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Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
If you've never used a CAD program to design anything, but are computer literate and can follow the instructions in the tutorials, then this will feel simple and easy, and getting started offers no real stumbling blocks. If you want to make pretty pictures of an American style house without paying any particular care to UK standard sizes or getting the key elements of the design in the right places, then it is trivially easy. The whizzy 3D zoom-through works well, just like a computer game, and it is much easier to use than for example the Kitchen designer software downloaded free from Ikea.

However, over past years I dabbled with various iterations of Autocad and Mentor Designer at work, and currently at home run a very stripped-down shareware, A9CAD, on this W2KP laptop. After an hour or two learning the methods peculiar to each, all of these are easy and very productive to use, even if, seemingly, time consuming with all the typing of numbers etc.

Compared with these professional tools able to produce high quality professional results, I found CA intensely frustrating because it seems I wanted to explore something not possible in its standard gamut; just designing a very small and very simple bay-window extension to my kitchen, with new cabinets etc.

Even though I had a floor-plan in both industry-standard DXF and DXC formats to load in as a starting point, CA refused to accept these as source material.
So I used the CA method to enter the floor plan: it refused to let me have precisely the right dimensions even though it was happy to display the wrong dimensions to a higher degree of precision. I thought it might be to do with the snap-to grid: it would not let me choose an appropriate snap-to grid for my design.
I re-specified four of the limited set of wall structures to match the types my house is made of, but then found great difficulty in mixing different types of wall in contact with each other, eg cavity to solid to stud.
Inserting doors and windows compounded the problem, since the positioning is almost arbitrary, and one has to be extremely careful in continually checking it has not automagically made unwanted changes elsewhere while the door or window adjustment takes place.
To begin with, CA insisted on fitting a pitched roof and foundation, even though all I wanted was a one-room interior with one external wall of a slightly odd shape. In a proper CAD program one merely specifies the 3D co-ordinates at the ends of the line and the radii (or none) and its there. Not in this program, the `CAD' section is very awkward to apply to the drawing.

I eventually found ways of turning off most of the useless, obstructive and annoying default settings, but by now I had come to realise that it is definitely not the program for me. Life is too short.

I explored the voluminous help in great depth, but while there is a lot of it, it lacks utility; it tells you what is already obvious and ducks the real questions.

How did I get on in the end?
After about thirty increasingly irritated and frustrated hours spread over three weeks, I still did not have a satisfactory drawing or plan for the kitchen extension and its interior, and my normally infra-low blood pressure was close to boiling.
So I went back to simple, little A9CAD, and in three hours had completed everything I needed to full professional standard, all dimensions, all materials, all in multiple layers so I could show my wife alternative views with different types of cabinet and layouts. Admittedly A9CAD is only line drawings with rudimentary texture and fill, but the end result was infinitely superior to CA, and my blood pressure was back to its normal soporific level. Maybe CA permits this kind of quick and dirty designing from first principles, but I could not find a way into it.

Chief Architect would not install on this old W2KP laptop, so I had to put it on my wife's big XP desktop machine. It took the best part of an hour; first loading off the DVD, and then doing a complete re-load of a later version from the supplier's web-site. At least it uninstalled satisfactorily, only taking about ten minutes.

It's very good at what it does, playing at being an architect, presenting concepts, and making pretty 3D pictures based on its US shapes and objects library. But forget using it for any real structural work in UK. So only three stars.

Addendum 27/11/09. I'm now getting junk mail (how-to-use-it courses and promotional events in US) from the S/W provider, even though I specifically asked NOT to receive any communications. I'd like to reduce the rating by another star because of this further annoyance.

Addendum 4/11/2010. They have ignored two specific requests several months apart to take my name off their mailing list. Hmmm, draw your own conclusions.
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VINE VOICEon 10 December 2009
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The required computer specs look very daunting on the packaging, but I decided to install it onto my HP laptop running Vista Home Pro with 2 gigs of ram. It installed reasonably quickly and without any problems. The software then downloaded a pretty huge update and installed itself again! But again this was a reasonably fast update and as you will be spending a long time using this, then the wait is worth it.

