Altium has added a rather cool 3D PCB visualization engine to Altium Designer. Available in Altium Designer 6.8, this new 3D PCB visualization capability allows designers to see at any time exactly how the manufactured board will look. This capability also makes it easier to share information with the rest of the design team.
This 3D visualization capability is claimed to be only one of 300 significant new features and enhancements delivered in Altium Designer 6.8, which provides the unification of board level design, programmable FPGA hardware, and embedded software development into a single design environment. These features address the needs of each of these design disciplines in a single, unified architecture. They provide a single, coherent view of the design, share a single user interface and share a single data storage model.
Using Altium Designer's 3D visualization engine, users can rotate and flip their designs, navigate around components, zoom into the bare board down to the tracks and traces, and even dive beneath the surface of the board to explore the inner layers. All this is done in real-time with no special 3D models or set-up required by the designer.
The board is rendered in full hardware-accelerated 3D graphics, complete with textured surfaces, realistic colours, lighting, and PCB surface finishes. And designers can examine the internal structure of the board by simply moving the cursor around the design.
Benefits include the ability to provide an early view of how the finished board will look when manufactured. It also provides a more natural view of the board during design. This makes it easier for less-experienced board designers, and those across the design chain – including management – to visualize the board design process and layer stack.
Designers who are not PCB layout specialists can use Altium Designer's unified environment – including features such as 3D PCB visualization – to play a greater part in the overall design process without needing specialist knowledge. Meanwhile, experienced PCB designers can use the new visualization features to visually verify connectivity on internal layers and to check for the correct positioning and legibility of silkscreen text. The real-time 3D view is also useful for capturing fabrication details quickly, to include with manufacturing instructions, and to provide images for design and product documentation.
More features and enhancements
Other board-level additions in Altium Designer 6.8 include differential pair support for Altium Designer's interactive track length tuning feature. Designers can now adjust the lengths of both traces of differential pairs simultaneously, of particular benefit when using the extensive differential signalling features available on most current FPGAs.
Also, in Altium Designer 6.8, metafile data can now be pasted directly from the Windows clipboard directly into a PCB design, thereby making it easy to include logos, tables or image data on PCB mechanical layers. The PCB editor has also been enhanced to support placement and alignment of inverted text, the direct creation and placement of barcodes, and the creation of board cutouts.
GUI enhancements such as 'live' highlighting of components and nets on mouse hover, fast mouse-based zooming, and new grid options, are intended to let designers concentrate on their design tasks rather than struggling with basic navigation and interface functions.
Connection of wires, busses and signal harnesses at the schematic level have been unified and radically simplified with the introduction of Signal Harness objects. Designers can now assemble logical groupings of any signal type, greatly simplifying the wiring traffic, enhancing readability, and streamlining the structure of schematic designs. They can create and manipulate higher levels of abstraction between sub-circuits, allowing more complex designs to be represented with simpler drawings.
Signal Harness objects raise the level of design abstraction, which makes designing complex pieces of circuitry for reuse much easier. Being able to drop previously designed complex sub-circuits into a new schematic reduces design time and frees designers to focus on areas of greater value.
Unifying PCB/FPGA designs
Many board-level designers are moving towards programmable devices such as FPGAs. Altium Designer 6.8 lets designers exploit these devices at both the board and system level. The new OpenBus graphical editor provides an intuitive and high-level mechanism for creating the system structure.
System components include processors, bus arbiters, peripheral driver hardware and memory interfaces. OpenBus abstracts the complexity of creating such Wishbone systems by simply dragging and dropping components from a palette and connecting them using a single line.
C-to-hardware compilation without HDL
Altium Designer 6.8 offers unified hardware-software compilation, extending the existing compiler, taking standard C code input and producing a combination of compiled object code and FPGA-targeted RTL output. Developers simply choose the particular C functions and variables they wish to implement in hardware before compilation, and designers don't need to be skilled in using HDL.
Design reuse has also been enhanced with the introduction of reusable Device Sheets, in which whole schematic sheets can be stored and reused between design projects. Designers can create and store verified circuitry that is easily reusable. Proven design elements can then be incorporated into multiple design projects. And the management of this process is simplified with a new Board Level Annotation function that labels and synchronizes logical components.
Price and availability
Altium Designer 6.8 is now available for purchase, and free download for existing customers. For a full list of features and enhancements in Altium Designer 6.8 go to the What's New in Altium Designer 6.8 page on Altium's website. Pricing is available from Altium by calling 1-800-544-4186 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.