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The scoop on PCB layout software

Discussion in 'Circuit Simulation & PCB Design' started by keny, Sep 12, 2010.

  1. DerStrom8

    DerStrom8 Super Moderator Most Helpful Member

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    I'm actually surprised nobody has mentioned Proteus.

    It's a great professional package, has a schematic layout editor (ISIS) with HUGE libraries, a simulator, and a PCB layout editor (ARES) that works fairly well. The latter has a bit of a learning curve, but is probably well worth it.

    Matt
     
  2. akahrim

    akahrim Member

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    I currently use PCB Artist. Its free and you can do both Schematic Capture and PCB layout with it. It has the option of going up to 6 layers using the standard option. If you'd like more layers you can can use the extended option and you have the option of having up to 28 layers. You can also send the file directly to Advanced Circuits for fabrication though the application.

    http://www.4pcb.com/free-pcb-layout-software/index.html?gclid=CN_96d-F-bcCFUGk4AodgSQA4A

    Amir
     
  3. Janubian

    Janubian New Member

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  4. dave

    Dave New Member

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  5. RadioRon

    RadioRon Well-Known Member

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    I have learned and used both Cadsoft Eagle and Cadence Orcad/Allegro over the last five years and applied them to major projects. Eagle is a very good program, best suited to a single users and applied to less complex designs (for example, a four layer board with hundreds of smt components on both sides including fine pitch ICs). The Cadence offering is now based on Orcad (aka Cadence Design) for schematic capture and Cadence Allegro for PCB layout. The Cadence applications have greater capability in several areas (for example, it is not stressed by a 16 layer board with thousands of smt parts, many fine pitch ICs and very dense signal routing, developed by a team of layout techs. Also Cadence can be applied to IC and other monolithic structure design too but I have no experience on this type of application). However, the Cadence programs require a much greater investment in training/learning to get up to speed. Unfortunately, this isn't just the result of the greater capabilities of the program. Perhaps half of the difficulty of learning Orcad/Allegro is (in my opinion) because the user documentation is very difficult to use. The documentation between Eagle and Cadence is a stark contrast. Where Eagle has a very good Tutorial and user Manual, that are easy to study and easy to reference, the Cadence documentation is hard to use and terrible for reference. I had no trouble learning Eagle on my own by going through the tutorial thoroughly and then reading every page of the Manual. In contrast, I was unable to use the Cadence documentation this way. To be honest, Orcad the schematic capture program is not so bad. It has been around a long time and so it is easy to find basic documentation written by third parties. Allegro, on the other hand, does not have this base of third party documentation available, and suffers badly from the Cadence supplied materials. In my case, it was necessary to hire a trainer to tutor me. I would guess that larger organizations would find it absolutely essential to hold classroom training sessions. In addition, I have found it frustrating and often hopeless trying to find answers to questions by referring to the Allegro documentation. The best way to find answers for Allegro, and often for Orcad as well, is to google the question in hopes of finding a user discussion dealing with it.

    One thing that I like about Eagle is that it is designed for Windows from the ground up. When testing other pcb layout tools, I found many of the larger professional-type programs to be ported from older windows or non-windows versions. This makes them less attractive and sometimes less smoothly integrated and intuitive.

    Eagle is a combination of two tightly coupled applications, a schematic tool and a pcb layout tool. The Cadence set is not as tightly integrated. Like most professional setups, the schematic capture (Orcad) runs somewhat independently and delivers a net list which must be manually imported into the layout tool (Allegro). This is a fairly common and normal method, but Eagle does this automatically (and thus is less prone to error). The automatic forward and reverse annotation in Eagle is a bit better as a result.

    The Cadence system has a lot more functions and features that allow complete definition of a part within the tool using attributes and built-in spreadsheets. Linking to a company's part database is well within the Cadence capability but Eagle is weak in this area.

    I especially like Allegro's feature where you can route a trace and the program will automatically move your trace around objects in accordance with your spacing design rules as you go along. Plus, you can move traces by automatically pushing them aside. Plus you can re-route a trace by redrawing a portion of it and the program will erase the old parts that you don't need any more. Nice.

