Design and Manufacturing solutions through Digital Prototyping and Interoperability

Tag Archives: review

Lenovo ThinkPad P50 Mobile Workstation – 3 Month Review

The third in our line of Lenovo mobile workstation reviews serves up the Lenovo ThinkPad P50. It’s been a long time coming, and overdue to be honest. The upside of the delay is I’ve managed to use this device day in, day out for nearly 3 months during my day job as an CAD / CAM application engineer. So I’ve been running Autodesk Inventor, Inventor HSM, Solidworks, HSMWorks, Autodesk AutoCAD and Fusion 360 extensively. On top of that I’ve made use of it during my personal life and while travelling for work, so I’ve developed a pretty decent feel for how this unit performs in the real world.

My first impressions pulling the ThinkPad P50 out of its box upon arrival were great. I was immediately struck by the simple design, clean lines, how slimline & relatively weightless it was. But above all else it felt solid. The build quality and finish is great. Then when I discovered the specification of the unit Lenovo sent me, PCIe SSD’s & a Intel Xeon CPU instead of an i7!! I went weak at the knees, what a beast!

Thinkpad P50 Hero Shot

Lenovo ThinkPad P50 Design

The keyboard layout is spot on, with the exception of the odd decision to reverse the Fn & Ctrl keys in the bottom left hand corner of the keyboard, everything else matches convention. It has a dedicated Print Screen button, which I use ALL THE TIME for creating documentation and support cases. The Escape key doubles as a Fn key lock, allowing you to toggle the function of the F keys along the top of the keyboard to behave either as numbered F keys, or hardware keys. Using F1 as an example, with FnLk toggled on (achieved by holding down the Fn key and pressing the Escape key), it becomes the mute button rather than the key people universally press to access your applications help file. Ideal!! With perfectly weighted keys, this keyboard is a joy to use.

Thinkpad P50 Fn Escape Keys

The touchpad has a great feel, and the finish is lovely since it does have a bit of texture instead of being super smooth like a lot of its rivals are. I have to wonder though, how long will it last? The appearance of the touchpad exhibits a slight sparkle, which is the premium coating Lenovo refer to as ‘crystal silk’, so I would expect it to stand the test of time.

Cooling

Lenovo have developed a new approach to mobile workstation heat management, branded FLEX performance cooling. It’s essentially a dynamic cooling system built around two fans, that allows the system to direct air flow to the system components in most need of it at any given time. From a reliability standpoint, this introduces a level of redundancy that I’ve not come across in another mobile workstations so far. What struck me the most about this cooling system is the noise it makes on start up, it sounds like a server booting up! There is a serious amount of power behind these fans, and as such when they are running under normal load its a walk in the park for them. As a result you barely ever hear the beauties.

Aside from the silence, what this practically translates to is a consistently cool surface on which to place your hands while typing and using the touchpad. Which in all but the coldest of climates is likely to be a bonus. Down here during the New Zealand summers I would certainly appreciate it, because my hands can get quite hot typing away on my usual mobile workstation.

Thinkpad P50 Cooling exhausts

 

So what about air flow? Where does all that hot air exit the unit? Well the bottom of the machine is like a sieve, there are intake slots everywhere, which is great. The two fans are positioned in the back corners, so all of the air gets ejected out the periphery of those corners. This frees up space along the back edge, between the rear exhausts, for connectivity.

 

Cable Management

I have a pet hate with laptops, cables. They end up sprawling out from the device in all directions, and often OEM’s don’t do a good job of positioning the connectors during the design of the system board. So how does the Lenovo ThinkPad P50 stack up?

Thinkpad P50 Cable Management

Well, they’ve done a better job than most. All the most common connections are at the back, which immediately gets the bulk of the cables out of the way. On the right hand side of this device, there are two USB connectors, the Mini-Display port and a headphone / microphone jack. I definitely agree with having a couple of USB slots on the side, so you can quickly pop a USB drive in and out of the machine easily or plug in your slimline wireless peripheral dongles. However, I would much rather see the audio jack on the front edge of the laptop and the Mini-Display port around the back of the device next to the HDMI connector. I ended up having to use the Mini-Display port to connect to my 23″ external monitor, and so it often got in the way of my CadMouse.

Lenovo ThinkPad P50 Mini DisplayPort location

Overall, I honestly feel like this is the best designed Windows based laptop I have ever used.

Day to day use

4k Ultra High Definition Screens

One of the elements I was excited to try out with this Thinkpad was the 4K panel it came with. I had no prior experience with Ultra HD, and was keen to see how my most used applications behaved at that resolution, as well as finally being able to watch some native 4K content. I was already aware that they would be issues, and that Windows 10 is still developing to support connecting monitors of varying resolutions. So I was pretty open minded about how the experience would turn out.

Using the Lenovo ThinkPad P50 by itself, with no other lower resolution monitors connected and modern applications that support 4k is a joy. It’s simply stunning. But at this point in time, that just isn’t practical. Microsoft Office 2013 & 2016 is fine, Autodesk Inventor 2017 is fine, Solidworks 2016 is beautiful in 4K, the Adobe Creative Cloud products are also fine. BUT, Snagit & Camtasia are hideous to the point of being barely useable. Prior versions of Inventor & Solidworks aren’t good. Autodesk Fusion 360 can just about manage it (but it depends which way the wind is blowing). HSMWorks & Inventor HSM are usable but don’t deliver 4k support like their respective CAD applications do. Not even Nvidia have updated their control panel software to support 4K properly yet either!!

These limitations aren’t unique to Lenovo, and I certainly can’t blame them for any of it. It’s early days for 4K. If you only run software that already supports Ultra High Def, then go for it, get this screen. Otherwise just stick to 1080p.

Mobility

For the last 3 months I’ve been taking this everywhere with me, along side my normal mobile workstation. To put it simply, I’d much rather be carrying around this ThinkPad P50 any day. It’s thinner, quieter, has a superior build and finish, and is way faster with MUCH better battery life.

