Breaking News
Blog

How Would You Categorize PCB Tools?

NO RATINGS
1 saves
View Comments: Threaded | Newest First | Oldest First
elizabethsimon
User Rank
CEO
More than two categories
elizabethsimon   10/23/2013 2:25:12 PM
NO RATINGS
I like the view as a continuium (second graph) although the first would work if you put a third category in the middle.

For category names:

Individual level (one person working alone on simple designs)

Small business level (small group working on medium complexity designs)

Enterprise level (large company doing complex designs)

Of interest to me would be PCB tools priced for individual or small business with the capibilities to do more complex designs.

In my day job, we use an enterprise level Mentor suite with a separate PCB design group that does the board layout. On evenings and weekends I use lower cost tools to do simple to medium complexity designs. Currently, I'm using DipTrace which seems to be a good tool for the price although I'd be interested in a review of DesignSpark PCB.

 

 

Garcia-Lasheras
User Rank
Blogger
Re: More than two categories
Garcia-Lasheras   10/23/2013 3:07:12 PM
NO RATINGS
@elisabethsimon: "we use an enterprise level Mentor suite with a separate PCB design group that does the board layout"

Splitting the PCB design flow in this way is a common practice. In fact, I know some companies that don't do PCB layout, but only schematic capture. Then, they send the schematic to speciallized third-party teams that provide PCB layout services.

About the graphs, I prefer the two first ones, but I'm not able to choose one. I feel that the actual "curves" will arise once we place some tools between the axes!

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: More than two categories
Max The Magnificent   10/23/2013 4:20:10 PM
NO RATINGS
@Garcia: About the graphs, I prefer the two first ones, but I'm not able to choose one. I feel that the actual "curves" will arise once we place some tools between the axes!

That's the part I'm looking forward to :-)   I have a cunning plan in mind -- keep watching PCB Designline for my next blog on thsi topic...

 

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: More than two categories
Max The Magnificent   10/23/2013 4:17:04 PM
NO RATINGS
@Elizabeth: Currently, I'm using DipTrace which seems to be a good tool for the price although I'd be interested in a review of DesignSpark PCB.

I'll trade you -- if you write a review on DipTrace, I'll get someone else to pen a piece on DesignSpark PCB.

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: More than two categories
Max The Magnificent   10/23/2013 4:18:23 PM
NO RATINGS
@Elizabeth: I like your categories of Individual-Level, Small-Business-Level, and Enterprise-Level

Gadgety
User Rank
Freelancer
Ease of use, design complexity, cost
Gadgety   10/24/2013 3:07:53 AM
NO RATINGS
Max, thank you for this very interesting subject!

As a potential buyer of PCB Tool software my three criteria are: 1. How easily can the user accomplish things swiftly with this piece of software? i e ease of use 2. What can it do in terms of design complexity? 3. What does it cost?

None of your graphs explicitly cover point 3.

Buy having "corporate complexity" in your diagrams, you partly answer one aspect of point 1., collaboration in a team. However it doesn't cover ease of use for the individual user nor for a team.


I find your second diagram easiest to intuitively read because the axes are labeled and easy to understand. Diagram three is interesting, but requires a lot of text to explain; for example, what is meant by "high end" "low end" "basic" and "mainstream?"

I would suggest using several diagrams, and not try to say it all with only one.





MS243
User Rank
Manager
Re: Ease of use, design complexity, cost
MS243   10/24/2013 3:50:40 AM
NO RATINGS
Have recently seen a few designs done using "Free" tools that include complexity like 32bit risc CPU's + FPGA's and matched length DDR traces -- Would have thought this would have only been feasibile with higher end tools a few years ago.   (These are even open source free tools)

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Ease of use, design complexity, cost
Max The Magnificent   10/24/2013 10:04:14 AM
NO RATINGS
@MS243: Have recently seen a few designs done using "Free" tools that include complexity like 32bit risc CPU's + FPGA's and matched length DDR traces -- Would have thought this would have only been feasibile with higher end tools a few years ago

As designs become more complex and demanding in general, higher-end tools have to be enhanced to accomodate them, and lower-end tools are also enhanced -- as you say, it's simply amazing whet you can do with even free tools these days.

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Ease of use, design complexity, cost
Max The Magnificent   10/24/2013 9:58:49 AM
NO RATINGS
@Gadgety: Max, thank you for this very interesting subject!

I live to serve LOL

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Ease of use, design complexity, cost
Max The Magnificent   10/24/2013 10:02:08 AM
NO RATINGS
@Gadgety: As a potential buyer of PCB Tool software my three criteria are: 1. How easily can the user accomplish things swiftly with this piece of software? i e ease of use 2. What can it do in terms of design complexity? 3. What does it cost?

