Author Topic: Looking for new PCB software and to drop my old one, what are your suggestions?  (Read 6816 times)

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Offline WarFreak131Topic starter

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Hello everyone,

EDIT: I know there is the list of PCB software stickied here, but this is asking for a suggestion based on personal use, not about what software is available.

Currently I am using Autotrax DEX as my PCB capture software.  Last night I read through the saga that unfolded several years ago on this forum (https://www.eevblog.com/forum/chat/free-unlimited-version-of-autotrax-pcb-design-software/250/).  Despite the questionable choices by the developer, I actually really enjoy the software, but the bugs, and half-fixes to the bugs, are starting to get annoying, so I am looking for a new program to use.

What are some of your suggestions?  I don't plan on doing anything crazy complicated with the software, so it doesn't have to be enterprise-grade.  As long as I can

-Place components easily (preferably common parts like resistors, capacitors, and diodes should only ever be 1 click away)
-Edit basic properties such as pad size, spacing, number of pins, or rearrange pins on an IC in the schematic
-Create custom parts (like IC's or the pin layout for Nixie tubes)
-Use nets
-Adjust trace spacing and width
-Add copper pours
-Export files for manufacture or PCb assembly

That's about all I need.  It will also need an autorouter, or the ability to interface with an autorouter like FreeRouter.

I played around with Eagle last night for a while and found it very user-unfriendly and unintuitive.  I've downloaded KiCad last night but haven't had a chance to use it, but will do so sometime tonight or this week.  I've also seen that DipTrace promises the "shortest learning curve on the market," and it is reasonably priced.

What are your thoughts on the best software for my needs?
« Last Edit: November 07, 2022, 04:40:25 pm by WarFreak131 »
 

Offline PlainName

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Whatever you try, the user interface will likely seem 'user-unfriendly and unintuitive'. That's a result of them being different to what you are used to, and them being a bit crap anyway. Eventually you'll get used to whichever you go for, so unless there is a big show-stopping thing you can't handle, try and ignore that aspect for the moment.

You will no doubt get more than one recommendation for Kicad, and that may well be your best bet. Personally, the last thing I'd want to get involved with is Eagle, even if the interface was brilliantly intuitive.
 
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Offline Warhawk

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Hello everyone,

EDIT: I know there is the list of PCB software stickied here, but this is asking for a suggestion based on personal use, not about what software is available.

Currently I am using Autotrax DEX as my PCB capture software.  Last night I read through the saga that unfolded several years ago on this forum (https://www.eevblog.com/forum/chat/free-unlimited-version-of-autotrax-pcb-design-software/250/).  Despite the questionable choices by the developer, I actually really enjoy the software, but the bugs, and half-fixes to the bugs, are starting to get annoying, so I am looking for a new program to use.

What are some of your suggestions?  I don't plan on doing anything crazy complicated with the software, so it doesn't have to be enterprise-grade.  As long as I can

-Place components easily (preferably common parts like resistors, capacitors, and diodes should only ever be 1 click away)
-Edit basic properties such as pad size, spacing, number of pins, or rearrange pins on an IC in the schematic
-Create custom parts (like IC's or the pin layout for Nixie tubes)
-Use nets
-Adjust trace spacing and width
-Add copper pours
-Export files for manufacture or PCb assembly

That's about all I need.  It will also need an autorouter, or the ability to interface with an autorouter like FreeRouter.

I played around with Eagle last night for a while and found it very user-unfriendly and unintuitive.  I've downloaded KiCad last night but haven't had a chance to use it, but will do so sometime tonight or this week.  I've also seen that DipTrace promises the "shortest learning curve on the market," and it is reasonably priced.

What are your thoughts on the best software for my needs?