Thinkpad_P50_Mobility

Talking about battery life, what have I been doing with it and how does it perform? During the first couple of weeks, I barely used it while it was plugged in. I’d fire up Inventor & Solidworks several times a day. Outlook, Skype, Teamviewer, Edge, Firefox & Chrome were open all day. Excel definitely made an appearance several times, as well as running some virtual PC’s and Servers. The battery nearly always made it through a 9 hour day with a little to spare. Which is in stark contrast to my current machine. I’m never far from a plug socket though, nevertheless, it’s always nice to know you have that much juice available to you when you are away from the desk but still working. The battery life is made all the more impressive when you remember there are 8,294,400 pixels being lit up and manipulated that whole time.

Power management really did impress me, and it seems that Nvidia and Intel have nailed the balance of power consumption vs output with the Maxwell and Xeon based processors. Previous generations did a terrible job of switching between discrete and CPU based graphics processors. So you would invariably have to force the use of the discrete GPU 100% of the time, thereby saying goodbye to any reasonable battery life.

Build Quality

For a start it’s a ThinkPad… so it should be built well based on it’s long standing reputation. Lenovo have been wise to continue that trend from ThinkPad’s IBM origins. This P50, along with the the Lenovo ThinkPad P40 Yoga and the ThinkPad P70, have all passed MIL-STD 810G military certification tests. In the case of the P50, it passed 11 external certifications, demonstrating system durability and adherence to stringent government and military customer requirements. Jump over to the Beyond MIL-SPEC page to read more about tough this units are.

Thinkpad P50 Rear Shot

There is nothing fancy in appearance about this laptop, it’s clean lines, and the GFRP display cover and magnesium/aluminum chassis accentuate it’s solid build. It’s light enough to feel modern but heavy enough that reminds you it packs a punch.

X-Rite Pantone Color Calibrator

What a great idea!! I love the way this is integrated. The tool prompts you to calibrate the screen every fortnight. To get the calibration started, you click on the notification, then from the resulting dialog you choose the calibration standard. All you do then is start the test, and close the lid until the P50 has stopped beeping. I’ve always wanted an easy way to calibrate my monitors so I could get my colours as close to printing quality as I could. Does it work? YES! Using the Autodesk CAM website as an example, I’ve never seen the colour of that orange displayed correctly, it’s never come close to how the printed media looks, but after calibrating the screen for the first time it was absolutely bang on. I was really impressed.

ThinkPad P50 X-Rite Pantone Color Calibrator

However, the tool isn’t that reliable, it kept telling me the monitor had physically changed some how since the last test. To fix this error, you have to reinstall the utility each time. Which is of course a pain in the arse. With that in mind, I would still opt in on that sensor if you ever create any printed media from your workstation.

Performance

AJA System Test (PCIe SSD)

Using a 4GB test file size

  • File per frame: 960 MB/s (40 fps) Write & 1898 MB/s (84 fps) Read
  • Single file: 1450 MB/s (64 fps) Write & 2041 MB/s (90 fps) Read

In summary… from now on, every single new PC I spec, will have a PCIe SSD hard drive in them. Those numbers are unbelievable and the technology is only just getting started.

CINEBENCH R15

Cinebench  is a GPU & CPU focused test, it’s very simple with very few choices for configuration. It provides a handy series of reference specifications, giving you a good idea of where your hardware sits in the current workstation hardware scene.

  • OpenGL: 34.97 fps
  • OpenGL Reference Match: 99.6%
  • CPU: 719 cb
  • CPU Single Core: 144 cb
  • MP Ratio: 5.00

This ThinkPad P50 sat in the upper half of all the test results. Reinforcing it’s intended position within the workstation market. It would be nice if Maxon filtered the results between mobile & desktop based workstation hardware. Either way, the P50 performs excellently for its class.

How Does MAXON CINEBENCH Work?

SPECwpc V2.0

All the tests were performed with a window size of 1900 x 1060. I chose to only run the Media & Entertainment, Product Development and General Operations tests, with a focus on SSD/NVMe hard drive testing. The following Composite scores for their relative Viewsets are listed below.

  • Catia-04 = 4.34
  • Creo-01 = 3.92
  • Maya-04 = 7.73
  • Showcase-01 = 3.51
  • SNX-02 = 4.74
  • SWx-03 = 2.62
  • General Operations = 1.03

The way SPECwpc compiles results is different to how SPECviewperf 12 does. In my opinion it represents a better test for CAD workstation benchmarking, than the more heavily focused GPU testing in SPECviewperf. So any comparison to previous tests would be meaningless. However, this should provide a good base moving forward, assuming it won’t be changed again any time soon. SPECwpc’s tests are far more exhaustive, with multiple tests for each product, meaning the overall score for each product is a composite of all the test scores.

When you compare these results to reports on the SPECwpc results page, it’s clear to see that the mobile Xeon CPU & PCIe SSD are lifting the mobile workstation game significantly when compared to the Dell Precision M4800 & the HP Book 17 G2. It’s really quite impressive.

To find out more about SPECwpc check out their SPECwpc V2.0 Benchmark page.

HSMWorks Performance Test

This is a pretty handy real world test of pure CPU compute power, combined with hard drive and memory performance. The utility just through a bunch of standard surface extraction and toolpath generation routines, then reports on CPU & memory usage, and the time taken. The P50 ranked as 676.2 overall (higher is better) against their database.

Task Description CPU Memory Time Elapsed
Surface Initialization 27.2% 358.3Mb 3.6s
Pocket 47.3% 427.8Mb 13.7s
Pocket Rest 51.4% 463.8Mb 16.2s
Horizontal 72.1% 307.5Mb 24.1s
Contour 83.1% 400.9Mb 27.5s
Parallel 52.7% 889.3Mb 15.8s
Parallel Rest 84.6% 359.9Mb 25.5s
Radial 61.9% 1018.7Mb 16.9s
Spiral 75.4% 1.9Gb 27.9s
Pencil 51.3% 749.2Mb 4.9s
Scallop 32.0% 359.7Mb 15.2s
Silhouette 20.8% 289.8Mb 9.5s
Contact area 79.7% 941.3Mb 9.9s
Rest area 84.9% 424.3Mb 85.0s

That’s a lot of toolpath data, processed in a pretty short space of time!

