions) that make tweaking the scene illumination quick and easy.

Perspective Matching (again only in Pro) is so easy it’ll make you laugh – watch the “What’s new” video to see it in action. (Was this tool lifted directly from last year’s Autodesk 3d max? It’s almost identical!)

NURBS Ray Tracing (Pro feature) is a very clever addition in this release. Prior to this tool, you would typically have to strike a compromise between mesh quality and rendering time. The finer the mesh, the better the curves on your model look, but the longer it took to render. The NURBS Ray Tracing tool reads NURBS data from your model (the actual curves – not the faceted approximation) and then renders stunningly smooth curved edges.

Scene sets (Pro feature again sorry!) It’s an update on last years “Model Sets” and lets you switch between various setups within a single file. The scene sets remembers camera views, object visibility, environments, and back plates.

There is something curiously appealing about Keyshot 5 that quickly draws you in. Maybe it’s that damn good UI, or the rave reviews it gets in online forums, or the almost-instant renderings, but once you’re in, there’s enough to keep you busy for quite a while. There is a lot to like about it. But if you already have experience with other rendering products, or you’re looking for something that’ll let you choose how to utilise your hardware, or give you super-high-level control over all rendering elements, then maybe it’s not quite ready yet.

If you are coming from the dull-grey world of your existing CAD system and looking for something to motivate you to get into work early, then Keyshot 5 really is hard to beat.


Keyshot 5 “What’s new” video


 

Free your forms with Autodesk Inventor 2015

Blob House With Door OpenImage Credit: Forgemind Archimedia

Recently, Mike started off our Inventor 2015 Deep Dive series with a great post on the new sketch features in Autodesk Inventor 2015. You can find that post here. He made reference to the “sexy” new Direct Editing and Freeform surfacing tools but didn’t elaborate as he wasn’t the lucky author who drew the longer straw, I was. So here we have it, the second post in the series which explores the new features that Mike finds…… sexy.

Now unless you’ve had your head under a rock for the last little while, you’re bound to have heard that Autodesk have thrown some great new toys in the Inventor box this year in the form (no pun intended) of Freeform bodies and Direct-Edit model manipulation. We covered the announcement right here on Design and Motion, but in this article we go a little bit deeper and take these new technologies for a spin.

Freeform

T-Splines technology, in the form of Freeform bodies, has given us an entirely new way of creating organic forms (like the one in the title image) in Inventor. The tools that Autodesk have built allow very simple conversion from the t-splines body to a solid body, which you can perform all of your normal solid editing operations on. You can also go back and edit the original freeform body just like you would with any other history-based feature.

In the video below, I’ll take you through the basic tools and how to use them.

Direct Edit

Direct edit opens up a whole new set of workflows for Inventor that transform it from a history-based modeller to a true hybrid. The implementation of this technology has been well thought out, and combinations of multiple Direct Edits as well as the way they affect each other, behave in a logical way. This video demonstrates the new Direct Edit technology with a simple example.

Stay tuned for more posts on the other new tools in Inventor 2015.


 

Getting Sketch-y with Autodesk Inventor 2015

Engineering drafting room 1962

Bicka bow bow bump bump
What, what, what, what
Hah hah hah hah Unh,
On your mark ready set let’s go
3D Modeling pro I know you know
I go psycho when my Inventor hit
Just can’t sit
Gotta get sketchy wit it

Or Will Smith sang something like that.

There are a lot of new and improved tools in Inventor 2015, something for everyone. With all the glitz and glamour, the changes to the sketch environment could go unnoticed, especially since it isn’t as sexy as the new Direct Editing and Free Form surfacing capability. But make no mistake, there are some significant changes here, so much so we thought it should be the first of our deep dive posts covering Inventor’s key new features.

Sketch is always visible

First change you’ll probably notice is that the Sketch tab is always visible. If you pick a sketch tool without having a sketch active, Inventor will start the new sketch process and once you pick the sketch plane the command you selected becomes active.

Autodesk Inventor 2015 Sketch Tab is Always VisibleMaybe my favorite enhancement.… drum roll please…. While creating sketch geometry, endpoints are created on the mouse down instead of mouse up/release! halleluiah! I can’t believe after all these years I don’t have to slow myself down while sketching to not miss points and get the accidental gaps. 

Consolidated and New Sketch Options

All 2D sketch constraint related options are consolidated into one new Constraint Settings dialog. Autodesk has also introduced two new options: Show constraints for selected objects and Display constraints on display.

Inventor 2015 Constraint SettingsWith Display constraints on creation enabled the last constraint created by the sketching operation will appear, slightly ghosted, on the screen.

