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Windows XPReview

Ending the Windows Schism

Is XP a Worthwhile Investment for CAD?

excerpted from CAD Report, November 21, 2001

With Windows XP, Microsoft leaves behind its consumer-oriented Windows releases and builds upon NT, which was designed to better suit the needs of servers and high-performance workstations. Unification around one set of core technologies should reduce support and maintenance costs for Microsoft as well the headaches of customers who manage mixed Windows system networks. Microsoft claims that XP is also more stable and delivers higher performance than preceding Windows environments. However, the company's well-publicized new licensing regime for XP, designed to thwart what Microsoft calls "softlifting," may dissuade users from upgrading.

Windows XP-Professional Edition

For workstations, the Windows XP-Professional Edition supports computers with dual processors and comes with extra utilities to ease hookup to LANs and manage small workgroups. It also offers an additional layer of security to better limit data access to approved persons and enables automatic encryption and decryption of data stored on hard disks.

Of interest to engineers, the Professional Edition ships with an option to allow application code and data sets to fill up to three gigabytes of memory - either virtual (spilling onto disk) or physical (held exclusively in DRAM). This is one-gigabyte more than previous systems from Microsoft allowed. Managing the extra memory could lead to some decline in performance, but the tradeoff may worth it for customers with huge models. For those who need even more memory, XP Pro supports Intel's new 64-bit Itanium architecture.

XP and CAD 

"We're aware of the three-gigabyte memory space and plan to support this and will automatically enable this," wrote Bob Brandenstein of EDS's Unigraphics. Dassault spokesperson Sheri Chow wrote, "We are currently evaluating how we would leverage the extra three gigabytes with Windows XP Pro - especially providing our customers with even better performance."

Spokespeople for Pro/ENGINEER, SolidWorks and Unigraphics expect existing applications to run fine on XP, although all cautioned that customers should make sure their video cards have drivers that are compatible with the new OS.

We recommend that CAD system licensees check with their software suppliers to determine release schedules for versions that will facilitate the extra memory access, find out whether it will require loading a patch or service pack, and assess the risks of an ad hoc change to memory settings.

CAD vendors we spoke with seemed cautious about recommending the new OS. PTC's Mike Frommer said, "I see no pressing need to upgrade, but no reason not to either." EDS's Brandenstein said, "I wouldn’t jump forward unless you have a real reason."

Increased reliability is, however, a compelling incentive for Windows 98 and ME customers to migrate to XP. Karl Schulmeisters, evangelist of Microsoft products to engineering markets, says a streamlined interface between video drivers and Windows XP helps accelerate mechanical CAD performance, claiming that one major CAD application ran 10 percent faster on a beta version of XP-Professional than on Windows 2000.

You can find out more about Windows XP from Microsoft's website at http://www.microsoft.com

For the full text of this review, you may subscribe to the CAD Report.

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Also in the CAD Report, Nov 2001

Subscribe to the CAD Report and you will have access to the following stories.

Melding analysis and test -- Coordinating physical testing with finite element analysis can reduce prototype costs while making computer simulations more accurate. New software promises to make the job easier.

Lightweight CAD viewers -- The second release of SolidWorks' Edrawings software adds the capability to view three-D models and make annotations. But a high price and poor quality may turn off users.  Review of the other tools for sharing CAD data.

TSA proposes a Web standard -- The inventor of the Hoops graphics library proposes a compact standard for sharing three-D CAD models and drawings on the Web. Find out which CAD outfits are supporting it and why.

Proficiency rolls out a feature translator -- Flush with venture investment, this startup rolls out its first product: software that translates three-D CAD features as well as geometry. But that's just the starting point for a company that wants to dominate center stage in the high-priced CAD market.

Ending the Windows schism -- Every publication has written about Windows XP. Here are features that are important to CAD users. (full report).

Eight graphics adapters compared -- Test of seven Nvidia graphics adapters and 3Dlabs Wildcat to help CAD users pick the best value for the money.

Notes & Quotes: Think3 slashes U.S. staff; Protel picks a name borrowed from Blue; MSC Software has a bad month; PTC reports flat CAD revenues; Solid Edge makes PDM standard.