Feature Reviews Reviews

Budget Windows CAD

Publication Details:
Publication:“PC Plus”, UK
Date:April 1995

Feature Reviews: Budget Windows CAD

As prices fall in the Windows CAD market, Tim Baty tries out two new packages that aim to woo users away from AutoCAD. Do they have the drawing power to succeed?

ChoiceCAD for Windows Version 2.1J

DesignCAD 2-D 7 for Windows

At a Glance

Both of these programs aim to compete with AutoCAD LT, but at a bargain price. ChoiceCAD is a likeable program, with a well-designed user interface and several innovative features which address common problems in real design offices. Its add-in applications, tailoring ChoiceCAD to suit specific industries, are particularly praiseworthy. DesignCAD suffers by comparison in being competent but dull. Its user interface feels older and more awkward, despite the benefits of Windows. Although its feature-list is broadly similar to those of the competition, it doesn’t offer anything which is sophisticated or original enough to tempt purchasers away from the better-known alternatives.

Interesting moves are afoot in the CAD (Computer-Aided Design) market. New mid-priced software like AutoCAD LT and Cadvance have signalled a strong downward drive in prices – several suppliers have already reduced prices to compete with AutoCAD LT. The same is happening with budget software, and both ChoiceCAD for Windows and DesignCAD 2-D promise LT-class features, but at a bargain price.

What makes a good budget CAD program? There’s a huge diversity of features, from 2D draughting programs like those reviewed here to solid modelling, and a clear understanding of your needs is essential. Budget CAD programs are usually less flexible than professional systems – complete solutions are rare at this price-level.

When you’re assessing programs, the important issues are who you are, and what you do. Full-time designers need plenty of features, reliable data transfer, and a growth-path to professional systems. Feature-richness makes a long learning-curve unavoidable – this puts a heavy emphasis on documentation and dealer support. Conversely, ease of use is paramount for occasional users – the user interface and help system are what matter here, rather than dozens of features. Indeed, a carefully balanced limit on features can be advantageous, if the result is operational simplicity.

Different tasks make different demands on a CAD program. 3D modelling and rendering tools help when evaluating a design, as do parametric dimensioning features – such programs rely on separate draughting programs for preparation of manufacturing information. 2D draughting demands features which help to describe details accurately – dimensioning and hatching, and structuring tools such as layers and symbol libraries are important here. Some hybrid 2D/3D programs exist, but primarily address domestic activities like garden planning and interior decorating.

Product Facts

ChoiceCAD for Windows Version 2.1JDesignCAD 2-D Version 7.0
VendorSoftcover International Ltd.P.M.S. (Instruments) Ltd.
Issue Disk3.5″ 1.44Mb (2 off)3.5″ 720Kb (5 off)
Minimum required386/486, 4Mb RAM, Hard Disk (10Mb space), MS-DOS 5, Windows 3.1 (Enhanced Mode), 4Mb Permanent Swap-file386, 4Mb RAM, Hard Disk, Windows 3.0+ (Enhanced Mode)
Optional hardwarePlotterMaths co-processor, tablet, plotter
Layers65,000 nameable256 nameable
Library shapesInternal grouped objects, External symbol-librariesInternal grouped objects, External single symbols, External symbol toolboxes
Macro languageBASIC-likeBasiCAD
ExportAutoCAD DWG, DXF, ASCIIDXF, IGES, WordPerfect, BMP
ForAdd-on products
Drawing Office Manager
Upgrade-path to 3D Modeller
AgainstSome instabilityBugs in Help
Single-level UNDO
Confusing menu-structure
Range of features106
Overall speed86
Ease of use86
Value verdict8/106/10

The Competition

Publisher:Autodesk Ltd.
Contact:(01483) 303322

AutoSketch is particularly well-suited to CAD novices and occasional users. The state-of-the-art user interface offers a winning balance between ease of use and features, innovative program design ensuring that the relatively small number of commands are flexible and easily understood. It also integrates fully with Windows as an OLE server application, and provides a reliable upgrade path to AutoCAD. It includes features like isometric drawing and plot preview. It seems almost unfair that Autodesk once again have the program to beat in this market sector.

Publisher:Autodesk Ltd.
Contact:(01483) 303322

AutoCAD LT has been a runaway success. Essentially it’s AutoCAD Release 12 for Windows without advanced features like the AutoLISP macro language or 3D modelling, at less than one-fifth the price of its parent. AutoCAD LT is a serious workhorse at a bargain price, and is the mid-priced package to beat.


3D Design Plus

Publisher:FastCAD Europe Ltd.
Contact:(01923) 246427

If you need 3D rendering rather than 2D draughting, 3D Design Plus is a bargain. It’s easy to use, and offers a wide range of visualisation options from simple shading to full photo-realistic rendering with user-defined surface textures and patterns, and multiple light-sources.. It also provides simple animation tools, although this needs plenty of RAM. Don’t forget that you’ll still also need a separate 2D draughting program if you want to manufacture your designs.


Our Verdict

Although these programs address the same market, they are surprisingly different in character. Both offer AutoCAD LT-class features and are capable of full-time professional use, but can only compete with Autodesk’s formidable marketing muscle by means of aggressive pricing. DesignCAD is something of a ‘me too’ product. It has no fundamental flaws, possesses an adequate range of facilities and can cope with serious work. It’s just not particularly inspiring – it contains nothing that’s excellent, and for this reason is unlikely to compete effectively with the imaginative and well-designed features in other programs. In contrast, ChoiceCAD feels as if its authors have worked in design offices and understand what’s needed. Facilities such as its add-in applications and the Drawing Office Manager set it apart from the competition, and it deserves to do well.

Tim Baty