In my previous blog, A Guide to Low Cost PCB Tools, I listed a handful of free to low-cost PCB tool options along with a set of criteria of things that I felt were necessary to have a usable PCB tool that meets my needs. I also promised to share my experiences with each program as I used it. This is the first installment of that effort -- a review of DipTrace by Novarm. As mentioned in my earlier post, there were six features that I consider to be necessities as follows:
- Windows compatibility
- Includes native schematic tool
- Includes footprint wizard
- Multi-layer capable (at least 2 layers)
- Includes autorouter capability
- Includes 3D preview capability
DipTrace has a free offering for non-commercial use as well as several levels of paid versions intended for commercial purposes. The full unlimited version costs $895. When using the free offering, you are limited to 300 pins and two layers. This free version can be extended under the "non-profit lite license" to 500 pins, though still limited to only two layers (paid versions support more layers).
For the purposes of this review I have chosen to evaluate the basic, free version of the program. This limits me to 300 pins and two signal layers. I have implemented a handful of projects using the DipTrace design package. Let's see how it meets my outlined criteria...
DipTrace offers full Windows compatibility, including having installers for both 32- and 64-bit systems. It is stated to have windows compatibility from Windows 2000 all the way through Windows 8. I personally have run it on Windows 7-64 Pro without any issues. Despite my preference for Windows, Mac OS X users will be happy to know that there is a version for them. The stated Mac compatibility is from Leopard through Mountain Lion (it appears you may require specific versions of the DipTrace installer for the various releases of OS X).
Native schematic tool
To start DipTrace, you use the DipTrace Launcher as shown below. This is the launcher for each element of the program. Each element is tied to one another, though, somewhat loosely.
DipTrace Launcher Interface Box.
Assuming all the parts you need are in the standard component library (rather extensive at 100,000+ parts), you can jump right into designing your circuit in the schematic capture tool. The Schematic Capture tool is relatively intuitive, allowing a first-time user to leap in without any real need to go through tutorials. If you do get stuck, there is a set of both video tutorials as well as a 221-page PDF tutorial that gives an overview of the program. The Schematic Capture tool supports such things as hierarchical blocks, busses, and net ports. There is also the ability to import and export schematics in various file formats, though I did not have a chance to evaluate this feature. Multi-sheet schematics are also supported. Once the schematic is created, it allows for all the parts and their connections to be pushed to the PCB Layout tool.
Schematic Capture tool screenshot
(Click here to see a larger, more detailed image.)
Despite all these great features, there are some small items that would be nice improvements. One thing that is noticeably missing is the native ability to save your schematics to a PDF file (in order to achieve this currently, you would have to install a "Print to PDF" application). I also would like to see the file management options of "Import" and "Export" be contained under the "Open" and "Save As" menus. This would simplify the interface. These are just some small things, but they would smooth the interface.
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