A New Machine for AutoCAD® Architecture 2008 for
From the Beginning
About four and half years
ago I decided to spend a good chunk of money on one of
Dell's top computers and flat panel monitors. I ordered
the fasted CPU, SCSI drive, a really pricy Nvidia Quadro
and the total price came in at around $4,600.00 ($799.00
for the monitor).
My rationale was that the
higher end items will provide a longer return on the
investment with higher performance along the way. When
the Dell Precision 350 and Dell UltraSharp flat panel
monitor arrived, I was quite impressed with the overall
package; the plastic case looked good and sturdy and the
monitor was very bright. When I set things up to start
working, I discovered that the monitor did not have a
height adjustment which had not been stated on their
website (something that has now been corrected).
The machine screamed for
about the first six months and I was very pleased, even
wrote a glowing article, but then summer hit San
Francisco and we had a few rare 90 degree days that made
the fan go into overdrive. The fan problem continued
even as the temperature dropped to the 80's and I
started thinking about lab tests that are probably done
in air conditioned spaces (old Victorian Buildings don't
have air conditioning and with all the fog really don't
need it). The temperature dropped back down to the
normal 70's that we have in San Francisco but the fan
became more and more unstable and one day the whole
system just shut down.
Thanks to my
next-day-on-site service contract with Dell, they did in
fact send someone out to work on my machine. He
replaced the motherboard and CPU in what appeared to be
one of those, who knows, efforts to solve my problem.
My boot configuration was not restored, however, and I
wound up living with "Hit F1" to continue. Despite this
problem, I was content with my machine and the fan
stopped racing up and down like it was doing before.
Early this year that
highly overpriced Nvidia Quadro card blew a gasket right
in the middle of a project deadline so I ran out and
bought an $80.00 Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 just to confirm
that the problem was indeed the video card. To my
astonishment, the new $80.00 card was actually better
than the Quadro and even allowed me to use Full Shadows
in Shaded Views with ADT 2007.
Blue lights glow from the
inside of the case through the vents.
The arrival of ADT 2008,
now called AutoCAD Architecture 2008 (ACA 2008), forced
me to start shopping for a new machine and that is where
this story really begins.
Since I have been
noticing an unusually high failure rate with other Dell
products (including my laptop), I was not too keen on
buying another one of their machines but Dell's website
is irresistible. One of the first things I noticed
about Dell's offerings is that the options seem rather
limited, especially in the Video Card arena. After
reviewing what I could get from Dell and the price I
would have to pay I decided that I wanted to limit my
spending to $3000.00. Since it appears that I am forced
to upgrade my equipment every three to four years, this
seems like a reasonable amount of money.
Over the last few years I
have been reading about a computer company called
XiComputer; you may have seen their adds in Cadalyst
magazine. I knew they built fast machines for CAD but
they always seemed a bit expensive. However, I decided
to take my $3k to them and see what they could build for
me. With the help of Robert Bragaglia at XiComputer,
this is the machine we came up with (see image right and
are hoses and that's water coursing through my new
offers a fairly
extensive list of CPU choices and I was considering
going for one of the top quad-cores but after reading
about multi-cores and multi-tasking I decided that I
really wouldn't reap the benefits. Many people tend to
confuse running multiple applications with multi-tasking
or multi-processing. And, then there is also the
question about whether or not the software you are
running is multi-threaded. At this point you can hardly
get ACA to run on Vista 64 so I focused on other items
(see comments below).
I realize that CPU clock
speed isn't everything but I hate buying slower CPUs
when I know there is a faster one within my reach so I
compromised and got XiComputer's OverClocked 2.66 Core2
Duo set to 2.93Ghz. This choice provided a substantial
savings that allowed me to pick a better Video Card than
I had originally considered.
Another factor in my
purchase had to do with Windows Vista. My thinking was
that I will eventually need to migrate up to this OS
release so why not get it over with now and go all of
the way to Vista 64. The problem with Vista 64 and ACA
is that ACA doesn't install on Vista 64. Fortunately I
have been monitoring the Autodesk Boards regarding this
issue, there are some irate users out there, and
eventually read some information from Autodesk employees
explaining that Subscription Customers can acquire an
When I received the
computer, I had two major concerns: what does this water
cooling stuff look like and will ACA actually run on
Vista 64. The water cooling stuff is interesting and
only time will tell if I made a mistake (wonder if I
could get electrocuted).
I managed to acquire some
"secret" files from Autodesk that will allow users to
install and run
AutoCAD® Architectural 2008 on Vista 64.
The case I received was
actually one XiComputer chose for me; I usually don't
care about cases. I was surprised that it was an
"old-school" metal style but I found that popping the
side panel was far easier than any of those scissor
style plastic boxes.
At the top front there is
this little translucent lid that covers the power
switch, speaker, mic., 2 USB and an e-SATA plug. There
is actually a reset button on top as well which I have
actually used once already when "Vista Shutting Down"
wasn't shutting down - oh, boy.
The left side-panel,
removable, houses a huge vent that measures about nine
inches in diameter. Included with my order came a giant
fan for this vent that I am not sure about; perhaps I
can install it if I experience heat problems. The only
problem I discovered so far with this setup is that the
hole is on the left where I usually place my machines;
up against a cabinet wall.
Fan noise is comparable to
any other computer fan noise that I have heard.
If you are or were a
diehard Dell customer, it is hard to try another company
because you know exactly what to expect and, if you have
had problems, you know Dell's support is pretty good.
However, I think Dell has a quality control problem and
I was really disappointed to discover that my machine
had, and still has, an overheating problem. I just
expected more and if I am not going to get more, I'd
rather take a chance with a much smaller company where I
can actually speak with the guy building my machine - so
far I've spoken with a sales guy, a floor guy and their
finance person. The machine was assembled here in the
U.S. and it only took a week from purchase to door
I will continue my report
on this machine next quarter and probably over the next
year or two.
In the illustration to
the right I show
AutoCAD® Architectural 2008 running on Vista
64 with an active project. I also show that all of
ARCHIdigm's '07 eKits and eParts have been
installed in the Content Browser and run flawlessly
under ACA 2008.
Additional @Xi Customer Success