Top critical review
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Very easy at first, but only as far as it goes
on 22 November 2009
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.