HSMWorks Performance Test tool Download

Petrikas P2 – Autodesk Inventor 2017

In the same way I did with the HP ZBook 15 review a couple of years ago, here I’m going to perform the same basic test using Gus Petrikas’ Petrikas P2 Inventor model:

  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

While not a massive model, the Petrikas P2 does have a reasonably high level of detail using 644 file references of which 312 are unique. And it looks really cool.

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

P2 RayTrace Settings

Ray Tracing has changed somewhat between Inventor 2014 & 2017, previously I’ve let it run to complete the ‘Better’ ray trace quality. However, Inventor 2017 will keep ray tracing infinitely based on a lighting and shadow quality setting. So I just let it run on draft quality for 307 seconds, so we can compare the quality to my last ray trace test with this model. It’s a bit of a cheat, because Ray Tracing is so much better in Inventor these days. However, on balance, the ThinkPad P50 is ray tracing a near 4K image here instead of 1080p.

Petrikas P2 Ray Trace - Thinkad P50 - Inventor 2017

Inventor 2014’s result

Test Unit Hardware

  • Intel Xeon E3-1505M v55 (2.8GHz)
  • NVIDIA Quadro M2000M (4GB), with the Intel HD 530 chip integrated on the Xeon CPU
  • 16GB 2133MHz DDRR4, non-ECC
  • 15.6″ 4k IPS (3840 x 2160), 300 nit, 100% NTSC Gamut
  • 512GB Samsung NVMe PCEe M.2 Solid State Drive
  • Intel Dual Band Wireless AC 8260 + Bluetooth 4.1
  • 6 Cell (60WHr) Lithium Polymer battery
  • X-Rite Pantone Color Calibrator
  • 720p low light sensitive, fixed focus camera (I did a few international Skype calls with it, and it worked flawlessly)
  • 14.86″ x 9.93″ x 0.96-1.16″ weighing in at 5.9lbs
  • 377.5 x 252.2 x 24.4-29.5 mm weighing in at 2.8kg

Connectivity

  • 4 USB 3.0 (one Always On), two at the back and two on the side
  • 1 USB Type-C / Thunderbolt 3 (very useful for my new Nexus 6P mobile phone)
  • 1 Mini DisplayPort
  • 1 HDMI (There are some issues with some HDMI > DisplayPort cables/monitor combinations)
  • 1 Ethernet (RJ-45)
  • 4-in-1 reader (MMC, SD, SDHC, SDXC) supports UHS-II SD card
  • 1 ExpressCard/34
  • Dock connector

Lenovo allow you to significantly customize your ThinkPad P50 within a fairly broad range of specifications. Nip over to their eStore and have a play with their product configurator. I would go with the spec of this machine as a base, but got with the 1080p panel, 32GB of RAM and then buy a 3rd party 512GB SSD to drop in for extra storage & installation of less critical applications. All in all, bang for buck, Lenovo offer great value with excellent quality.

Lenovo ThinkPad P50 Review Conclusion – Would I buy it?

Yes…. I don’t want to give it back. The quality and performance of the ThinkPad P50 is right up there, and it’s priced competitively. If Lenovo has a good distribution network in your country, then you should definitely be considering Lenovo alongside the Dell’s & HP’s.

Some additional random comments I thought I should share are:

The BIOS has some really neat features that I will miss. It’s not like you go into the BIOS all that often, but when I’ve wanted to see if something was there on previous systems I’ve used, I’ve often been disappointed. The Lenovo BIOS had me impressed.

From a personal usage point of view. It was nice watching pure 4K content on the P50 and the built in speakers have a decent amount of grunt with good sound quality. It’s not really something you would think is needed in a workstation, but they actually suck quite badly in the HP ZBook. Having good speakers means you can play content for people to watch during presentations, without having to hook into an external audio source. Finally I quite enjoyed being able to Cast any video and audio content to the new TV in our bedroom, without the nightmare of having to deal with iTunes, that is a win for Windows 10 though rather than the P50.

Resources:

PCIe SSD’s vs SATA SSD’s

Bringing Intel Xeon to notebook PC’s

Studio Image credits – Lenovo

Disclaimer: Lenovo provided this ThinkPad P50 to Design and Motion free of charge and had no influence over the content of this review.

How to Keep Pace with CadTempo (A Review)

CadTempo

If you are like me, you work on various projects and tasks, often bouncing back-and-forth, trying to meet multiple deadlines. When the dust settles, how do you know where your time went?

CadTempo takes time keeping “into a new realm of time tracking, logging, and reporting of the engineering activities of your users.”. It provides an easy mechanism for tracking time spent on a task, a file, and within an application and provides tools to review the data in graphs and charts. CadTempo integrates into just about any CAD related system, including AutoCAD, Inventor, Revit, SolidWorks, Proe/E, Sketchup, and more… and don’t let the “Cad” in the name mislead you… it truly integrates into any application on your system.

CADTempo_Logo

Created by Patrick Hughes, a machine designer, and owner of Engineered Design Solutions. He has been working with AutoCAD since 1991 and over the years he has developed a number of software solutions to automate his workflows and increase his productivity. This includes his time tracking tools which became CadTempo. He’s also famous for his CAD Dinosaurs Journey series, which he wrote for Cadalyst.

Time Tracking

The key feature of CadTempo? The CadTempo Logger. It automatically records your time, and it starts immediately when you log into your computer. No program to launch, and no timer to start. The recorded time is not the “open” time, but the actual edit time.

During installation (or after in the options) you specify the file types, applications, and folder locations you want to track.Because it starts automatically and already knows what to track (based on your selections) it is completely unobtrusive and honestly, at times, I completely forgot it was even running.