Well, it depends on how much you want to invest and if you're OK with subscription-based licensing or not. Practically most leading tools switched to the subscription-based licensing. This is not acceptable for me but you may have a different opinion. Kicad would be probably #1 tool to try. It has improved significantly over past years. From barely-usable to a fully working solution. It costs you nothing, except the learning curve. You can also stick with the version you like and call it a day. You're not forced to update, etc. Files are human readable.

A less known alternative is Horizon EDA (https://horizon-eda.org/). I have tried it only briefly but the author made an excellent tool. It has completely different UI than you may be used to from the industry leading tools.

DipTrace is also very popular and affordable. However, the development team is based in Ukraine. This adds some risks but maybe a good option if you want to support people there.

CircuitStudio was a cost-down version of Altium Designer. It was initially promising but Altium does not give a damn about it anymore. There's a thread about it. I would avoid it.

And then, Altium Designer of course. But this is an expensive toy.

I personally use Kicad for hobby use (and occasionally for business) and Altium Designer professionally.

Tl;Dr; Give KiCad try, make sure you watch most recent tutorials.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2022, 08:47:05 pm by Warhawk »
 
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Offline Doctorandus_P

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Another vote for KiCad.

I am very biased though. A bunch of years ago I switched to Linux, and I needed an upgrade for the then 15+ year old "ultiboard" I was using.
Back then I tried several options, and despite some quirkiness  back then, KiCad was a quite refreshing breeze though my head. But that was KiCad V3, which still had some mayor issues. Now KiCad is at Version 6, and V7 is expected around the beginning of next year, and there is a lot of work being done on KiCad. It's a very active open source project, with a healthy community behind it, and the development pace has been accelerating these last few years as more people start using it.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2022, 07:51:55 am by Doctorandus_P »
 
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Offline nctnico

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The way I see it there are 3 good mainstream choices nowadays:

- Kicad
- Alitium
- Orcad

Ordered from low to high by the complexity of boards you can design with it comfortably. I think Kicad would be a good start for the OP given the requirements.

One of the main issues with schematic / PCB packages is that each has it's idiosyncrasies and quirky user interface. Take the time to learn how to use the GUI and understand the logic.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2022, 11:27:11 pm by nctnico »
There are small lies, big lies and then there is what is on the screen of your oscilloscope.
 
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Offline redkitedesign

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I started as an independent developer 5 years ago, under the assumption that I would soon need to invest in something like Altium when KiCad would no meet my requirements.

I'm still using KiCad, and Altium has stopped calling me to make me "last chance!!!!" offers.

The only thing I ever missed in KiCad is ODB++ output, however the one customer who preferred ODB++ to Gerber (only because his manufacturing house gave a discount for ODB++ data) was equally satisfied with KiCad's Gerber X2 output (which netted the same discount).

If you are willing to invest in learning a new tool, KiCad is definitely worth it.
 
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Offline DrGeoff

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+1 for Diptrace. I use it for all designs now, having ditched crappy subscription models and the expensive options.
As with most CAD software there is a demo package you can try out first.
Was it really supposed to do that?
 
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Online krish2487

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I have a different opinion.. I d pull the trigger on Circuit Studio nevertheless.
Pros -
1. Its a perpetual license.
2. Its cheap at around 500 usd
3. It shares a lot in common with Designer. so if you were ever to upgrade, the learning curve / time is not steep.
4. It is fairly easy to use and learn.

Cons -
1. Altium has effectively decided to abandon it. So I wouldnt expect any updates. However, it is mostly feature complete and yes there are the occassional bugs, but nothing deal breaking.
2. You cannot do high speed / frequency designs (easily). Its not that kind of a tool.
If god made us in his image,
and we are this stupid
then....
 
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Offline Uky

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Choosing a CAD tool is one thing but what you need to look out for is the cost of libraries and managing them.
If your designs or your business does not expect to grow enough to use complex constraint requirements such as
tight tolerance static/dynamic differential pair tuning, signal integrity, DFM issues etc. Then choose a free tool.

For a free tool, I would consider KiCAD, IMHO the best choise which is getting better and better with each new release.

