VectorWorks 9

VectorWorks has been though some major changes over the past few years. Formerly known as MiniCAD (the previous name was thought to be rather belittling), it is now published by Nemetschek after it acquired the previous publishers Diehl Graphsoft. Since the acquisition, the application has been through a major revamp to develop what Nemetschek claims is a faster, more powerful and more accurate modeller and renderer. A cross-platform application, VectorWorks punches above its weight on the PC platform against the likes of heavyweights AutoCAD and Microstation. On the Macintosh, it holds the belt, with no other pro-level application packing the same punch for the price. The nearest contender is Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD, which weighs in at around £3,000. It’s the winning price-performance combination that has made VectorWorks the undisputed champion on the Mac, but it’s good to see that Nemetschek hasn’t been complacent, and in round 9, has come out fighting fit and ready to rumble. Multi-dimensional
VectorWorks is intended to be used as a precise object-oriented design tool, and can work in both 2D and 3D drafting modes, and switch between the two. Thus, it is a not a 2D-illustration program like FreeHand, nor is a dedicated 3D-modelling program like Cinema4D. An office fit-out can contain not just the plans for the builders, but also the presentation drawings for the client, and if something is changed, be automatically updated across all views. Another layer of the document could contain electrical layout or network cabling to be shown to the relevant engineers. VectorWorks can also operate with what is called Workgroup referencing, so that different specializations can work on separate layers of the same document. The concept of a live network document is one of the Holy Grails of CAD, and VectorWorks’ integrated environment brings it closer than most. One document, many uses, is the mantra of VectorWorks. Nemetschek have really boosted the 3D-modelling tools with full NURBS (Non-uniform Rational B-Splines) and Polygons support, allowing you to create much more complex and organic 3D objects. VectorWorks supports operations such as sweeping and lathing to create complex, organic 3D forms. The built-in renderer is limited, and features OpenGL support, but the plug-in RenderWorks module, available separately, offers advanced shading and ray-tracing. The animation facility is similarly rather lacklustre, with little control over the camera movement or focus. One of the first things existing users of VectorWorks will notice is that it is now dongle-protected, either with a USB or ADB connector. For USB users this means that you lose one of your USB ports. The debate over the pros and cons of dongles has gone on for a long time, and it’s a brave step by Nemetschek. Without a dongle, VectorWorks runs in a demo mode, and you can’t export or save. Besides this obvious change, the new features of version 9 are generally rather subtle, and to the benefit of existing users rather than the wooing of new users. One of the most significant new features, native support for AutoCAD 2000 DWG files, will be of most interest to PC – users, although Mac users will be happy to know that they can transfer files to their PC-using colleagues with ease. Under the bonnet, VectorWorks’ new 64-bit co-ordinate system increases the accuracy, even when changing scales and units. Text is another area where the new features are a boon. A decent spell checker – which works across the whole document, including database records – and a find-&-replace tool have been added. Dimensions can now be associated with an object, so that if the object is resized its dimensions are amended accordingly. Printing has been improved with the ability to Print the current View, as well a quick and easy way to set the printable area.

OUR VERDICT

The enhancements in VectorWorks 9 make it a worthwhile upgrade for core users, but there is nothing new outstanding on the surface to tempt away users from ArchiCAD or across from AutoCAD on the PC. But, VectorWorks remains an exceptionally high-quality program at an affordable price – a knockout.

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