Hmmm -- How about using a circle for each tool -- the diameter/size of the circle could indicate something (what?); and the color of the circle could indicate something else like cost, or ease of use -- what do you think?.

Gadgety
User Rank
Freelancer
Re: Ease of use, design complexity, cost
Gadgety   10/25/2013 2:52:50 PM
NO RATINGS
@Max the Magnificent

Hmmm -- How about using a circle for each tool -- the diameter/size of the circle could indicate something (what?); and the color of the circle could indicate something else like cost, or ease of use -- what do you think?

Sure. You could also use a 3 axis diagram, and if you go for the circles, make them globes. Adding dimensions. Different colors could also be used for depicting additional dimensions.

betajet
User Rank
CEO
Two comments
betajet   10/23/2013 7:22:46 PM
NO RATINGS
Comment #1:  By "Design Complexity", do you mean the complexity of the design you are trying to process using the tool, or do you mean the complexity of the tool's user interface design?  My experience has been that the more expensive the tool (e.g., you have to be an "enterprise" to afford it), the more complex the tool's user interface and the harder it is to use the tool.  JMO/YMMV  Also, each generation of the tool becomes harder to use as more features clutter up the menus and functionality, until it becomes pretty much unusable.  According to Alan Perlis, this happens with all software: "Every program eventually becomes rococo, and then rubble."  But it seems to happen faster with CAD tools.

Comment #2:  When I started looking at the graphs, my rather quirky mind immediately thought of the scene in Dead Poets Society (1989) in which Robin Williams draws a graph on the blackboard to show a systematic way of rating poetry.  He has a mischievous look on his face while a student reads out loud the introduction to their poetry text:
If the poem's score for Perfection is plotted along the horizontal of a graph, and its Importance is plotted on the vertical, then calculating the total area of the poem yields the measure of its Greatness.

Williams steps back to show a graph labeled P.I.G.  He then tells them this attempt to analyze poetry is utter nonsense (or a word to that effect) and tells them to tear the introduction out of the book, which they then do.

To me, a fine piece of software is like a great work of poetry or music.  OTOH, a lot of CAD software is purely pedestrian, so perhaps 2-D analysis may be of some value.

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Two comments
Max The Magnificent   10/24/2013 9:55:15 AM
NO RATINGS
@Betajet: By "Design Complexity", do you mean the complexity of the design you are trying to process using the tool, or do you mean the complexity of the tool's user interface design?


I mean the complexity of the design you are trying to process using the tool.

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Two comments
Max The Magnificent   10/24/2013 9:57:25 AM
NO RATINGS
@betajet: OTOH, a lot of CAD software is purely pedestrian, so perhaps 2-D analysis may be of some value.

I think it might be useful for folks who just want to know "what's out there" to be able to get a "feel" for where the various tools appear in the "spectrum" as it were.

elizabethsimon
User Rank
CEO
Re: Two comments
elizabethsimon   10/24/2013 1:01:55 PM
NO RATINGS
@betajet ...My experience has been that the more expensive the tool (e.g., you have to be an "enterprise" to afford it), the more complex the tool's user interface and the harder it is to use the tool. 

Unfortunate but true, as exemplified by the Mentor PCB suite used where I work. I'm really glad that I'm only responsible to enter the schematic. I have enough trouble just using the PCB viewer... On the other hand this suite has the tools necessary to maintain a company-wide part library (and to disallow use of parts NOT in the library)


zeeglen
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Two comments
zeeglen   10/25/2013 11:03:46 PM
NO RATINGS
@elizabethsimon

"I'm really glad that I'm only responsible to enter the schematic. I have enough trouble just using the PCB viewer..."

Always had the luxury of an expert to do the Allegro PCB layout, I would sit with that person for basic instructions and later view the daily progress on the layout files.  One thing I really liked was the ability to highlight a net on my Concept schematic on one screen and see the same copper become highlighted on the Allegro layout on the other screen.  And vice versa.


 

Aeroengineer
User Rank
Blogger
Check Your Email
Aeroengineer   10/24/2013 8:01:52 AM
NO RATINGS
Max,

 

Take a look at your email.  I sent you something last night that might help you in this effort.  I wrote a piece that goes after the lower end, hibbiest, small business end.  There are a lot of overlaps as many of these groups have free, and then various tiers of pay versions.  I also have a DipTrace post that I can send you this week (tonight or tomorrow night).  I am also starting a project in DesignSpark PCB.