CadTempo - Options Applications

When you want to track an activity, independent of a particular file or application, you can launch the Task Timer. After specifying the task name and additional information click Begin to start tracking time. I was impressed by this feature as when I left my computer and forgot to stop the timer, it had automatically paused itself, prompting me to resume tracking time when I returned.

CadTempo - Task Timer

Similar in process to the Task Timer is the Activity Timer. Use the Activity Timer to account (backfill) for unanticipated time away from your computer.

Want a quick peek of your current activity? CADTempo has you covered with the Timer Display, that shows the current document and the currently collected time data.

CadTempo - Timer

 

Viewing the Data

The CadTempo Viewer is the tool to review the recorded time and activities. This will collect the time from all users on the computer. It is a bit rough around the edges, as it is not the most elegant application I’ve used. I ran into a couple of instances where I could not resize the dialog as I wanted, but it was nothing I could repeat. A switch between tabs or a shutdown and restart of the application resolved the issue. Let’s remember that appearances are not everything, and this application provides a lot of data in an easy to digest manner.

Starting with the Files tab you can view the editing and elapsed time on a folder, a collection of files, or a single file. In the image shown below, I can quickly identify that I spent 3.19 hours on the “ACAD” folder between April 30th and May 7th, with the most time with Civil Base.dwg (1.23 hours). By selecting a file and a calendar date range I can see the specific times I worked with the document.

CadTempoViewer - Files

The Session view provides summary and detail information for a selected date range. This provides a timesheet type view so you can see the days you worked, the hours you worked each day, and see when you worked those hours. This view can quickly be switched between the Session Report (shown below), Task Report, and the Activity Report.

CadTempoViewer - Session

With the time tracked, you can use the various options to view the data in different charts and analytical views. The raw data can be exported to an Excel spreadsheet.

CadTempo - Reports Analystics

CadTempo - Charts

 

The Review

At US$$79.95 / license CadTempo provides an inexpensive means for tracking time. As it starts & stops automatically there is no forgetting to track time and it also means you get a true look into your time spent, no estimates. Installation and setup is straightforward and easy to accomplish. The analytics and chart features will be great, especially if you are reviewing time spent by others.

I found that I needed to “play” a bit with the CadTempo Viewer features and options, not because it was difficult to use or hard to understand, but just to get a sense of what it was presenting. The help is a bit lacking when it comes to explaining the various tabs, the features, and all the options.

Overall this is a great product, especially in that it can track time for any application on the system, not just CAD related. I love the fact that it is invisible, but silently tracking time in the background.

You can try the product for 30-days before you decide to buy. Although it is available in the Autodesk Exchange I’d recommend downloading it straight from the CadTempo website to ensure you are on the current version.

 

 

 

Feature image credit: Macro Diesel Watch via photopin (license)

A Review of Mastering Autodesk Inventor 2016

Mastering Autodesk Inventor 2016

I’ve been involved with training involving Autodesk products for a long time. Everything from delivering training to developing material… yet this is the first time that I’ve done a review of training material. Perhaps its because I was just waiting for the right book to come along.

Mastering Autodesk Inventor 2016 and Autodesk Inventor LT 2016 written by Paul Munford and Paul Normand, published by Sybex.

Mastering Inventor 2016

 

Mastering Autodesk Inventor 2016 and Autodesk Inventor LT 2016

This book is massive! Coming in over 1000 pages it covers all aspect of Inventor, and I mean everything. It starts with a test-drive to get your feet wet then moves on to sketching and basic modeling, then more modeling and sheet metal, before heading into assembly and weldment creation. From there is documentation, exchanging data with other systems, using the Frame Generator, and Inventor Studio for creating imagery and animations. This book also covers Inventor Professional related “advanced” topics… Stress Analysis, Dynamic Simulation, Routed Systems, and Plastic Design Features. The final chapter covers iLogic. This is really your start-to-end all-inclusive tour of Autodesk Inventor.

Unfortunately, I think for many, Mastering Autodesk Inventor 2016 will seem overwhelming. The book is truly massive and it can feel like a daunting task to even get started. There is also no colour, which at times makes it feel a bit drab. However, once you get going there is a good flow to the material. Everything is broken down into Chapters and then into various sections. There are plenty of pictures to keep every topic illustrated and so you know exactly what is going on.

I appreciate the “tips” and other small tidbits throughout, which are easily identified as they are boxed and shaded in grey or marked with a symbol. These provide additional information, that although not always directly related to the topic at hand, lend advice on how to make Inventor perform better, make it easier to work with, identify Inventor Certification objectives, or suggest better ways to design your models. Take for example this tip, which is in the middle of the section on Projecting Geometry…

Breaking the Link with Project Geometry

Projected geometry is created by projecting an edge or a face. When you project faces, a browser node for a projected loop is created under the Sketch node. When you project edges, no browser node is created. You might need to break the link of the projected geometry in order to modify it.

— To break the link of projected faces, right-click the Projected Loop browser node and select Break Link

— To break the link of projected edges, right-click the edge itself and choose Break Link

There are also plenty of “Real World Scenarios” explaining why you should do something using a real-world example to drive home the point. This is a real differentiator between this material and other training materials I’ve used.

Inventor Model

The exercises in Mastering Autodesk Inventor 2016 are short, concise, and overall simple… which is a good thing. Who needs long drawn out exercises when you just want to get to the point. The exercises are also all independent, meaning if you mess-up or struggle with one it doesn’t impact working on subsequent exercises. There is also almost always an exercise per topic meaning even if you jump into a middle of a chapter to learn a specific feature there is an exercise to guide you through the process.

Each chapter starts with a summary and finishes with “The Bottom Line“. This chapter ending Bottom Line summarises what you just learned and also poses challenging questions to test you. If you can answer the bottom line question, not only have you learned the feature, but have also mastered it. All that is missing is Paul yelling “That’s the bottom-line, cause Paul Munford says so!”

