AutoCAD 3D Graphics Performance

Ever since I posted my graphics performance comparison I have received a bunch of emails from people asking me why I excluded NX, CATIA and AutoCAD from the comparison. Well, as far as NX and CATIA are concerned, I don’t have them installed on my computer. The reason I left out AutoCAD was because I was more interested in comparing MCAD systems or programs that could be used in the MCAD space. For example, even though Adobe Acrobat Pro Extended is not a CAD system, Adobe is promoting it to the Manufacturing industry. So I added it to the mix.

One reader made the point that Autodesk has been adding more and more 3D features (like surfacing) to AutoCAD since the last couple of releases and that I should have compared AutoCAD as well. Another was quite upset that I included Inventor and not AutoCAD. Frankly, I am pleasantly surprised at the kind of enthusiastic response I have received with this whole 3D graphics performance comparison thing.

So since readers wanted to know how AutoCAD compared to the rest, I decided to load the engine model into AutoCAD 2011 and give it a spin. Take a look at this video.

Pretty good, you might say. But if you have been paying close attention to the videos I have been posting these week, you will notice that something is not right with this video when compared to the rest. There are no edges displayed. Now take a look at this video. This has the display of edges turned on.

Yes, I am as dumbfounded as you. How can this be? I mean, its not like Autodesk is not in possession of great graphics technology. The Inventor video showed excellent graphics performance. So why is AutoCAD such a disaster? Well, I can only guess it’s because AutoCAD and Inventor use two very different graphics platforms.

After seeing AutoCAD’s pathetic graphics performance I began wondering if I was doing something wrong. Well, orbiting around the shaded view (without the edges) seemed pretty good. All I did was switch the visual style from “Shaded” to “Shaded with edges” and recorded the second video. I didn’t touch anything else.

There is another thing, although I don’t think it could have an bearing on the graphics performance. AutoCAD cannot read STEP files. So I had to use one of my plug-ins called STEP Import for AutoCAD to import the STEP file of the engine into AutoCAD. STEP Import for AutoCAD uses the 3D InterOp libraries from Spatial to read STEP files. So do many other CAD systems that were in the original graphics performance comparison. I used the default STEP import options as set by Spatial which are listed in the screen shot below.

My customers have been using these default import options for quite a while now and nobody has complained about them. Nevertheless, after I imported the STEP file I ran AutoCAD’s Audit command to check if there were any problems. Here is the audit report.

As you can see the AutoCAD drawing is clean as a whistle. STEP Import for AutoCAD imported all the parts of the engine as perfectly valid 3D solids, not loose surfaces, regions, meshes or some other degraded object type. In my opinion, this drawing is as good as it gets. I didn’t change any graphics settings in AutoCAD. This is how AutoCAD 2011 comes out of the box.

This is almost unbelievable. I mean, we are talking about AutoCAD here. “The” AutoCAD. True, it is primarily a 2D CAD application. But now you can navigate pretty quickly around 3D point clouds that contain more than a billion points, right? Check out this Autodesk video. Why can’t AutoCAD navigate around this model like any other CAD system? Damn, if a $295 CAD system like Moment Of Inspiration (which has an installer size of 10 MB) can do it fairly easily (see video), what the hell is AutoCAD’s problem?