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Best choice for a laptop to be used for CAD applications?

by trinarae / January 11, 2007 7:31 AM PST

Hi all:
I'm gearing up to buy a 1st laptop. I've got 2 Dell desktops (work & home) that use primarily for CAD drafting and web-surfing/research. Also some business-type applications like letter writing, accounting etc. I also do photo editing (but not video, as yet) and have been know to play games/watch DVDs.
I am looking for a laptop to improve the general portability of my work -- i've got some out-of-town clients & need to take the show on the road.
I THINK i need quite a bit of RAM:(i'm used to how my CAD program works with the 512 i have now, but it does hang-up on big cut & paste or moving large hunks of a drawing).
I assume that a 80-100gb hard drive would be fine.
I've never used anything like Bluetooth or wifi, so i don't know whether they'd be something that i'd need -- am assuming that i need some kind of connectivity on the road.
I have been looking longingly at 17" screens -- the wide aspect ones would, i think, be useful for the drafting. The more of a large drawing that i can see at once, the easier it is to keep track of what i'm doing. (I have 19" flat panels on my desktops). The screen questions are:
1. is the extra cost of a 17" (versus 15" or 15.4")worth it for CAD drawing resolution?
2. What about XGA v. WXGA v. UXGA v. anything else that might be out there. (I imagine that once i get my hands on this puppy, i'll want to use it outside upon occasion -- like at a job site).
Weight is not a huge issue, since I mostly won't be carrying it very far.
The last major parameter is keeping the cost down to around $1000 -- so i have been browsing the sales and Dell's clearance center etc. I imagine that some of the 'deals' out there are just that, and others are 'pigs in a poke'
So: can anyone out there help a poor Luddite?

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OK, I see 512MB RAM is what you have now.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / January 11, 2007 8:41 AM PST

What else is in that desktop that works fine?

Then we can compare to today's laptops.


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more on what I'm using now
by trinarae / January 11, 2007 2:00 PM PST

Hmmm...let's see
this home computer is a Dell dimension 1100 running XP Home (I liked XP professional better, but was on a real tight budget when i bought this thing last year)
"my computer" lists the following
pentium(R)4 CPU 2.80 GHz
2.79GHz, 512 MB RAM
80GB harddrive (this is partitioned 60/20 - came that way, haven't experimented w/ the trial of Ghost, because i don't want to be forced to buy it -- it's probably a great program and good insurance and all that, but that kind of marketing ploy pisses me off) I've only used about 10 GB so far -- my office computer (a year and a half old) has about twice that.
I've got whatever DVD came standard, and, as i mentioned, a 19" flat screen monitor.

My main use for this and all computers is running a CAD program called SoftPlan -- architectural drafting. The software has all sorts of 3D modelling capabilities that i have not tapped, but would like to. The setup i have generates wireframe models fairly quickly, but refining and editing the drawings -- moving or copying sections w/ lots of lines etc -- often leads to a system freeze -- sometimes just for a minute or so, while it thinks, sometimes it shuts down (this is not amusing). My assumption is that the RAM gets a wedgie after several intensive manuevers.
I am imagining that the way i will use the proposed laptop is either to take to job sites/client meetings (occasionally) but mostly, I've been thinking that it might be better to keep all of my current projects on the laptop and move that back and forth between my office and home (I work at home a lot, and only go to the office 3 or 4 times a week and shuffling the drawings back and forth on a thumb drive, while not particularly onerous, leads to much time spent trying to remember just where the most current version resides)
Does this shed any light?
thanks for any guidance

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There are laptops with very comparable ram, CPU, hard disk..
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / January 11, 2007 8:38 PM PST

But we lack that graphics card. As it stands even that 999 buck Lenovo with the 1G RAM, 80G drive, DVD recorder, wifi, firewire and all the other items compares well and the CPU is a Core 2 Duo that will out run your current P4 2.8 GHz.

The only thing to consider now is screen size and graphics cards. You didn't supply that so either it doesn't matter or you didn't know it did.

Hope this helped you learn how to compare and find your new laptop.