The Authors of Mastering Autodesk Inventor 2016

I have been very fortunate to have met both of the authors of this book. There is some serious weight here as these guys are not only experienced but also master communicators.

Prior to working for Autodesk Paul Normand worked in the Autodesk Reseller channel selling, supporting, and training people on how to use Autodesk products, including Autodesk Inventor. For almost 10-years now he has been working for Autodesk as a member of the Autodesk Learning Experience and User Experience teams.

Paul Munford, aka CADSetterOut is a “self-confessed and unrepentant CAD geek“. He has 10+ years using Inventor, he is an Autodesk Expert Elite, and highly rated Autodesk University speaker. He has written many a great article on his site. The highlight for me was his series on surfacing which has proven to be the greatest resource for me on the topic. His style of writing has transferred to this book, which means there is a good flow, its easy to read, yet he gets the points across.

Paul Munford

 

If you get the book or not, make sure you check out Paul’s Mastering Inventor page

Final Take

If I used a grading system for my reviews this book would get an A+. Although from its size it is a bit daunting to get started, but once you do I’m sure you’ll find that Mastering Autodesk Inventor 2016 is well laid out, easy to follow, and it follows a logical order.

Pros

  • Extensive coverage of Inventor – consider it your one-stop-shop for learning all aspects of Inventor
  • short, straight-to-the-point, easy-to-follow exercises
  • many tips, tricks, and other important tidbits scattered throughout

Cons

  • no colour
  • the book is massive, meaning it might seem a bit daunting to get started and a bit overwhelming once you get started

Disclaimer: Sybex provided a copy of the book free of charge for the purpose of providing feedback. They have had no influence over this article beyond that interaction.

Feature image courteous of Gratisography

Let me Frame it for you: A review of fra.me

At this years DEVELOP3D Live Conference (in March) the company formally known as Mainframe2 officially relaunched as Frame.

Who is Frame?

Never heard of Mainframe2? Me neither, but this is not because they were not successful, but that their previous target market was the software vendors, not the end user. Demand from users (and companies) for a hosted site where they could put their apps, and not just apps from one vendor, lead to the Frame relaunch and their new offerings.

This is a different spin on using the cloud. Unlike cloud based applications like Fusion and Onshape, think of Frame as an online computer. Using Frame you put your software, applications, and related tools in the cloud and access it through a web browser, anywhere, on just about any device.

Frame_PR-logo

Here’s what the brochure says

“Frame is a software platform for the cloud that delivers Windows desktop applications through a browser. This means users can access any Windows applications from any device (PC, Chromebook, iPad, Kindle, Macbook, iPhone, etc.) without installing anything locally, and administrators can manage all their users, applications and environments from a single location. Even high-end, graphically-intensive applications including CAD tools run great on Frame since each user’s session can be backed by powerful GPUs”

Need proof that the technology works? Siemens has been (and  is still using) the technology to host their SolidEdge trials.  Other apps that run within frame include Solidworks, Solidedge, Siemens NX, Creo, Vectorworks, Ansys…. with many more soon to be announced. I also proved that both AutoCAD and Inventor run just fine within the application. [They are really looking for Autodesk, Autodesk Resellers, and Autodesk Users for proof of concepts… if you know of someone, or are someone, reach out to them]

So, Why would I use Frame?

The flexibility of working from any location, only requiring an internet connection and a browser. Think sitting in Starbucks, kicking back a Pumpkin Spice Latte, working on your Inventor / Solidworks / 3DSMax / Photoshop / <insert application here> without trucking around your big heavy workstation-grade laptop. And… Unlike moving to Fusion or Onshape there is no need to change your software.

Another benefit of using the Frame technology is the ability to ramp up and ramp down with the change in staff size / project load. As a monthly subscription you can easily add and remove licenses. You can also scale up the hardware as you need and you only pay for the time that you use.

When you have applications that because of cost or infrequent usage you can not / do not want to deploy individual licenses is a real sweet spot for Frame. This is especially true when the users are distributed across multiple locations. In this scenario you could load up a system with the applications and when the user needs the application they launch the Frame system. Nothing needs to be installed on their local system, yet they have access whenever they need.

Frame - All-in-one-IT

Frame is available in a few “flavours” which for individuals and commercial business really boil down to Frame for Personal (1-user to install their apps) and Frame for Business. Frame for Business is a single administered “sandbox” published to a pool for users to access. A bonus is that it really is “IT light” in that your software only needs to be installed and setup one time and then can be accessed by any number of users from the Frame Launchpad (in a browser).

Frame in Action

I was very fortunate to get a live demo of the offering from Carsten Puls and Jared Conway. It was very clear right from the beginning that there has been a lot of thought put into the offering, really focussing on what the end-user needs. Frame is easy to use and you will literally be up and running in a few minutes.

Even the little things, like putting a task list right into the Windows wallpaper, were added to streamline the learning / implementation process.

Frame - Desktop Tips

In the background Frame is using 9 regionally based datacenters. Upon your first login it suggests the closest center, which becomes your host. [They are planning to have dynamic server selection in the future, for the traveller that travels to multiple continents.].

You now have a system, an “online PC”, which you actually power on like a real (physical) system. You then install the application you require onto the virtual system, as you would with your own system. You are running Windows in all its glory.

System Starting

The basic Air system contains 1-CPU, no GPU, and 4-GB of RAM, but this can be quickly kicked into higher gear with the Pro system, which has 4-CPUs, 1-GPU, and 16-GB of RAM. With this flexibility you can use the Air system for “lighter” type work and consume less credits.

Subscription is monthly which gets you an amount of credits. The amount of credits consumed switches on the fly. For example, you can use the less credit consuming Air system to work with things like MS Word, a browser, etc and then ramp up to the Pro system when you need 3D CAD modeling.

Frame - Desktop

The system initially contains 45 GB of disk storage, which boils down to 20-GB for the OS and 25 for applications. If you hit the wall, you can request an increase.

