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Product Review: Autodesk AutoCAD for Mac 2021

Autodesk’s AutoCAD 2021 this year gained big speed gains and a fully deployed AutoCAD Core Engine treatment for its iOS app version. In this review, we take a look at the Mac version for 2021 and go through its new features.

RECENTLY I DISCUSSED AUTOCAD PROGRESS with Michael Folkers, Principal Product Manager, AutoCAD, at Autodesk. This discussion took place as I was just finishing up a review of AutoCAD for Mac 2021, which came out earlier this year. Part of this review article—the first part—delves into our discussion, while the second part goes into the review itself. I spent about 25 hours inside AutoCAD for Mac 2021, building up from scratch two files that were then externally referenced to each other.

The last time Architosh reviewed AutoCAD for Mac was for the 2013 version. So it has been quite some time. Reviews are only a minority segment of our features here at Architosh, so we do them very selectively and we always spend actual time installing and testing the software. That is more of a rarity in the software media industry than folks realize. Let’s jump to it then.

Discussing AutoCAD at Autodesk

Folkers gave me a PowerPoint presentation of where AutoCAD has been from the very beginning. Seeing this and how it led up to the first Mac version essentially a decade ago was interesting, especially after recent comments Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost made about AutoCAD in another article. Folkers made the point that in the past decade alone, Autodesk has sped up by 10x in graphics performance. In other words, while the recent Revit Open Letter movement caused an uproar over the lack of performance gains and utilization of modern multicore processors with Autodesk Revit, AutoCAD itself is making fantastic strides. But the bigger story here is about how modern AutoCAD is now.

An overall view of AutoCAD for Mac 2021 user interface.

Indeed, even the user interface—and I am specifically discussing the macOS version in this case—looks and feels remarkably current and up-to-date with UI/UX state-of-the-art. The Mac version even has Gesture support, leveraging Apple’s macOS technology to add features that users have asked for. Folkers says that the issue of platform parity between the Windows version and the macOS version is “always back of mind” when thinking of features, what really drives all new features is what the end-users are asking for. In this case, what Mac users ask for they get; what Windows users ask for they get; what users ask for about the Web version, and the mobile versions, they get. I’m not saying everyone gets all their wishes met; Folkers emphasized that the AutoCAD development team’s agenda is to simply deliver the features users are most asking for.

AutoCAD Core Engine

Folkers says that once Autodesk had rewritten AutoCAD around the new AutoCAD Core Engine (ACE) which is “platform agnostic” it has been dramatically faster for Autodesk to take new features to all the various platforms. This year, the Mac version came out nearly simultaneously with the Windows version. The diffusion of AutoCAD technology is accelerating due to advancements in their underlying development technologies for targeting a rich constellation of operating systems across device types.

Autodesk’s AutoCAD Core Engine (ACE) technology has greatly modernized application development for this product line.

“We worked with the Chrome team at Google and using new technologies like WebAssembly we were able to port the AutoCAD Core Engine that powers our desktop products and make it available for our downstream web app and mobile apps,” said Folkers, who says that this particular approach to the ongoing development of AutoCAD has cut its development time by a lot. “It allows us to develop a new feature and with the flip of a switch target or not target a specific platform,” he continues. “There are some features that don’t make sense for mobile or Web and then there are others that do.”

Hidden Benefits of Subscription

Michael Folkers wanted to spend some time emphasizing some of the hidden or rarely acknowledged benefits of subscription licenses from Autodesk. For example, subscription gains business users’ admin tools that are useful for managing multiple licenses and usage. “It’s key to emphasize usage management because it helps organizations place their investment properly,” he said. A subscription also comes with comprehensive technical support, access to older versions for jobs that are ongoing for years, for internal testing at customer sites, plus other cloud features.

One such cloud feature is Design Automation. This enables CAD workflow automation where AutoCAD is running headless in the cloud and producing work. Customers also gain high-end visualization through the cloud using ray-tracing technology known as Autodesk Ray Tracer (ART), a path-tracer optimized for CPUs. This isn’t something we tested in our review specifically, but ART now features physically-based materials and better lighting from sunlight to artificial light. ART cloud rendering is supported for not just AutoCAD but also Revit, Fusion, Navisworks, and 3ds Max.

AutoCAD 2021 — General News

While the release of AutoCAD 2021 for Windows and Mac are now timed together and new feature parity is often very close, the Windows versions do tend to get a few more new features that the Mac version gets later. The features that are new first on Mac and then cross-over to Windows—if they were ever to cross over—tend to be Apple-specific technology or UI-based. For example, the dark sexy interface in AutoCAD first started on the Mac. The new Gesture support in 2021 is Apple-specific tech.

Massive files like this one are greatly sped up on the Windows version of AutoCAD 2021 due to new code optimization routines targeted at 2D primitives.

A big new feature this year on Windows but not on the Mac is Drawing History. This feature utilizes APIs from Box, Dropbox, and OneDrive that surfaces the change history. This is a powerful new feature when one sees how this technology puts it into action. Related to cloud integration, this year Autodesk also supports Google Drive. The new Purge features and Xref Compare, which we go over in detail below, now have parity between the Windows and Mac versions. However, the floating Command-Line is unique to the Mac version.

For the Windows version of AutoCAD 2021, there are some dramatic performance gains. Using new code optimizations around primitives, the CAD giant has made big strides in version 2021. On both platforms, the new Quick Measure features gained Areas in this version.

Let’s now dive into the new Mac version’s big new updates. Again, I spent about 25 hours inside AutoCAD playing around directly with these features on new files I created from scratch.

next page: Mac Version Review

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