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OK -- graphics card info
by trinarae / January 12, 2007 1:20 PM PST

I checked out my office computer today
It's a Dell Precision 380 w/ P4 processor 521 2.80GHz, 1Mb L2 cache, 800 MHz; 512 MB.667 MHz DDR2 ECC SDRAM 2X256;80 GB serial ATA 7200 RPM HD w/ 8MB databurst cache. Graphics card is ATI FireGL V3100, 128 MB, dual VGA or single DVI/VGA. Monitor is an UltraSharp 1905 FP 19" vis.
The home computer (dimension 1100) has "integrated Intel 3D AGP graphics"
Very Late last night I checked out consumer reports & noted that they recommend the Inspiron 1705 as a "best buy" for a 'workhorse/desktop substitute'. those, apparently start at $999. I also looked on their outlet site and found 1705's ranging from the low $700's to up over $1000. Not sure whether to be tempted by the savings on a 'factory reconditioned' or 'open box' machine. (by the way they had pages and pages of them and none listed a graphics card -- which i interpreted to mean that they come with 'integrated graphics'. Yes? Maybe?)
To answer your question: I have always assumed that graphics cards are important -- but I am really clueless as to what constitutes an appropriate graphics much of the sales hype is geared toward gaming or other forms of visual entertainment...I don't know how the requirements for CAD graphics overlap Gaming graphics.
Thank you for your input -- i'll do some checking on the Lenovo you mentioned -- i hadn't heard of them until yesterday.
By the way, I live on a mountain-top and almost never get down to 'civilization' as defined by the presence of a CompUsa store -- so i'm trying to figure this out without drivng down there to finger the merchandise.

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Lenovo was those IBM laptops.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / January 12, 2007 1:25 PM PST

Owner and name change.

Since integrated graphics apparently works fine for you, then we are definitely in the ball park of the Lenovo Core 2 Duo machines you see at Office Depot in the 1K buck range. The final item is that display size. That's the piece of this puzzle I didn't see you mention in the laptop.

Smaller displays mean lighter wieght, something more time on battery power. Bigger displays are nice but cost more and eat more battery power.

What size display?


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more on system requirements
by trinarae / January 13, 2007 7:04 AM PST

Bob: thanks for taking the time to sort thru this stuff w/ me...
but i think, in all my verbiage in that first post, you missed
"I have been looking longingly at 17" screens ... (my) screen questions are:
1. is the extra cost of a 17" (versus 15" or 15.4")worth it for CAD drawing resolution?
2. What about XGA v. WXGA v. UXGA v. anything else that might be out there? ..."
Question #1 referred to something i read that said that 17" screens don't have any better resolution than 15-inchers (same # of pixels spread over more space?)

Not having had a great deal of access to laptops, I'm not sure how much i would dislike the 2 lbs or so weight difference would make... perhaps i'll experiment with a sack of bricks.
I'm not too worried about battery life, as long as i can get at least 2 hours.

As i admitted in my previous post, i don't know what the effect different graphics cards is. I do have that problem with the CAD program hanging-up (permanently freezing, on occasion, so that i have to reboot and hope i didn't go too long between saves) -- is that just a RAM issue, or could the graphics card be contributing to the problem??

Here's what their website sez about requirements for SoftPlan (CAD program)
"Some additional technical details:
>SoftPlan is a 32-bit application. It can be run on the Windows XP Professional 64-bit operating system by making use of the operating system's 32-bit emulator, but this typically results in slower performance than if SoftPlan were run on a 32-bit operating system.[QUERY: where does one get 32-BIT OPERATING SYSTEM? And does anything else work with that?]
>SoftPlan will take advantage of dual core and hyper threading processors to increase the performance of its SoftView 3D module.
>For SoftPlan to achieve maximum performance, the VIDEO CARD should have a minimum of 256 Mb of memory and must fully support the OpenGL 2.0 standard.
>A minimum of 256 Mb of system RAM is required, with 512 Mb recommended.
>A CD-ROM drive is required for software installation.
>A USB port is required for the SoftPlan copy protection device.
>A 100% Microsoft compatible mouse is required.
>A minimum of 40 Gb of free hard drive space is recommended.
>A tablet PC can be used but SoftPlan does not make use of any tablet specific input features."

I browsed Lenovo last night & didn't see anything over 15.4" (starting at around $1200) -- i'll check office depot shortly.
thanks again

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While that helps, how does it run on your home machine which
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / January 13, 2007 8:18 AM PST

Doesn't have the 256 MB video memory?

