Connectivity is a generic term that describes how a computer connects to other devices to transfer data back and forth. The term covers everything from networks to wireless to printer cables. Based on the nature of CAD work, some sort of connectivity options are going to be required. This series will cover the major areas of connectivity to help you decide the right ones for your situation.
Networking: Ethernet and Wireless
Every workstation comes with a wired Gigabit Ethernet network port; higher-end machines might have two or more. Wireless networking is typically available for desktop workstations, so you'll need to decide whether to add that option.
Consider your security requirements with wireless networking if you are looking at mobile workstations. It's one thing to be connected to your secure office wireless route (it is secure, right?). It's another when you take the workstation on the road.
USB has certainly lived up to its name. The Universal Serial Bus is absolutely universal, in terms of its pervasiveness across platforms and device types. USB 2.0 began replacing the first-generation standard technology a few years ago and has become the de facto general-purpose I/O interface. It yields a tenfold increase in maximum available bandwidth, a jump that is easily witnessed when, for example, transferring large models or videos to a flash drive.
The jump to next-generation USB 3.0 will also be substantial — another tenfold increase — but its impact will be less pronounced. Version 2.0 has been a slam dunk for just about every user and for many types of media (music, pictures, even video to some degree). It's harder to predict the benefits of moving to USB 3.0, as they will vary by use.
Still, USB 3.0 will in all likelihood supersede 2.0 over time. Some workstations today already support 3.0, not natively via the Intel platform but via an additional motherboard chip. It's widely believed that Intel's next-generation Ivy Bridge platforms (expected to launch by the end of 2011) will include native USB 3.0 support. Unless you frequently transfer huge files over USB, either version should suit your needs. Take whatever your model has as a default.
Think about the number and location (front vs. back) of USB ports you want — and for that matter, flash memory card access, if you need it.
Next we'll talk about PCI, FireWire and eSATA.