If your designs are expected to get more and more complex, I would consider Cadence OrCAD. (Yes - I am biased having been a user
for more than 20 years
). Since the layout database and the layout symbols are compatible from the least expenceive versions "OrCAD" to the
most expenceive "Allegro" you will not loose any investments made to the library. Cadence also provides library management systems
that can be customized to a small or large business, many ways of customizing the tools in a corporate environment.

Cadence tools does have a learning "threshold" and the GUI is in some cases a bit akward, emanating from Unix as the tools is
but once you get the hang of it, it is increadably powerful and there is a lot of "dangerous things" that can be accomplished
when creating layouts. Complex pad stacks, selective constraint regions and requirements for pads, symbols, areas, connectivity
options that can be set to pins or other elements. The list is long. Outputs can be ODB++, IPC2851, Gerber X etc.
 
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Offline Warhawk

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Choosing a CAD tool is one thing but what you need to look out for is the cost of libraries and managing them.
If your designs or your business does not expect to grow enough to use complex constraint requirements such as
tight tolerance static/dynamic differential pair tuning, signal integrity, DFM issues etc. Then choose a free tool.

For a free tool, I would consider KiCAD, IMHO the best choise which is getting better and better with each new release.

If your designs are expected to get more and more complex, I would consider Cadence OrCAD. (Yes - I am biased having been a user
for more than 20 years
). Since the layout database and the layout symbols are compatible from the least expenceive versions "OrCAD" to the
most expenceive "Allegro" you will not loose any investments made to the library. Cadence also provides library management systems
that can be customized to a small or large business, many ways of customizing the tools in a corporate environment.

Cadence tools does have a learning "threshold" and the GUI is in some cases a bit akward, emanating from Unix as the tools is
but once you get the hang of it, it is increadably powerful and there is a lot of "dangerous things" that can be accomplished
when creating layouts. Complex pad stacks, selective constraint regions and requirements for pads, symbols, areas, connectivity
options that can be set to pins or other elements. The list is long. Outputs can be ODB++, IPC2851, Gerber X etc.

You're certainly right. However, I remember my very first task I got with my very first job. "make a small USB adapter for this and that in OrCad" We had a single license, mainly for pSpice. Well, I had to practically make whole library myself, starting from the padstack. What a bummer coming from Eagle :-)
Is it still the case or you at least get some libraries to start with?

Offline PlainName

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Quote
I had to practically make whole library myself

I think if you get into PCBs in anything more than a trivial way you'll be doing that anyway. Some simple libs to get you going as a new user should be sufficient (and Kicad has more than enough), but the sooner you start making your own the better, IMO.
 
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Offline nctnico

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Quote
I had to practically make whole library myself

I think if you get into PCBs in anything more than a trivial way you'll be doing that anyway. Some simple libs to get you going as a new user should be sufficient (and Kicad has more than enough), but the sooner you start making your own the better, IMO.
I hate this answer but the reality is that for some reason PCB packages don't come with decent libraries and the footprints you can download are usually pretty bad. So I too end up creating footprints and doing work that thousands have already done before. But maybe it is also due everyone having a different opinion about what a good footprint should be. Fortunately it is pretty quick & easy to create new footprints in most packages and Orcad PCB Designer / Allegro is no exception. I also found that reference designs are a good source for symbols & footprints. At least those have been used to create an actual, production ready board.
« Last Edit: November 08, 2022, 04:55:09 pm by nctnico »
There are small lies, big lies and then there is what is on the screen of your oscilloscope.
 

Offline Warhawk

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Quote
I had to practically make whole library myself

I think if you get into PCBs in anything more than a trivial way you'll be doing that anyway. Some simple libs to get you going as a new user should be sufficient (and Kicad has more than enough), but the sooner you start making your own the better, IMO.

