Recommended CAD software for a beginner?

I've just started a new engineering project, and I would like to use MCAD software this time around (I used Visio on the last major
project, if you can believe it).
I'm a software guy (25 years), and I'm trying to improve my mechanical engineering capabilities... :-) I found a number of commercial CAD packages out there (via Google) that have watered-down free versions. Some are 2-D only (not really sure what they mean by that?), some are time- limited trialware, etc. I'd like to settle on one package rather than having to invest time learning one only to abandon it for another.
Can anyone recommend CAD software that is more than just a toy, and is inexpensive/free?
I note that Revell's VEXplorer robot kit has SolidWorks inside... such a kit could be useful for prototyping - is the version of SolidWorks included likely to be too watered down to be useful in the long-term?
Thanks in advance.
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Dear mr.i...:
On Mar 13, 12:51 am, snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote: ...

It means you can only produce standard-view drawings, that they do not enable "hot" rotation of a 3D model to see what the silly thing will look like. In other words, they provide a desktop that is no "deeper" than a piece of paper.

Are you going to work in any industry, any area of the country? If so, get to know some engineering managers. Get their opinions. Might cost you a lunch or two.
Lacking any direction that would allow you to get a job and not have to relearn a new CAD package, I would suggest that you look at some of the open software packages, rather than some sort of butcherware. See what kind of community support they have... http://www.osalt.com/autocad http://sourceforge.net/projects/arquimedes / http://avocado-cad.sourceforge.net / ... sourceforge is a really good central location for open software.
David A. Smith
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wrote: ...

It means you can only produce standard-view drawings, that they do not enable "hot" rotation of a 3D model to see what the silly thing will look like. In other words, they provide a desktop that is no "deeper" than a piece of paper.

Are you going to work in any industry, any area of the country? If so, get to know some engineering managers. Get their opinions. Might cost you a lunch or two.
Lacking any direction that would allow you to get a job and not have to relearn a new CAD package, I would suggest that you look at some of the open software packages, rather than some sort of butcherware. See what kind of community support they have... http://www.osalt.com/autocad http://sourceforge.net/projects/arquimedes / http://avocado-cad.sourceforge.net / ... sourceforge is a really good central location for open software.
David A. Smith
Thanks David. Actually, this is more for my own edification. I'm still working as a programmer, but I've recently rekindled my interest in working with physical (tangible) stuff. I've been able to salvage a number of motors, gears, and other electromechanical goodies from work. Was thinking of starting off with a homebrew robot, or maybe a CNC machine of some sort.
I'll check out the links you provided. Thanks again!
-Scott
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On Mar 12, 11:51 pm, snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com wrote:

Surprisingly several folks are using Google's Sketchup. I'm not talking businesses, but open source design groups. It's free, so many folks can use the same platform without spending a huge amount on software.
http://sketchup.google.com /
I don't know if there are Sketchup to CAM converters, yet.
I haven't found any cheap, good Mechanical CAD. Dave
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wrote:

Dave,
Thanks for the reply. I actually looked at Sketchup. Anything from Google already starts out a big plus in my book, but I was worried that I'd just be switching one wrong tool (Visio) for another. It seemed like Sketchup was intended more for architectural stuff, but if there's already a group of folks out there using it for mechanical design, maybe it's a good choice.
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On Mar 13, 11:36 pm, "Scott Smith" <scottseansmi...@NO- SPAM.hotmail.com> wrote:

While I'm a member of an open design group, I'm not using it. So this may be a dead end. But my source was a college prof. Dave
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