Best Buy
  • Price: 769 . 1049 . 1159 . 1449

  • Company: Nemetschek

  • Pros: New world-class 3-D modeling engine; Smart Cursor improvements; cool new Snap Loupe; snap to PDF; AutoCAD 2009 support.

  • Cons: Snap Loupe sometimes misses.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 9 out of 10 We rate this 9 out of 10

Nemetschek's Vectorworks software is a powerful and popular CAD program, which unusually is available for the Mac as well as Windows.

Vectorworks 2009's integrated 2D drafting and 3D modeling capabilities serve multiple CAD specialties with six versions of the software: Vectorworks Architect (architecture); Vectorworks Landmark (landscape architecture and planning); Vectorworks Spotlight (set design and theatre, event, and exhibition planning); Vectorworks Machine Design (mechanical engineering); and Vectorworks Fundamentals (2D drafting, basic 3D modeling) make up the five distinct modules. Vectorworks Designer, the sixth module, combines the other five into one comprehensive package. RenderWorks, a high-end 3D rendering engine, can be integrated into any of the modules.

Vectorworks has evolved over the years from a lean and mean drafting application with a quick learning curve and inexpensive price to a very powerful high-end CAD application with more features to compete with the top CAD programs on any platform. The price for this competitive edge is that the interface is now much more difficult to master, with complex palettes, layered menus, and hidden features. The cost has also crept into the £1,300/$2,000 range, depending on the module you get. Still, this is less than half the cost of other CAD products, most of which are available only for Windows.

New engine

The big news for Vectorworks 2009 is a new 3D modelling engine that controls how your model is created, calculated, altered, and displayed. Nemetschek has replaced the program's previous kernel with the Parasolid 3D modeling kernel built by Siemens PLM, considered by many professionals to be the leading CAD/CAM/CAE engine. This industrial strength modeller significantly boosts the power and performance of the program and allows Vectorworks 2009 to handle larger and more complex modelling projects. Nemetschek says this new engine operates roughly four to five times faster than the previous version for most 3D operations and up to twelve times faster for Boolean operations (adding and subtracting 3D shapes and surfaces). While I cannot confirm the exact speed increase, the modelling certainly feels significantly faster.

Vectorworks is a cross-platform application that also runs on the Windows operating system. In the PC market, Vectorworks competes with CAD powerhouses such as Autodesk's AutoCAD/Revit and Bentley's Microstation. The new Parasolid modelling kernel now puts Vectorworks 2009 on a more equal footing with both of these bellwether products. This bodes well for Vectorworks' future, and the Mac community benefits from this competition.

The buzz in the 3D software world these days is Building Information Management (BIM). BIM is the concept that all building information can be combined into a single data set and model that can be managed through the life cycle of that building, from conception through construction and on through occupation and maintenance. BIM is a process that goes far beyond switching to a new software package. It requires changes to the workflow of the traditional architectural practice and more data sharing than most architects, engineers, and builders are currently used to.

To date, BIM is making its greatest impact in large architectural firms working on very large projects and government buildings, and there is still much debate regarding when and if the concept will affect a significant number of medium and small-sized firms. So, while I think this has much more to do with the future than what is practical for most designers today, Nemetschek is methodically positioning Vectorworks with an eye to the BIM concept. New capabilities of the Parasolid engine, such as the increased accuracy and the additional performance of more complex models containing even more information about the objects in the model, allow Vectorworks to take an important step in that direction, even if they are only partially leveraged in Vectorworks 2009. I expect additional dramatic changes in future releases due to the new kernel.

New features

Not all of the changes Nemetschek added in Vectorworks 2009 are under the hood. While it is important to note the new 3D modelling engine, the basic interface and workflow for Vectorworks 2009 are mostly unchanged from what is already familiar to current users. However, there are many very useful updates and tool changes that will benefit users, even if they don't use 3D modelling extensively. Below are a few that I find noteworthy and which, for the most part, apply to most of the different modules.