Yes, I do have my own libraries. However, making libraries is IMHO more effort than making PCBs. It is not about the symbol or the footprint but about the organization. You get better understanding of what you need only after while using the software. Starting from no-libraries will likely result in re-doing everything two or three times.
It is about naming, about "generic" parts, about supply chain, about versioning, about same font, same line thickness, parts properties etc...
No wonder that corporations have just their "librarians" who take care of it.

When I get some libraries I can quickly made two three boards, maybe add a few of my own parts and "get the feeling" what I need.

Every tool has its own philosophy and the worst thing you can do is trying to enforce your own philosophy. (I generally leave my computer or tools with most default settings as possible. I do not touch what is not broken. )
« Last Edit: November 08, 2022, 07:20:48 pm by Warhawk »
 

Offline WarFreak131Topic starter

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Thank you everyone for the suggestions!  I think I'll jump into KiCad to see if I jive with it.
 

Offline sleemanj

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I'll add one vote for DipTrace if you don't get along with KiCad, I can't get along with KiCad, I just find the interface infuriating, personal taste.

But also, I'd add a vote for a bit of an outside entry, EasyEDA.  It's similarly intuitive as DipTrace and more than capable enough for hobbiests.  I use mostly because it makes going to JLC assembly easy, especially if you use the assembly parts search interface ( https://yaqwsx.github.io/jlcparts/#/ ) to find the things you want to use, then just copy the part number into the EasyEDA part selector.  You're not required to use JLC, you can export gerbers etc as you would normally.

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Offline Slh

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Another one for Kicad. For quick designs thrown together I really like being able to add footprints after the design is ready (rather than being forced to change to part or decide up front that the 10k is an 0805).

I've also been really liking the simulator. The graphing isn't as good as LTspice but it runs models that ltspice won't (eg TI parts that have features that LTSpice doesn't support. There are no built in models but that means that I always use the correct model rather than one for a part that looks kind of close. Just for fun I made one simple design that used the same schematic for simulation and layout but I wouldn't recommend that if you want to understand it in 6 months.
 

Offline WarFreak131Topic starter

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I'll add one vote for DipTrace if you don't get along with KiCad, I can't get along with KiCad, I just find the interface infuriating, personal taste.

But also, I'd add a vote for a bit of an outside entry, EasyEDA.  It's similarly intuitive as DipTrace and more than capable enough for hobbiests.  I use mostly because it makes going to JLC assembly easy, especially if you use the assembly parts search interface ( https://yaqwsx.github.io/jlcparts/#/ ) to find the things you want to use, then just copy the part number into the EasyEDA part selector.  You're not required to use JLC, you can export gerbers etc as you would normally.

I installed DipTrace last night and have been getting along with it rather well.  Somewhat barebones and some things are hidden behind multiple menus, but overall things seem like they're going well.  I have yet to install KiCard.  I have also used EasyEDA in the past.  Not bad, I definitely need to learn more about it, but the biggest drawback I find is searching for parts in the JLCPCB catalog.  You can't search by part parameters, you have to search by part number, so you've got to find the part first on the JLCPCB website (could be mistaken though).
 

Offline sleemanj

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>   You can't search by part parameters, you have to search by part number,

Yeah don't use JLC (or LCSC) websites to search parts (even if you're not using EasyEDA), use this tool instead...

  https://yaqwsx.github.io/jlcparts/#/

it takes a while to load everything into cache, but is a lot more convenient to find what you want once it's working.

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Offline james_s

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I went to KiCad about 14 years ago and never looked back, it's been great.
 

Offline Doctorandus_P

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I installed DipTrace last night and have been getting along with it rather well...
I have yet to install KiCard... 

(I left in your extra "r" typo).

I'd be curious to read about a comparison between those two from a beginners perspective.
I'm very strongly biased towards open source software (and the whole philosophy behind it), and thus am not even even capable of giving diptrace a fair review myself.