The software starts quite quickly, and with the aid of the online help you can pretty soon be up and designing. This software arrived a few days after my wife had decided that we needed to remodel our dining room and kitchen, so the obvious test was to draw it up and have a go! Like a lot of software of this type there are many many functions that will not be used by most of us. The acid test is to see if it can be used by an amateur designer such as myself without any of the advanced features getting in the way. I found this to be the case and within half an hour I could produce a crude outline of our ground floor which was viewable in 3D and make changes to see how it would look for real. Great for trialling new layouts and projects without spending a fortune on an architect. The rendering of the 3D models was very quick - even on my laptop.

I found a few problems. Our house has a staircase which turns 90 degrees at the bottom, runs for a bit straight then turns 90 deg again. I gave up trying to make this design, and couldn't find one that matched in the extensive libraries of items so I just added a standard staircase and put up with the warnings it gave about walls intersecting the stairs etc. I also encountered a few problems with wallcoverings and textures. Again I am sure that these could have been resolved with a bit of perseverance but I just made do with the nearest to my required covering. But for me the biggest concern is the Americaness of the product. I am not too swept up on UK building regulations but I would be surprised if all of these plans were compliant. But it does give you an excellent idea for planning - and would give you something to submit to an architect for drawing up a full set of plans.

Despite the problems I thoroughly enjoyed playing with this software, and it has enabled us to visualise changes to our current house and started me on to my lifelong dream of designing and building my own house. And all from the comfort of my own laptop!
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Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Loaded this on my 2 year old desktop running Windows 7 and with 4gb ram with no problems so a tick in the box for that.

Won't bore you with a description of the American designed software's capabilities as the product description says it all but, in overall terms, it represents an 'affordable' means of 3D modelling domestic alterations and option creating to your heart's content. Yes, this version is not a straight replacement or a auto-cad programme BUT , if you are really serious about your domestic design or just wish to tinker before going out for professional help, this tool will be invaluable.

Some irritating glitches when it can sometimes not easily allow what would seem to be simple requests for change but they can be overcome albeit with a little effort.And the software was , to my mind, designed from the perspective of a US home but that doesn't really stop you exploiting it.

One of a family of design tools by Chief Architect (this is the mid range version) with the others having fewer/greater capabilities depending on price, I would recommend this as a generally well thought out and executed piece of home design software that I am sure will be of great use on any significant alterations works.

Now, my sister-in-law just wants to plan her house extension......
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 May 2010
Now I reviewed this through the Amazon Vine program so I am fortunate to be able to review a piece of software I probably wouldn't have sprung the cash for personally. I've tried to review it with that in mind so hopefully this review proves usefiul.

First of all, this is an American product. I know many people have pointed out that a fair bit of this program works to American specs and has some quirks because of that. Until you get used to it some of the terms and measurements can throw you a bit.

On a functional level it is fairly easy to get to grips with. I recently bought a new flat and I wanted to get the layout down so I can start picturing a few changes I might make. Quite probably this package is OTT for a 2 bedroom flat design but you have to work with what you have! It was reasonably straightforward getting the measurements in. My rooms aren't straight walls most of the time and it handled adding in things like built in wardrobes with reasonable ease. The libraries in the package of pre-built items are pretty extensive too so it does help make the process a bit simpler.

The 3d viewing can be a lot of fun. I liked walking through my flat in virtual space and moving things around. Certainly saves on heavy lifting etc! It also performs quite well. I put this on a Dell Studio 15 laptop and that managed fine with the 3d rendering.

So to the crunch. If I were looking for something to have a simple look at a new or existing propery and move things around a bit I probably wouldn't spend this amount of money on it. It is too powerful for just playing with. However if I were going for a full renovation project then this package would be extremely useful. It has enough bells and whistles to really help you imagine and review major changes. It also has a lot of advanced features I didn't use but from reading the manual and having a quick look at them it sounds like this package would ease the process of working with a professional architect. At the very least it would mean you could show someone in the know what you have imagined and cut down on confusion.

