The Mac OS X version of CAD software lacks workflow features but delivers on basics.
Although it's taken Autodesk more than 18 years to bring the gold
standard of CAD software back to Apple's Macintosh platform, there's something
to be said for the company's strategy of waiting until it can be done properly.
AutoCAD 2011 for Mac takes the market-leading tool for which Autodesk is
famous, and couples it with an interface that remains true to the Mac
environment while satisfying most of the demands of experienced AutoCAD users.
Perhaps the most significant difference between AutoCAD for
Windows and the Mac version is that Autodesk chose to discard the ribbon
interface featured in recent Windows releases of AutoCAD, in favor of putting
the tools where Mac users expect them: on the Mac OS X menu bar. A
rather substantial number of features from the Windows version simply didn't
make it into this "initial" release for Mac, as described in document
TS15833488 on the Autodesk Website, especially in the area of layering and other tools.
Likewise, many enterprise workflow features for which AutoCAD is famous are
missing from the Mac release.
But AutoCAD for Mac users get a few bells and whistles that
their counterparts using Windows are likely to envy; multitouch gestures on
supported input hardware give the software a look and feel that is only
possible with a Mac, and it's possible to browse AutoCAD files in the Mac OS X
Finder with the Cover Flow option.
Those differences aside-and for some users, the missing
features will indeed prove to be deal breakers-this is in all other
"real" AutoCAD. As proof of this, one need only consider the software's
support for the company's AutoLISP programming language and ObjectARX
extension applications, as well as the command line interface that
to bypass the software's menus and palettes and enter commands directly
ultimate efficiency. AutoCAD for Mac works with files from AutoCAD
Release 14 and later, which accommodates AutoCAD versions dating back
The price reflects this near-parity of features as well;
although educators and students have free access to AutoCAD for Mac through the
company's educational support community, the $3,995 retail cost make this the
most expensive piece of shrink-wrapped software that I've tested in a very long
time indeed. The company offers a free 30-day trial of the software, making it
possible to kick the tires with one's existing hardware; as I found out, the
system requirements are demanding, but a little more flexible than they appear
on first glance.
AutoCAD for Mac requires a 64-bit Intel processor and at
least 3GB of RAM; the company's stated requirements for each Mac model describe
machines introduced in late 2008 or afterward, and these should be running the
10.5.8 release of Mac OS X Leopard, or Snow Leopard 10.6.4 or later.
But I found it possible to install and use AutoCAD for Mac
on a slightly older MacBook Pro than specified; the machine was a 3,1
model from late 2007 with 4GB of RAM, whereas the specs call for a
5,1 or later MacBook Pro. Although I got AutoCAD working on
my older machine-but only after shutting down my customarily and
overworked Web browser-I wouldn't recommend such a deployment to anyone
AutoCAD on more than a casual basis. Autodesk lists the graphics
this MacBook Pro-an Nvidia GeForce 8600M GT chipset-as supported in
AutoCAD 2011 for Mac, and graphics support seems to be the main
for hardware compatibility.
If one's budget can accommodate just under $4,400 for the
software (that figure includes the sales tax in San Francisco, so the total
cost will vary by location), a few more grand for some recent hardware on which
to run it ought to be a trifling matter. But in times like these, many shops
are trying to get six cents out of every nickel, and it's rather disappointing
that AutoCAD failed to consider that a three-year-old system ought to be within
the realm of usefulness. As I discovered, the result on slightly older gear is
a level of performance when manipulating and rendering objects that's somewhat
degraded from an optimal experience-the roughness of images being the only
Once I had the software running on some beefier hardware, I
saw a distinct improvement in graphics-intensive tasks-which for AutoCAD
means "just about everything the software does." What it does, it does well;
although Autodesk has admittedly pitched this release at smaller workgroups
that don't require high-end workflow tools, it does include a powerful array of
controls and tools, backed up by a powerful built-in rendering engine.
This is a complete rewrite of the application for the Mac,
so in many respects, its lack of complete feature parity with its
for Windows should be written off as something that one simply can't
expect in a
debut version. The challenge for Autodesk will be to get those missing
and tools-especially the layering functions and the workflow tools-into
earliest release possible. Many potential customers will find these
shortcomings to be showstoppers, and that's understandable. But as a
first pass-or, at least, the first one in almost 20 years-AutoCAD 2011
for Mac is
P. J. Connolly began writing for IT publications in 1997 and has a lengthy track record in both news and reviews. Since then, he's built two test labs from scratch and earned a reputation as the nicest skeptic you'll ever meet. Before taking up journalism, P. J. was an IT manager and consultant in San Francisco with a knack for networking the Apple Macintosh, and his love for technology is exceeded only by his contempt for the flavor of the month. Speaking of which, you can follow P. J. on Twitter at pjc415, or drop him an email at email@example.com.