Inventor 2015 Display constraints on displayEnabling Show constraints for selected objects means that by selecting objects in the graphics window the constraints applied to those objects will appear. By right-clicking on one of these constraint icons you can delete the constraint. No more Show all Constraints to delete just one or a couple constraints.

Inventor 2015 Show constraints for selected objectsNew Constraint Scope option [Found in the expanded portion of the Constrain Panel] is used to set the which objects Inventor will automatically infer constraints from.

  • The new option Geometry in current command will only infer to the objects created during the current operation, unless you hover over the object.
  • If you have a lot of sketch geometry the Select option is a nice addition in that you can set the focus in which Inventor will infer constraints, meaning no more parallels or perpendiculars to sketch geometry off the screen.

Inventor 2015 Constraint Inference Scope
When applying Horizontal and Vertical constraints as you hover over the object a dashed line indicator will appear to show the direction the object will be rotated. This takes the guess work out of which direction you are looking at is the horizontal

Inventor 2015 Horizontal Constraint PreviewLook at me

Look at Sketch behaviour has been expanded with two new settings, found in the Application Options – Display tab

  • Perform Minimum Rotation – Rotates the sketch at a minimum angle, reducing that amount of eye strain following your sketch rotate in space. The X axis of the sketch will become horizontal or vertical, depending on what’s closest.
  • Align with Local Coordinate System – Orients the X axis of the sketch horizontally and goint to the right so that the Y axis points up (positive). This is the legacy behaviour.

Relax Mode

You can use the new Relax Mode chill, hang out, kick it back… uhhh, kind of. While in Relax mode you can modify constrain geometry by applying new constraints and dimensions. The existing constraints are removed and replaced with the new ones.  With Relax Mode turned ON, you can also drag the constrained sketch geometry to make adjustments.

Inventor 2015 RelaxMode DraggingWhich constraints are replaceable is controlled in the Constraint Options

What Else?

  • Delete Constraints – new right-click option removes all constraints, except for the Coincident constraints
  • Delete Coincident Constraint – new right-click option removes all Coincident constraints
  • Inventor 2015 Delete ConstraintsSketch Offset improvements – zero length offset segments are automatically removed, meaning no flipped objects and the ability to create offset geometry not possible pre-2015
  • Integrated Text Styles for sketch text, something to add to your templates
  • Create point at virtual intersection of two sketch elements… I know, I know something AutoCAD has done since the 80′s, but Inventor creates constraints.

Image Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives


 

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.


 

Review of Eagle Point Pinnacle Series Business Edition

Eagle Point’s Pinnacle Series Business Edition is a platform for delivering training and support designed for design and engineering professionals in architecture, engineering, and construction offices. I found it useful, especially based on the broad ways to use the system. I would expect its usefulness to actually increase over time. In this review, I describe my experience with the software.

What Pinnacle Series Is?

Pinnacle Series is developed by Eagle Point Software as a more useful method of learning. The company designed it to be available on your computer precisely when you need it. It consists of a collection of video lessons, text tutorials, and chat-based help sessions that are organized conveniently into a single dialog interface.

The entire Pinnacle Series covers many AEC and MEP software packages:

Pinnacle series covers numerous Industry software titles. These are as follow:

Civil Industry Architecture Industry Structural Industry MEP Industry
· Civil 3D· InfraWorks

· AutoCAD

· AutoCAD Map 3D

· Autodesk Storm & Sanitary

· Navisworks

· 3ds Max Design

· Autodesk Design Review

· Revit Architecture· AutoCAD

· Navisworks

· 3ds Max Design

· Autodesk Design Review

· Revit Structure· AutoCAD

· Navisworks

· 3ds Max Design

· Autodesk Design Review

· Revit MEP· AutoCAD

· Navisworks

· 3ds Max Design

· Autodesk Design Review

Each resource is placed into its own tab along the top of a dialog box, as follows:

  • Search Results
  • Workflows
  • Cheat Sheets
  • Videos
  • Training Calendar
  • Support and Chat
  • Community
  • History
  • Favorites

The resources are represented by the icons shown in figure 1

Workflows

Workflows are text-based step-by-step instructions. We can read them before and after a video demonstration to focus on areas we might be unsure of – in addition to using them as step-by-step guides. Being text, they are fully searchable.

Each workflow is segregated by the respective CAD software. We navigate it through in a collapsing tree-type browser interface or flowchart diagram. Under each software package, major sections are presented for the software, which are further subdivided into concepts and performance.

.

Pinnacle Series’ Workflow

Figure 1: The Workflow tab in Pinnacle’s interface

Each topic breaks down the steps required to perform a particular project task. Within these descriptions and explanations, there are links to Pinnacle training items and will launch the commands of the related software package; these are handy for speeding us along. Listing the software commands is helpful especially for new users, who typically are unsure how to navigate a software program’s command tools.