Overall a powerful and high featured package that does a good job (if you can ignore a few american-isms).
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on 22 April 2012
One of the several strings to my bow out here trying to grub a living in central France is to producing planning permission applications for those brave, perhaps foolhardy, souls who continue to buy crumbling ruins in search of the rural idyll. I have been doing the plans and elevations successfully by hand for a couple of years but wanted to be able to produce more professional documentation. I had tried many trial versions and freebies without success and as I was given a licensed version of this package by a client I gave it a shot.

It does the same things well that other packages of this ilk do, namely the floor plans, but it also has the same flaws. Like the majority of these packages, Chief Architect is American so will do house styles from across the pond adequately but it cannot cope with the huge variety of higgledy-piggledy buildings and roof styles one finds in France. I therefore consigned Home Architect to the great recycle bin in the sky and continued my probably fruitless search.

For those interested, I have happened across the holy grail of design software; Eleco software's Arcon 3D Architect. I've purchased the developer version and it's not cheap, but given that I use it for one of my little enterprises the expenditure has been well worth it.
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VINE VOICEon 9 May 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The Chief Architectural Home Designer software is easy to install, has great in-depth support functions (such as helpful How-To videos), templates to help the beginner get started, and all manner of tools for dimensions, layouts, interiors, exteriors and landscapes. The instruction manual makes understanding things so much more easier as well, which is a relief.

However, for beginners like myself, this is quite an advanced piece of software and will take time to master properly. It runs smoothly though, and the visualisations of your `dream home' is quite remarkable. I do agree with other reviewers' criticisms in that some of the settings were distracting and that the software was incapable at times of fulfilling certain designs I wanted, and at £95 it is rather expensive.

But on the whole, Chief Architectural Home Designer 9.0 is rather good. Even though I consider the Grand Designs software packages to be superior, this is still good enough for people looking to make their dream home.
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on 14 April 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is part of the Chief Architect series, and covers every aspect of home design. TDespite it's wide focus it still has a huge amount of detail, with over 2500 sample plans to choose from, and literally thousands of different configurations of installation and furniture. Many of the complex functions can be automated to save time any to allow you the ease to experiment without worrying about messing up your design.

The main comparison I can offer is to the Grand Designs software which I've also used. Although grand designs has slightly more features and is a more 'professional' product, it is also much harder to learn and use and far more expensive. A design program is only really worth buying if you are actually going to make use of it, after all, and being simple to use helps in this regard.

For the relatively low price, ease of use and huge versatility, I would give this four out of five stars - but close to five.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 14 January 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
There is not much I can add to previous reviewers' experiences of this software, except that it is quite system resource intensive and may slow your pc down considerably if you don't have sufficient horsepower to run it. It is VERY American and therefore not all the features are UK friendly, but saying that the basic design features are very handy in doing a handy blueprint of your idea, before perhaps presenting it to a proper architect at a later stage in the design process. It's quite tricky to get used to all the nuances and features of the program and it will take a fair bit of playing around, to get your desired effect. Overall I'd say this is a worthwhile piece of software to test your ideas on, but is by no means a substitute for a professional finished article.
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Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
First of all I installed it onto a Windows 7 OS desktop, and works fine (however i would recommend having more than 2GB RAM).

The product itself is pretty simple, but like any other program will still take alittle time to get used to get used.
There isn't much really i can describe about this product as the product description really does cover most of it up.

#NOTE: personal use you can have it installed on upto three computers, if you wish to install it on a fourth computer, you need to uninstall the program WHILE connected to the internet or you could buy an extra licence. So if your buying for a business keep this in mind.
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VINE VOICEon 21 July 2010
Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I was initially sceptical of this software due it being a TV series spin off but my reservations were unfounded. I was able to familiarise myself quickly with the software and was soon navigating my way around it. However despite thinking my PC was a decent spec, i did find that my computer did occasionally struggle and the program caused my PC to hang a couple of times for reasons that were not obvious to me. I loaded it onto a laptop so upgrading of the graphics card is not really possible, so i would say yes this a good bit of software but load onto a machine that can handle the graphics.
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