The intention is not to store data on the Frame system, but to your cloud storage. Frame currently provides support for Dropbox and beta support for Google Drive and Box. Connecting the drives was as easy as clicking the button and entering my username & password.

 

Frame - Add Drives

 

Drive - Mapped Drives

The status bar provides quick access to the Frame clipboard and Upload file option. Use the clipboard to paste items from your local clipboard into your Frame session clipboard. Use the upload file option to add files from your local system to the Frame system. When you are done with the file in the Frame session, either save it to your connected cloud storage or move it into the download area within Windows Explorer.

In the Frame for Business mode the user system defaults to stateless, meaning when the system is rebooted, it goes back to the default. This is unless you implement the option of storing user settings and configurations in their connected cloud storage.

The Administrator in the business option is provided tools to track usage and to install & manage both applications and web apps. The administrator installs software in the sandbox, publishes it to the production by the user, and sets up the environments UI with the applications they can access.

Remember how I mentioned they thought of everything? The Utility addon provides a general purpose Windows 2012 Server to host license managers, databases, and perhaps even a small Vault (PDM) database. Basically it’s an area to put things that are accessible by all systems under your Frame umbrella.

Another interesting feature is Elasticity, which is used to scale for peak usage. Say, for example, between the hours of 8 to 4 you set five max instances with 1 buffer. The buffer is up and running constantly, so that one system is ready to go. When the first person logs in and consumes the buffer system the next system boots to become the buffer. Once the buffer is exceeded then the next user has to wait for the system to power on.

The bottom of the Frame window provides real time statistics of your connection including the speed, distance to the Frame server, and latency. The more green circles you see the better your connection is. The requirements are not extreme as the minimum suggested for CAD modeling is 5mb/s and latency less than 100ms.

Frame - Stats

 

As mentioned earlier the process is to launch the Desktop and install the applications as you normally would. When the application is installed you will be prompted to Onboard it. When an app is onboarded it is accessible as a standalone application that can be run without first starting the system session. Great feature

Frame - Onboard

 

Fraem - Onboarded Apps

 

For my initial trial I used the Personal plan. I adjusted the Google Chrome start pages and installed AutoCAD and then Inventor. With both installations I just used the 30-day trial option from the Autodesk website.

AutoCAD installed without a hitch, but I ran into errors after it was dashboarded. However, as instructed by the error message I send support an email and within 15-minutes they replied in that it had been fixed… talk about customer service! I worked with AutoCAD both 2D and 3D on both the Air and Pro system states and honestly could not tell the difference between my locally installed AutoCAD and working within Frame. I will however always use the Pro system state when I’m working with AutoCAD 3D.

Frame - AutoCAD

Inventor was a bit different as initially I could not get it to install without the Frame system timing out. After a suggestion from Jared, I switched into the Pro mode and Inventor then installed without a problem. Jared has seen some CAD programs that without the graphics (GPU) in the Air instance, the installer stalls.

Since I was in the Pro mode Inventor worked flawlessly. I didn’t load it up with any extremely large assemblies, but worked with a couple 3000ish part assemblies and the performance was great.

Inventor in Frame

My Thoughts

I tried Frame on various connections and received mostly acceptable results. In fact on my work connection (+20mb/s, ~70ms latency) you would not be able to distinguish the performance between the local system and the Frame system. I did however get the dreaded singular red circle performance rating on my crappy wireless home connection (which according to http://www.speedtest.net/ was less than 4mb/s). The biggest hindrance on this connection was the graphics which became extremely grainy and slow to respond… but, it was actually still somewhat workable, but not something I’d want to use for extended periods of time. [NOTE: I found out after that this issue might have been related to using Google Chrome and that a fix is on its way]

I will admit that browsing the internet in a browser embedded in a browser caused me some grief in that I was constantly using the wrong address bar and toolbars!

I did not request a bump in disk storage so in my trials I downloaded each software installer to the virtual PC, but then had to remove them immediately to make room for the next software installation media. A suggestion I have for future versions is for the ability to create a temporary connection to a local drive, similar to how you can with virtualization systems like Oracle’s VirtualBox. I would use this  for software installations where I already have the installers (local media) and / or deployments ready to go. When I was done installing or powered off the system the local drive would be disconnected.

In Conclusion…. like with most “cloud” based services if you sit in the same spot, using the same system, day-in and day-out, there is going to be little advantage to using Frame. However, if you move around a lot (meaning you require remote access) I would seriously look at Frame.

I also see benefits when you have applications, that for cost reasons, you want to share amongst a group of users…. especially when that group of users is distributed across different offices in multiple locations (of course providing you comply with the software vendor’s licensing terms).

The Frame offering was well thought out creating a good user experience which will get you up and running in little time. The connection to cloud storage truly does provide the ability to log in anywhere, anytime, and continue right where you left off.

Promotion

My new friends at Frame have extended an exclusive offer just for Design & Motion readers. For the first 50-readers to sign up with Frame, enter the code DESIGNMOTION2015 for $25 off Frame Personal or Frame for Business (expires 10/31/2015).

What’s New in Vault 2016? Copy Design 2.01

Vault 2016 puts me into a difficult position. For those of you who moved to Vault 2015 R2, the majority of the new features contained within 2016 you’ve already seen. For those (like me) who stayed on 2015, there is a lot new in 2016 as you didn’t use R2.So the dilemma…. do I blog about 2016 like it is all new? and just ignore 2015 R2 existed?

What I’ve decided to do is write about the 2016 features assuming that you’ve never seen them (as in never seen 2015 R2 or 2016), however, I will try to identify all things that have changed within 2016

The new and improved Copy Design is so significant Autodesk now labels it as an “Experience(ed: Very ‘Dassault’ of them!). If you haven’t seen it yet, you will probably be a bit shocked by how significantly different it is. I’m labeling the 2016 Copy Design as version 2.01, as 2015 R2 introduced the new “2.0” Copy Design and 2016 only slightly tweaks it.