I found the instructions to be quite complete and easy to follow. For instance, the Civil 3D training package contain the standard compliments of teaching roadway, grading, and utility design; in addition, the workflows connected it to other products in Autodesk’s Infrastructure Design Suite, such as 3ds Max and Navisworks. Companies that purchase Autodesk’s suites and wish to move forward with incorporating the suite’s additional capabilities into their designs will find this quite useful..

Cheat Sheets

Cheat Sheets are a collection of tips developed by Eagle Point’s support staff. They wrote up frequently experienced problems and issues in need of troubleshooting. I found them a great addition to the platform.

As Pinnacle is cloud based, cheat sheets are added and updated as new items come up. They represent a really nice way to distribute knowledge to everyone on the network.

How-to Video Training

The videos are the visual compliment to the hands-on text. These tutorials are performed by the Eagle Point staff, who demonstrate each step in the process as they talk us through various points along the way.

The length of each recording ranges according to the complexity of the task.

Training Calendar

The training calendar represents a collection of upcoming live classes, including a previous recording of each class. During these, Eagle Point staff answers questions from attendees.

The calendars I saw were filled out every working day (see figure 2).

.

Pinnacle Series’ Training Calendar

 

Figure 2: Pinnacle Series’ training calendar

Support and Chat

The chat dialog is just like any other chat dialog box, but with a few exceptions. Two types of chats are available, with our design team and with Eagle Point employees.

We can select multiple team members with which to chat. An option to save the chat is available as a way to provide an internal method of cataloging company tips and procedures that were discussed; this is a great way to reduce repetitive questions that need to be answered by internal support staff.

This is also used to save the solutions that Eagle Point’s experts come up with, which can be saved by the company as customized content.

Community

This part does not seem to me to be fully implemented yet. In speaking with Eagle Point, however, I learned that the community will be providing members with solutions to the same problems solved by Pinnacle, but related to any topic, such as business topics like accounting, human resources, and IT. The solutions will come from other community members rather than from the content delivered through the Pinnacle resources.

History and Favorites

History provides a list of the content we already reviewed, and is listed in chronological order. If we were to look at specific features frequently, then this list would make it easy to get back to the topics that are reviewed more recently.

This can be accomplished in another way, using Favorites. This is a list of items that we tagged so that we can refer to often.

Search Results

All content, no matter where it is in the Pinnacle Series product, is searched. Even the saved chats are cataloged in search results. The benefit is that when we solve a problem about the odd behavior of software, for example, the solution will come up years later in the search (see figure 3).

Pinnacle Series' Search Results

Figure 3: Search results

Each search result is ordered by a hierarchy using concept matching. Pinnacle Series employs an algorithm that reviews the keywords and brings best matching content to the top of the list. For example, if AutoCAD appears to be acting up and a user enters “Don’t get dialog boxes,” the search results bring up near the top the chat about the FILEDIA system variable I have every year with teammates. They get instant help without needing to track me down.

During my time with Eagle Point, I think they began to realize just how much I dislike videos: because largely they are unsearchable. Eagle Point’s staff worked around the problem by integrating each video topic into the workflow content. This allows us to search for very feature-specific words to find obscure references to a process. Each video corresponds to a detailed step-by-step workflow, and its text is searchable.

Using the tools

When we start up software, such as Autodesk’s AutoCAD Civil 3D in my case, the Pinnacle system automatically logs in as well (see figure 4).

Logginh into Eagle point Pinnacle series

Figures 4: (left) Log-in screen

Once the CAD software is up and running, Pinnacle Series will also be running; its window can be found in the last place we moved it to. In my case, it was on a separate monitor in its rolled up state (see figure 5).

Eagle Point Pinnacle Series Training Dialog Rolled Up

Figure 5: The rolled-up browser dialog

I decided that I needed to dig into the product some to see how things shook out. I chose the tutorial on using Civil 3D’s Intersection Wizard (see figure 6).

Pinnacle Series' The “Using the Intersection Wizard’ Video

Figure 6: The “Using the Intersection Wizard’ Video

I found the instruction to be detailed enough to successfully complete a corridor intersection using the wizard (see figure 7).

 

a completed Civil 3D Corridor Intersection using Pinnacle Series Video and Workflow

Figure 7: A completed Civil 3D corridor intersection using Pinnacle Series Video and Workflow

I found the best route for this application was to follow this approach: Visually scanning the Workflows in text form, and then viewing the video. The Intersection Wizard is a very long workflow, and as a result the text can become quite overwhelming. Scanning the text for the overall concepts, then watching the demonstration, made things a bit easier to grasp.

I tested the team chat, which went as expected; no problem. I also used it to simply connect with team members on-the-fly, and not necessarily as a help tool.