 

 

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Check Your Email
Max The Magnificent   10/24/2013 10:05:38 AM
NO RATINGS
@aeroemngineer: Take a look at your email.  I sent you something last night that might help you in this effort.  I wrote a piece that goes after the lower end, hibbiest, small business end.  There are a lot of overlaps as many of these groups have free, and then various tiers of pay versions.  I also have a DipTrace post that I can send you this week (tonight or tomorrow night).  I am also starting a project in DesignSpark PCB.

Wonderful -- make sure to take some screenshots and keep track of all the good and bad things you discover.

Aeroengineer
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Check Your Email
Aeroengineer   10/24/2013 10:09:45 AM
NO RATINGS
Will do.  I already have a few for the DipTrace one, but I will see if I can add some more.  I may even see if I can add a gif to it. 

kfield
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Check Your Email
kfield   10/27/2013 10:29:51 AM
NO RATINGS
Good discussion - but I take issue with the statement "sucked into thermal management tools." As a former mechanical design engineer, those were extremely useful tools!

Aeroengineer
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Check Your Email
Aeroengineer   10/27/2013 12:48:44 PM
NO RATINGS
@Karen, I must have missed the original comment about thermal management.  I too think that some of these addons that adress things such as thermal management are very valuable tools.  I have only found one low cost solution that has this feature.

 

JeffL_2
User Rank
CEO
My two cents
JeffL_2   10/24/2013 12:40:04 PM
NO RATINGS
Don't know whether the picture has changed substantially but when I made my decision a few years ago the item foremost on my list was "open" libraries and the tools to add to them. When I say "libraries" plural I refer to the fact that I bought two tools written at the same time, one to input schematic symbols and perform SPICE circuit simulation on them and also generate netlists, and the other to receive the netlist and lay out the board, so one library consists of schematic symbols and SPICE models, and the other is the PCB layout items. I should note by the way that the simulation is designed to have a digital mode as well as analog (for simple logic obviously, not to do entire MCUs or anything like that).

Now many well-known enterprise tools have "closed" libraries but offer subscriptions to update those models. The "closed library" presents two issues, first there's a substantial cost to maintaining a subscription for the libraries (which can be HUGELY profitable for the vendor), secondly if you have a tendency to use the latest chips in your design you may find there's a delay of several months or more before the tool vendor "gets around to" adding your particular part to the library. So what I bought has open libraries plus it autoroutes the PCB (does pretty well when there's only two signal layers but it needs a little "prodding" to know what to do with the other four).

The other thing is open libraries don't offer the vendor a continuous revenue stream so there's not as much incentive to maintain them, so vendors of these products may not be as financially stable. The company that made the product I'm talking about was sold to Altium and they're not supporting it, it was written for XP but I've got Windows 7 Pro which emulates XP nicely so I'm still using the product and I continue to enhance the libraries as I need them. Your mileage may vary but you ought to take all this into consideration and draw your own conclusions. If you do a lot of analog you ought to consider whether you've got features like "flood fill" for ground planes and such, and maybe whether the layout tool accepts multiple netlist formats. Like I said just my two cents.

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: My two cents
Max The Magnificent   10/24/2013 3:39:54 PM
NO RATINGS
@JeffL_2: Thanks for the great input -- as you say, having access to quality libraries is a key factor -- you can bet that we will be looking into this in more depth in the not-so-distant future.

Roba66
User Rank
Rookie
Re: My two cents
Roba66   10/30/2013 6:20:30 PM
NO RATINGS
Jeffl has some good points, your quality factors for the tool depend on what you have experienced. I like point tools, where the vendor does not saddle you with their unique personality too much. I think the following are common needs of the user:

1)ease of generating footprints and components as you need them, include a complete set of footprints separately. (getting around the library problem)

2)open netlist format so you can generate netlists from (eg.) C++ or check a netlist outside of the tool, or go to another tool.

3)availability on different platforms: Windows and Linux at least.

There are also some common complaints:

1)licensing software can take a lot of maintenance.

2)design rules are awkward and non-portable.

3)generating the gerbers and other files can be a chore in some tools.