    The eagle schematic capture tool is a better graphical drawing tool. Orcad, by comparison, is quite crude. By this I mean, for example, if you want to draw your own schematic symbol, Orcad makes a poor drawing program, with very little choice in line widths, textures and patterns, grid resolutions, and Orcad often stumbles when you try to select a small object near another. As a graphics drawing tool, Orcad takes you back to 1990 in how it appears and feels. Eagle does not. This is a minor irritant, but bear in mind that the Cadence tools are more expensive than Eagle.

    I'm not sure what it is about the design of Allegro, but it seems to me that related functions are not where you expect them to be in so many cases. Now, to be honest, sometimes this comes from things simply being different from the other pcb programs I've already learned. But I don't think that explains all of it. I find too often that a function that should appear on a menu accessed using a right click of the mouse button (based on context) is not there, and is only found in a less than intuitive location of one of the pull-down menus. There have been times when my tutor (with decades of experience with this tool) would say "hmm, I wonder where they have moved that function in this version?". So many times, I was unable to find an editing function under the Edit pull-down menu (for example). In contrast, Eagle does a pretty good job of this sort of thing.

    To cost, you can lookup Eagle for yourself at the Cadsoft site, but it ranges from free for a hobby/student version to a couple of thousand dollars for a pro version. The Cadence pair will cost a lot more. How much more depends on what options you buy and how good your negotiating skills are, but $10,000 and up is the range.
     
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2014
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  6. RichTheDude

    RichTheDude Active Member

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    I use Proteus for all my designs at work. Inbuilt simulator, Virtual State Machine simulation (i.e. simulate PIC's with your own hex file), and it is by far the easiest software I have ever learned. Talking of manuals, I have YET to refer to a manual whilst using Proteus. Only thing I picked up from another guy was how to use ? in component ID's such the automatic annotation tool would rename parts according to their position and sheet number.

    Nice to simulate entire systems in it, and making components and footprints (and even multi part symbols) is bordering on trivial. I have also used Protel 99SE, Orcad, Zuken Cadstar, Eagle and KiCAD briefly. I find Eagle's user interface utterly confusing, yet it seems to be the popular ECAD out there. I will have to part with some cash if I leave work, so many symbols and footprints, plus, I find it a quick tool to get my jobs done.
     
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  7. Flyback

    Flyback Well-Known Member

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    here is the real situation with PCB layout software
    http://pcblayout1.wordpress.com/pcb-layout-software-packages-need-better-tutorials/

    Eagle is the easiest to learn...by miles
    EagLe is the most common "less then 6 layer pcb" package in industrial Germany
    Eagle is best not used to lay out complicated boards like computer motherboards.
    All eagle scms , libs and pcbs can be directly imported into Altium 14............so basically if you are using eagle, you are effectively using altium as you can move over to it any time.

    Altium only offer this direct transfer capability for eagle, since altium recognise the brilliance of eagle for laying out boards that aren't computer motherboards.
    (edit....an engineering manager told me that the converter doesn't always perfectly convert eagle layouts to altium....he said sometimes the copper pours don't get transferred correct...this was the words of an engineering manager near Woodford Halse, UK.)

    By the way, its only the free version of Eagle that's limited to 100mmx80mm boards, the Pro version of Eagle can do a lot more than that, (but costs some hundreds of pounds) and is excellent, intuitive, simple.
     
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2016
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  8. eTech

    eTech Active Member

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    Hi
    I tried Eagle about a year ago, and it had a bizarre interface. I'm the type that if I can't get up and doing something productive with the tool in a couple of hours, I'll dump it, especially if I have to pay for it.

    I've been using Design Spark PCB for over a year now and was able to get designing in a couple of hours. It's free, has no board size or layer limititations, supports LTSpice, and has built in 3D board viewer. I've Produced a few boards, and am happy with the results. I highly recommend Design Spark.

    eT :D
     
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  9. Flyback

    Flyback Well-Known Member

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    does design spark have dxf import, and 3D collision avoidance?
    Can you email a forum with a design spark problem (eg how to adjust the snap distance etc) and get an answer.

    http://tangentsoft.net/elec/movies/tt07.html.
    does design spark have great web tutorials available for it on the web...?