Apparently Diptrace is a bit easier to learn, but I like the many shortcut keys in KiCad, which allows you to do many things quickly once you've learned them. Library management is a bit bare-bones in KiCad, but it "works" adequately. Diptrace may be better here though.

The "Interactive Router" in KiCad is an extremely handy function, and I believe diptrace does not have that (or something comparable). The ease with which you can push existing tracks aside to make more room for yet another track or squeeze in an extra via has allowed me to design denser PCB's then I would have dared to make otherwise.

I guess both packages are quite comparable in functionality but work a bit "differently" from each other. But as a long time KiCad user, I do know I'd never ever would want to work without the push and shove mode of the interactive router. That one really is a game changing feature.

I also had a short peek at the diptrace forum. There does not seem to be much happening there. It's curiously quiet but I don't know the reason for that. Maybe a Diptrace user can explain. In comparison, the KiCad forum is buzzing with activity (although I realize that is not necessarily a good thing when observed as an isolated parameter).
« Last Edit: November 10, 2022, 01:14:38 pm by Doctorandus_P »
 

Offline AndyC_772

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If your designs are expected to get more and more complex, I would consider Cadence OrCAD.

+1 for OrCAD. There's a reason why the device you're reading this on was, more than likely, designed with it. Even if the PCB was drawn in Altium, there's a good chance the BGAs on it were done in Allegro (which is the same basic product with additional licensed options enabled).

For some reason it's not nearly as widely known or mentioned on this particular forum as Altium, but that's an EEVblog quirk. Cadence tools are the big, grown-up, serious ones - and the last time I bought a licence for OrCAD PCB Designer (Standard) I think I paid about £430. (It's usually more, but they do regular special offers).

IMHO at that price - even if you never make a penny from selling your work - it's worth it just to be sure you'll never have to learn another CAD tool or lose access to your earlier designs.

Offline nctnico

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Another plus for Orcad is that you can buy a dongle to go with it. So a single perpetual license + dongle you can use it on any computer you like without needing to go online or something. And the PCB package (PCB designer / aka Allegro) runs on Linux as well.
There are small lies, big lies and then there is what is on the screen of your oscilloscope.
 

Offline Warhawk

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If your designs are expected to get more and more complex, I would consider Cadence OrCAD.

+1 for OrCAD. There's a reason why the device you're reading this on was, more than likely, designed with it. Even if the PCB was drawn in Altium, there's a good chance the BGAs on it were done in Allegro (which is the same basic product with additional licensed options enabled).

For some reason it's not nearly as widely known or mentioned on this particular forum as Altium, but that's an EEVblog quirk. Cadence tools are the big, grown-up, serious ones - and the last time I bought a licence for OrCAD PCB Designer (Standard) I think I paid about £430. (It's usually more, but they do regular special offers).

IMHO at that price - even if you never make a penny from selling your work - it's worth it just to be sure you'll never have to learn another CAD tool or lose access to your earlier designs.

I don't think it is available for this price anymore.

I also believe that there's a difference between Allegro and Orcad PCB Designer Bundle.
I honestly hate how complicated OrCad portfolio is. Never understood differences between their software :)

Offline nctnico

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PCB Designer = Allegro
Depending on the license functionality is enabled / disabled.

But I agree that Orcad's licenses and options are difficult to understand. Partly because they like to upsell you on stuff as well. I had to go back & forth between the local dealer a couple of times and even then it turned out I still needed an extra option for the kind of complex PCB layouts that I work on.

Orcad used to have 2 different PCB design packages: One was and is Allegro and the other Orcad Layout. The latter has been deprecated for about a decade already. But in their ultimate wisdom the people at Orcad decided that they still needed 2 names for a PCB package. Maybe because the Allegro name has a bad image in some circles. Dunno.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2022, 05:24:56 pm by nctnico »
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Offline AndyC_772

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Never understood differences between their software :)
That's easily fixed!

https://www.parallel-systems.co.uk/matrix/
 
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