Experience

photo credit: JOH_1143 via photopin (license)

Allan O’Leary is doing a very, very, very deep dive of Copy Design over at Under the Hood. Its a very good read as it is both informative and fun, in a way only Allan can. My post however, is not the “long and short of it”, it is only the short. It is the meat and potatoes of Copy Design, meant to give you my impression and get you up and running in no time.

Copy Design 2.01

I should start by saying that for anyone using Vault Basic, you will continue to use the 2015 Copy Design. The new Copy Design “Experience” is only available for Vault Workgroup and Vault Professional users.

So what was so wrong with the old Copy Design?

There are many things about the old Copy Design that I liked. It was easily accessed, it autoloaded the file I had selected and its children. It was easy to tag components with the actions I wanted (after I learned the hold CTRL to toggle all trick). It also had a flow and feeling that didn’t make me feel like I was leaving Vault for something else… it was a part of Vault.

Copy Design however, is not always the most intuitive. For example, Find and Replace is available but only if you know the magical sweet spots to right-click. It also becomes clunky when you start getting into large datasets. It’s clunky as it’s difficult to navigate to find the items you want copied, the ones you want replaced, excluded, etc.

The New UI Experience

Copy Design Dialog

The User Interface (UI) is completely overhauled allowing for more feedback, user customization, and different sorting (ed: while nice, it’s yet another Vault UI variant). Although some similarities in workflow to Get / Checkout, it really is a different experience.  Although it can be launched from within Vault [new to 2016] it is actually a standalone application. You can additionally start Copy Design from the start menu.

Copy Design Start Menu Location

Copy Design now supports more than one dataset at a time. It also supports AutoCAD Electrical Projects (finally). It also now works on non-CAD files… meaning any file stored within your Vault is eligible to participate in a copy design.

Although standalone the window behaves as other Vault windows. The displayed properties (columns) are adjusted by dragging-and-dropping. If additional properties are required (desired), right-click on any column and use Choose Columns to add or remove properties. The view is persistent, meaning it will be as you left it the next time you use Copy Design.

A nice bonus feature which would be nice at times in other windows, is the right-click options for a quick expand-all or collapse-all. The expand options include 2-levels, 3-levels, 4-levels, and All options.

Other new features:

  • copy individual instances (opposed to all instances)
  • replace parts with copies that were created during the active copy
  • configure different actions for drawings
  • use circular references, such as substitute parts and drawing overlays.

The copying process has been completely restructured which should lead to much greater performance. With the previous version files were copied local to your system (into the temp) for the magic to happen (copying and renaming) and then checked back in as the new files. Although this happened invisibly to the user it was still time consuming, especially the file transfer back-and-forth between your system and the server. The copying now occurs completely on the server leading to greatly reduced copying times, significantly improving performance.

The Workflow

If you launched Copy Design from the Vault client your dataset is already loaded, or at least the start. If you required more data or if you launched Copy Design standalone use the big plus sign icon in the toolbar to browse for and select files to include in the copy operation. One caveat is there is no search, that’s right I’ll say it again, there is no search using the add file option within Copy Design…. it’s straight up browsing file structure (maybe Copy Design 3.0?)

Copy Design - Add Files

Use Add Children (in the ribbon) to quickly add attachments and Library files.

To remove drawings from the view, disable Drawing Views from the application menu. Enable Automatically Copy Parents so that as you select a component to copy its parent is automatically selected. Disable Select References when you only want to copy the instance of the component, not all references of it in the assembly.

Copy Design App Menu

Right-click on the components in the list to set the action. The available options will vary on the component level and the file type. The options include:

  • Copy: Toggles the component to copy creating a new file in the same location as the original
  • Copy To: Similar to Copy but you will be prompted to select the destination folder for the new copy
  • Copy Branch: Sets the action to Copy for the selected item as well as all of its children
  • Replace: Browse for and select a replacement file
  • Reuse: Is the default action and can be used to remove an action like Copy
  • Reuse Branch: Sets the action to Reuse for the selected item as well as all of its children
  • Exclude: removes the instance from the new copied assembly

Use the new Actions panel to quickly filter out the files with the assigned action. For example, selecting the “Exclude” tab displays just the files set with the exclude action. The action of the files can be toggled via right-click in these views as well. This has proven to be a great way to check what I’m actually copying and other actions and make adjustments… especially opposed to navigating up and down the navigation tree with larger assemblies.. Remember that nothing is committed until you click the Create Copy button, which is when it initiates the copy process.

The Where Used panel provides a Source and Destination option to quickly see where the files are coming from (Source) and where the copies are going (Destination). Because you can copy individual instances (now) a particular component might have multiple destinations.

Copy Design Where Used

Use the Folders Panel to review the source and destination folders of the copied data, a different view of the Where Used Panel. This shows where the copied files are going, so you can insure they end up in the correct location. As a bonus, you can apply operations based on the folder location. You can also drag-and-drop files between folders or from the main view to add to the copy.

Using the Numbering Panel

The biggest change, and most likely the one that takes the most to get used to, is the Numbering Panel. You do not adjust the name of copied components from anywhere BUT the Numbering Panel. The Numbering Panel lists the files to be copied and is what you use to set the new names. This Panel displays tabs for each numbering scheme used within Copy Design. It organizes the files based on the scheme applied.

Copy Design Numbering Pane

With files with no scheme applied, you can manually adjust the destination file name, apply a prefix (before the base name) or postfix (after the base name). You can apply changes to the three (pre, post, and base) on a selection of files. The options presented on the specific numbering scheme tab is completely dependent on the numbering scheme.

In Summary

Vault Copy Design 2.01 is a case of the good, the bad, and the ugly… well, not quite as it is more of the great, the good, and the bad.

Great is the new features like multiple datasets, AutoCAD Electrical project support, and copying instances opposed to all references.