    As responsible engineers, do you believe that we should limit the different number of packages to a few good ones, so that companies can find people to do their pcb work easily..?
     
  10. RichTheDude

    RichTheDude Active Member

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    Totally agree with eTech, although I use Proteus, and so far I have yet to NEED tutorials. Intuitive software goes a long way. A lot of support on minor points to me flags serious problems in the user interface and the supplied documentation.

    For the record adjusting the snap distances in both metric and imperial units is trivial in Proteus ;). No need for a forum....
     
  11. eTech

    eTech Active Member

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    Yes....it does do dxf import. It can also import Eagle designs and parts.

    Uncertain about 3D collision avoidance, but they have recently release a companion 3D mechanical design product called DesignSpark Mechanical. FREE.

    Also has a ModelSource interface (part database) where you can pick components sold by RS.
    And a cool part creation wizard for custom parts.

    It also has a forum where you can post questions.

    They have video tutorials but like all vendors, some good, some not so good.

    Limiting the number of packages always makes sense from the standpoint of standardization and maintenance. Who wants to maintain part libraries from 10 different vendors?

    eT
     
  12. DerStrom8

    DerStrom8 Super Moderator Most Helpful Member

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    I tried registering for DesignSpark but they never sent me the verification email for my account. I tried two or three times, each time with a different email address, and they never sent it to me. I checked spam folders to make sure it wasn't filtered out, but there was not a single email anywhere from them. After the second or third try I gave up on them.
     
  13. eTech

    eTech Active Member

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    Hmmm...I didn't have any trouble at all..

    Try sending an email to support@designspark.com
     
  14. DerStrom8

    DerStrom8 Super Moderator Most Helpful Member

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    It's too late now, I've given up. I use Eagle almost exclusively, though I've tried about a dozen different programs, including KiCAD, Altium, FreePCB, DIPtrace, ExpressPCB, and Proteus. I can't imagine DS would be any better than those ones.
     
  15. eTech

    eTech Active Member

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    Its better than most of those you mentioned...including Eagle (in my humble opinion).

    But I understand if you don't wish to persue a copy...

    eT
     
  16. Flyback

    Flyback Well-Known Member

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    I think the number of different pcblayout packages has gotten out of hand.
    Eagle is easy to pick up, that's why I used it.
    It had a zero learning curve.
    aNY new package from now on should be able to transport into any other package...in fact , all the current ones , should be transportable to each other...this just makes sense.
    Libs scms, pcbs convertible to any other...or at least, to one main one
     
  17. picbits

    picbits Well-Known Member

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    I tried Designspark (again) the other day - couldn't get on with it (again !)
    I then tried KiCad (again) and picked it up surprisingly quickly for the schematic layout part - I've not tried the PCB part yet.
    I also use Sprint Layout for my PCB layout - it is all done by hand with no autorouters but it just "works"
     
  18. mikekeens

    mikekeens New Member

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  19. DerStrom8

    DerStrom8 Super Moderator Most Helpful Member

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    That's a very comprehensive list! At one point I was trying out a bunch of different design programs and developed a comparison based on about a half dozen main points (price, intuitiveness, limitations, etc). I lost track of it when I switched computers. I may still have it lying around on a flash drive somewhere.
     
  20. jpanhalt

    jpanhalt Well-Known Member Most Helpful Member

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    Curious...how do you measure intuitiveness?

    John
     
  21. DerStrom8

    DerStrom8 Super Moderator Most Helpful Member

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    I never said I was measuring it :p

    Parts of it were definitely subjective, but I tried to keep it broad. Nobody likes tiny buttons that are tucked away and difficult to get at. Cryptic icons are also generally frowned upon. I suppose it's more "ease-of-access" than intuitiveness, but you get the picture.
     

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