Administration and Settings

Administration of users and their licensing is handled by the Administration Utility. The options are well organized and easy to use. I added users, changed rights, and so forth, without needing any help. The process was self-evident and well prepared for the user.

The features are broken into four tabs (see figure 8):

  • Users
  • Permissions
  • Expertise
  • Reports

Pinnacle Series' Administration Dialogs

Figure 8: Administration of users, reports, permissions, and expertise

Users – The first tab allows administrators to add users, their email address, indicate their software usage roles, as well as their career field (civil, architectural, structural, mechanical, and so on). The available tools are simple: Add, Remove, or Modify.

Permissions – This tab allows administrators to designate the access rights for each user or group in the areas of managing content, administrative rights, limitations on live Eagle Point expert chat and team chat, and so on. Administrators can designate group rights, which are inherited by the group’s users by default. Inheritance and individual rights can be toggled for each member, if desired.

Expertise – This tab allows companies to establish areas of users’ expertise. It is a simple field that becomes available when using features like team chat and looking for help from within the company. Need hardware help? Chat with the hardware expert.

Reports – I found this tab to be quite useful. It allows us to generate simple reports to identify who is using the training, and who might need mentoring in one or another. It will also point out those who are deficient in their skills, but are not using the training provided to improve their situation and value to the company.

Pricing and Subscription Models

The software titles associated with each Pinnacle Series subscription is based on industry. In the Civil industry, for example, we get access to help and training on the eight titles listed earlier in this review. The Civil series that I reviewed covered software releases for 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Subscriptions and pricing were a concern I had going into this review. I felt that a high price could drive away many companies. However, the more I used the training software and considered how much time it can take to find useful training for a new concept, the more I feel that the value is proportionate to the cost, at the very least.

This software is priced for two models: Business and User. I happen to be reviewing the Business Edition, for which Eagle Point does not have a per-seat price; instead, the cost is matched to the firm’s use of the corresponding products from Autodesk. Volume discounts apply. More information on the actual price model is available from Eagle Point directly.

Licensing is handled by checking out of non-user defined floating server licenses. These licenses are administered on the Pinnacle Series servers. This means that companies have a pool of licenses and any users that wants to software can check out a license as desired. Companies can invite the users they want to participate, regardless of who they are; licenses are administered by Eagle Point, while users are administered by the design firm.

All-In-for the first year

Eagle Point wants everyone to try their software for the first year. When a design firm receives the package, there are no limits or concurrent user caps the first year. The software is wide open for all. Just prior to the renewal near the end of the first year, reports and analyses are generated of how many user licenses are being checked out, and how the training software is being used. This allows both parties to make an accurate determination of how many licenses to subscribe to.

When I discussed pricing with Eagle Point, I proposed a 25-seat design firm. They indicated that they would estimate the actual license usage for the first year, and price the subscription accordingly. Then after a year, Eagle Point would suggest how many actual seats were needed based on the analyses of the data usage for the past year.

Conclusion

Overall, I found the product a great idea as it provides a single location to find valid training for most of the basic needs of AEC engineers and designers. The wide purposing of content and features of the application provide useful information for users at any level of expertise.

While price is a significant deciding point with such a training and support tool, the training and expert assistance is available 24 hours a day, and has no limitations. Moreover one of the biggest selling points the software has is the expandability it provides in the customization section.

Among the benefits, I found these:

  • Good feature coverage, both video and text formats
  • Good troubleshooting tips
  • Awesome customization capability
  • Training and Eagle Point expert assistance is always available without limitations
  • Usage reporting
  • Login and administration were flawless, and it was quite easy to add users

I’d like to report things that were problematic, but quite honestly the tool provides a straight forward resource, without complications. To say something about drawbacks, I offer these:

  • The login was a bit laggy; it still logged in by the time AutoCAD fully started
  • The rollup window got in the way when trying to keep it on a single monitor (my biggest beef)
  • Eagle Point might consider documenting some advanced uses for software features that companies regularly send team members away to learn.
  • Eagle Point might try adding screenshots to the text oriented Workflows. In an effort to keep the streamlined appearance, these could simply be links in the workflow titled “screenshot 1″ etc. People could then choose to open them or not as needed

Other than these, I really don’t have anything else negative to say!

I’ve always found training costs to be the first area that most companies cut back to save some money. While Pinnacle Series isn’t free, I think you should consider the overall value and benefit to having support and training 24 hours a day. Once this type of training tool is in place, the thought of losing its functions may well force companies to look elsewhere to cut costs.

In the past, support has routinely felt distant at best. The greatest value is not in the individual features of Pinnacle Series, but in bringing the entire support channel into the company.

 

Disclaimer

This article was a paid review on behalf of TenLinks, and published on their site as well. This final version was edited by them and fact checked by the software vendor.

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.