Thanks for the update! I saw on their website that they have a beta release coming out that adds STEP/IGES functionality. I am sure that it has a few other things. I will take a look at it and see what comes of it.
I have also been playing with DesignSpark PCB. They too have a new version coming out that I will need to check out.
Just thought I'd give an update on my DipTrace experience now that I'm modifying the design that I previously did. I ran into the following problems in doing the update.
"sticky" net names when disconnecting and connecting "netports"
no options given (and NO warning) when merging nets.
For this change I had to create an isolated ground so I wanted some of the pins on the GND net to connect to the new ISOGND net. I disconnected the GND "netport" and connected up the new ISOGND "nteport" to find that the pins were still connected to GND. I finally had to delete the GND nets from the pins I wanted to change over and create new connections to ISOGND. In my opinion this was more of a pain than it needed to be.
The other thing that happened is that I removed a diode and connected the two nets. DipTrace didn't give me a choice as to what the new net name would be or any warning that I was connecting two named nets.
Both of these problems resulted in a net having a different name from the attached "netport" . I also rediscovered that you have to manually name the net even after you attach the "netport"...
Also, the trace editing capibility is not as good as I'd like. But then I'm used to a higher-end system...
I'm interested in finding out more about the other free/low-cost options.
Yes, they're upgrade plans are quite reasonable and I like that you can just pay the price difference to go to the next level. Also, you can use the free version as a viewer for designs that exceed the pin limitations. This was useful on a recent project where I needed to get feedback from someone off site. I could just email him the files and he could measure clearances and check part positions.
I love SolidWorks. I usually though would just model the part up in SW as well and save it out to the DipTrace file format that they like. It is a useless file format, but people seem to like it because it is trendy on the web. STEP214 would be a much better choice as it is supported across almost all MCAD programs. STEP is harder to impliment as it supports much higher levels of complexity, but to me if you are going to charge almost $1000 for the paid version, at least that version should support this standard 3D file format.
I consider any program that I can get a sucessful result without having to read a bunch of manuals or watch a few youtube videos an intuitive program, though, I should probably throw out that I am the type of person that is willing to push a button just to see what it does. So I usually spend some time "breaking" in a new program. If it does not break, then it was successful ;)
The pin limitations could be a bigger problem for some people. The nice thing is that their upgrade plans are not too expensive.
IIRC, Sparkfun had a comment about PCB libraries: they always make their own, because they had been burned more than once by parts created by someone else that had wrong footprints.
Also, different people prefer different styles for the schematic part of the part.
One plus of my 3D approach at work (I design the PCB, our ME models it in SolidWorks using STEP/IGES models from the mfg -- note most components are connectors which have mfg models) is that it provides an independent check on my footprints.
I've been using DipTrace for a few months. I've upgraded to their "Standard" version because I quickly ran into the pin limitations of the free version. I'm not sure that I completly agree with you about the intuitiveness of the interface but that may be because I'm migrating from another program with a different UI and I have to use an enterprise level program at work with yet a third UI. I do like the forums and have found answers to all my questions in there.
By the way, I've tried to import from PADS but the problem I have is that the version of PADS I have is so old that DipTrace doesn't recognize the libraries. I was able to import a very simple file that used standard library parts though...
You are correct about why I have KiCAD in the runner up section. THough, it is something that I am following closely. I have been seeing signs that there is a major update in the works. With some of the things that they are looking to do, it could easily put it ahead of the feature offerings of the other systems.
Also thanks for taking the time to read and think about the articles. It is really appreciated. If there is something that you feel that I have missed, please let me know and I will go back and take a closer look.