I've seen such specs before but now that you've pointed out those last 2 items I think those just under 2K buck Toshiba's and Dells with 17 inch screens and dedicated video ram may be the ones to short list.

Look at those with the 17 inch screen, the 256MB video RAM and the Core 2 duo. I don't suggest you get too concerned with the CPU clock rate since it will handily whiz past your home machine.

For example, this model.


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that Toshiba is definitely out of my price range, sigh...
by trinarae / January 13, 2007 1:32 PM PST

I just spent a couple hours browsing and following links suggested by the Toshiba you pointed out. I really can't go too far over $1000.
When i cycled back through the Dell site, though, i noticed their "precision mobile workstation" line.
I did a hypothetical customization on an M90 based on the features of a "certified refurbished" one that they have listed at $1349 in the Outlet (it came in at $2274, new)

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Got a Dell Inspiron 6400
by villieg / January 13, 2007 2:14 PM PST

I just purchased a new laptop for work and home use.
Autocadd, adobe and some serious business database apps.

Spent more than 1000, $1600

inspiron 6400
t7200 processor, 2 gif 677 mhz
2-1 gig ram, 677 mhz
100 gig HD 7200 rpm
256md video
15.4 in screen
3 year warranty

I think it will work fine for me. I looked for something below 1000 but struck out.

The best deal to get the power was this machine.

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1. How much difference is there, performance-wise, between a
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / January 13, 2007 11:42 PM PST

1. How much difference is there, performance-wise, between a mass-market graphics-capable laptop and something like Dell's Precision line, which claims to cater to the needs of engineers and architects (all very serious). If either one would do the job on my CAD work, maybe i should opt for the fun solution.

I'm going out on a limb here, but I'll write none. To wit, if the machines are roughly similar in chipsets and clocks then the benchmards come in roughly the same.

2. I wonder how reliable the refurbishing is...saving about $900 is tempting. And i can get a lot more computing power for my bucks.

Sorry, but with laptops it's a crapshot. The one repeating lesson is to keep the units in warranty for as long as you rely on them.

-> I wonder how you are justifying the 256MB video ram since your current home machine that runs this software (apparently well enough) doesn't have it.


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regarding video RAM...
by trinarae / January 14, 2007 2:56 AM PST

I guess that's one of my core questions:
My office machine (Dell Precision 380 w/P4 processor 511 2.8 Ghz, 1MB cache 800 MHz, etc) has an ATI FireGL v3100 128dualVGA or single DVI/VGA (whatever that means) graphics card.
My home-office machine (also a P4, 2.8 GHZ, 1MB cache) doesn't have a video card.
Both of them hang up occasionally on large CAD manuevers -- sometimes the only way to get them un-hung is to turn off the machine. This is a pain in the xyz.
I think, but haven't run a statistical analysis, that the home machine is somewhat worse about this.

So the question is: what are these two machines missing, that if added, would make this problem go away?? clock speed, or cache or RAM or video card, or a more computer-savvy operator, or?...or is it maybe that 32-bit thing?

I think the common approach to a problem like this is to throw more money at hardware -- it's real easy to fall into that "mine is faster than yours" thing -- but I am envisioning keeping my current work on the laptop rather than moving files back and forth on a thumb drive, so i'm pretty sure i want to get something as optimal as my slender budget will allow.

maybe it's the software...I'm going to check with them to see if they can offer a reasonable expectation of more fluid operation with their new release.

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Then it's not a hard requirement (video).
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / January 14, 2007 3:19 AM PST
In reply to: regarding video RAM...

You could get by nicely with the more common 1K buck machines. As to the lockups that may be easy to explain given the age of both machines. That FireGL was 'the hot thing' way back when but shows that it is likely 5 or more years old.


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they're nowhere near that old...
by trinarae / January 14, 2007 5:41 AM PST

I bought the one with the prehistoric video card a year and a half ago, the other one 9 months ago.
I guess Dell was outfitting its loss-leader, pre-customized 'Precision' machines with near-obsolete stuff in order to clear their shelves...I probably should have spent a dozen hours checking around and reading fine print, etc. before i bought...trying to do better this time.
Thanks for all the input -- i'm going to cogitate on my options for a few days while i discuss the hang-up issues with the SoftPlan techies...

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