Good is some of the workflow items like the action panels, the right-click expand options, and the exclusion of drawings from the view.

Bad is the separate window, with its look & feel and workflow different from all other features in Vault. When you launch Copy Design, it truly does feel like a standalone, separate product from Vault. Inconsistencies in software workflows make it difficult for new users to learn and difficult for users who don’t use the feature all the time to be productive.

Ugly Sweater

photo credit: Vintage 80s 8-Bit Scottie Dogs Tacky Ugly Christmas Sweater via photopin (license)

What’s New in Vault 2016 Review

Autodesk pulled a sneaky one and released the Vault 2016 help a few weeks ago without any press release, blog post, or any type of notification. So although the product wasn’t available, we were able to read all about the new features ahead of today’s release. Make sure you read the System Requirements changes at the end of this post, big changes in your environment may be required.

Here are the listed categories for the new features.

  • New Item, BOM, and Change Order Features and Enhancements
  • New Copy Design Experience
  • Vault Thin Client Enhancements
  • New Vault Office Thick Client
  • Inventor and Third-Party CAD File Support
  • Project Sync Enhancements
  • Control Open File Behaviors in the Vault Client Feature
  • ADMS Console Enhancements

I’m both disappointed and a bit perplexed with both the What’s New help and the overall message by Autodesk. There is no differentiation in the what’s new help between the three flavours of Vault. Some, like anything to do with Items, is crystal clear (only applies to Vault Pro) but many you have to read between the lines and make some educated guesses to determine if the enhancement applies to your Vault. Others, I have no clue which versions they apply, you’ll have to find out when you start using Vault. There is also little-to-no mention or indication of the features that were introduced with Vault 2015 R2. This makes the list seem very significant for 2016, when really probably close to half the new features were actually introduced with R2.

I don’t want this to be a distraction from the excitement of the new features, as there still are some significant ones, but be careful when reading through the document as not everything may apply to the type of Vault you are using.

Christmas Sparklers Fun

If you are not currently using Vault 2015 R2 then before you dive into the new features within 2016 I would start with our Autodesk Vault 2015 R2 Summary, This was our summary of the enhancements added with 2015 R2 from last year, and so it serves as a good starting point to see what’s new with 2016 as well.

License Management

For this review, I’m going to start in an odd place… the Autodesk Data Management Console (ADMS) and FlexLM. That’s right, there are some kick-ass system management tools added that I don’t want to get lost in the mix.

Vault 2015 R2 introduced a new reindex option. Re-indexing now comes in the form of three options: Re-index lastest and released versions only, re-index lastest versions only, and re-index all versions. The new option (latest only) provides more flexibility and an option that should complete sooner than the other two. Also from a revision management perspective should a released object really be touched in any way?

Because of the architecture of Vault and how it is integrated with the FlexLM license management tools, it has always been difficult to determine who is currently logged into Vault and difficult to get any usage history. This all changes with 2016. FlexLM now logs by username, opposed to the generic AutodeskVault, meaning you can quickly determine who is currently using a license. The license reporting tools now apply to Vault, just like they have always done with the other Autodesk products. As a bonus, you can now reserve a license, saving the license for a particular user or user group. [Yay!!!!!!!]

Vault Office Thick Client

First introduced for Vault 2015 customers, non-subscription customers can now use the Vault Office Client. Think of it as the full client, minus all CAD related functionality. With the Office Client, you don’t only get access to check-in and check-out but also the ability to apply lifecycles to folders, files, and items, and to participate in Change Orders. Using this you can also generate reports and work with custom objects. It’s not free, but costs less than a license of Vault Workgroup and Vault Professional.

As a bonus, with 2016 and the licensing improvements you can now segregate the Vault Office licenses away from your other Vault licenses, reserving them specifically for non-CAD people.

Vault Thin Client Enhancements

With all the changes to items and the bill of materials, the web-based thin client is enhanced to support the new features.
  • BOM filters to toggle the display of OFF rows and whether you see non-released items
  • The thin client now supports ON, OFF, and non-assigned item BOM rows
  • Support for the new Grouped BOM rows and BOM specific properties (which can only be controlled within the administration settings, making it impossible to filter the BOM’s on-the-fly, even in the full client application!)
  • View item versions
  • Reference Designator integration for viewing AutoCAD Electrical BOM data

Inventor and Third-Party CAD File Support

Autodesk has expanded support for 3rd party CAD data within Vault. This is due to Inventor’s new AnyCAD workflow where non-Inventor data can be associatively attached to a model. From the Vault help, here are the restrictions.

Autodesk Vault Help 3rd Party CAD Restrictions

Project Sync Enhancements

Vault 2015 R2 introduced enhancements to Project Sync, which is the service that automates the publishing of Vault data to Autodesk Buzzsaw. This feature is specific to Vault Professional, and the updated features extend to 2016 as well.

  • Previously all files contained within a mapped folder would be uploaded to Buzzsaw, whether needed or not. Now the user can select which files within the mapped folder are uploaded, reducing the amount of unnecessary files shared.
  • Project Sync jobs can now be configured to fire on transition state changes, for example from In Review to Released.

File Revision Rollback

Yup! Now when you accidentally change the state of a bunch of files, you can roll back to the previous revision, essentially undoing your mistake! BUT, there are some caveats which we will cover in a future post.

Systems Requirements Changes

There are some big ones!!

  • The 2012 editions of Windows Server are the ONLY releases supported!! That’s right you need to upgrade from Server 2008 or 2008 R2.
  • SQL Server 2012 is the ONLY supported release of SQL. 

So make sure you have your upgrade plans in places before getting too excited about upgrading. Also be sure to read the release notes for any known issues or peculiarities.

Everything Else

Over the next two weeks, we’ll be doing a deep-dive into the enhancements of the following topics. Make sure to come back to check them out.

  1. Copy Design Experience
  2. Item & BOM enhancements
  3. New Unified Lifecycle, Category, Numbering Scheme, and Revision Experience

Join the Community