@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)
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.
@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.
@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.
@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?.
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.