 

 

 

jimfordbroadcom
User Rank
CEO
Ease of use of PCB design tools
jimfordbroadcom   10/24/2013 3:15:13 PM
NO RATINGS
Here's my $0.02: I'm an EE who got roped into doing PCB layout in addition to schematic capture, although doing my own board layouts has its advantages (speed, quality, etc.).  I use Cadence Allegro for compatibility with our company tools; sometimes I do use our internal layout designers or do my own layout and have our internal dept. do the fab and assembly.  My take on as far as ease of use goes is that the schematic capture part of the picture, called Capture, and inherited from OrCAD, is pretty darn easy to use; all the Windows-type (Mac?) stuff like ctrl-C for Copy, ctrl-V for Paste, Delete key, etc. are there, and to Move stuff you just click and drag.  It's noun-verb, which I find very quick and intuitive.

Unfortunately, the PCB Editor for layout is a big, clunky program that shows its Unix command-line roots with a verb-noun interface in which you have to click on a verb (Move, Place, Add Connection, Delete, etc.) to get into the right mode and then choose the noun you want to act on.  How dumb is it to have a Delete mode when there is a Delete key on every computer keyboard on the planet?!  This abomination forces the user to do all Placement, then all Add Connections, etc. in order to have reasonable productivity.  This really goes against the way I like to do things, that is, working on each section of a board and completing all actions in that area before moving on to the next section.

That said, I give Cadence high marks for support, although I've used Allegro long enough now (~7.5 years) that I haven't needed to ask for support in a long time (years, probably).  OTOH, if the program weren't so hard to use in the first place, I wouldn't have needed so much support!

The last company I worked for from 2003 to 2006 used Zuken Cadstar, which had its own challenges, shall we say.  I liked the noun-verb interface, but the worst thing about Cadstar was the serious bugs.  On my machine only, I would get jumps in view at random times, IIRC when zooming in or out.  Nobody else in our group of 4 or 5 had this problem.  I did hear them cursing about other bugs, though, crashes probably.  A bug common to all of our machines was the thermal relief "wagon wheels" that would sometimes be displayed and sometimes not.

I did see some bugs in Cadence Allegro as well.  A previous version had instability that increased as the number of open PCB Editor windows increased: 1 window was good for ~1 week before it disappeared; 2 windows, maybe a day; 3 or more would only last for a matter of minutes!  To Cadence's credit, I can't remember ever having a crash, due to either the multiple window instability or other reason, without a .sav file being available so that I could pick up where I left off.  And with some versions I've seen the cursor position indicator go off-grid.  These bugs are fortunately a thing of the past.

I understand that Altium is noun-verb and has a very nice time-saving feature of being able to apply a change to all instances of a type of object simultaneously.  for example, it takes me a long time in Allegro to rotate reference designators to all the same orientation individually; with Altium, it's a single command.  I don't know much about Altium, though, and it's a non-starter to get it incorporated into our company.

Now, some of our groups use Mentor Expedition in it's full form for schematic capture and layout, while others use DxDesigner for schematic capture and Allegro PCB Editor for layout.  I don't know much about those products, but I do have to view .pdf's from the schematic capture program fairly often.  The good: the .pdf's have some intelligence built in, and I can get information on a component by clicking on it.  The bad: Mentor uses very fine lines in the schematic symbols, text, and wires, making it very hard to read without zooming way in and not being able to see much of the page.  Cadence Allegro Capture, with it's OrCAD roots has a nice white background with blue, black, and red elements, making it much easier on the eyes.  It even allows printing all colors as black to maximize the contrast when printing to a b&w printer.


My 2 cents that hopefully will be helpful to someone considering schematic capture and/or layout software.

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Ease of use of PCB design tools
Max The Magnificent   10/24/2013 3:42:25 PM
NO RATINGS
@jimford: OTOH, if the program weren't so hard to use in the first place, I wouldn't have needed so much support!

LOL

jimfordbroadcom
User Rank
CEO
Re: Ease of use of PCB design tools
jimfordbroadcom   10/24/2013 4:32:39 PM
NO RATINGS
Yeah, got to take a poke at the software people every chance you get!

Max The Magnificent
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Ease of use of PCB design tools
Max The Magnificent   10/25/2013 2:57:19 PM
NO RATINGS
@jimFord: Yeah, got to take a poke at the software people every chance you get!

Software people are OK when you get to know them. Some of my best friends are software people. (But you wouldn't want your daughter to marry one :-)

Flash Poll
Radio
LATEST ARCHIVED BROADCAST
Join our online Radio Show on Friday 11th July starting at 2:00pm Eastern, when EETimes editor of all things fun and interesting, Max Maxfield, and embedded systems expert, Jack Ganssle, will debate as to just what is, and is not, and embedded system.
Like Us on Facebook

Datasheets.com Parts Search

185 million searchable parts
(please enter a part number or hit search to begin)
EE Times on Twitter
EE Times Twitter Feed
Top Comments of the Week