Gas station without pumps

2016 May 5

PCB CAD tools

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:58
Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been using Eagle for designing printed circuit boards for a few years now, and I am reasonably happy with it as a free tool. However, I’m a little annoyed by the low quality of the schematics and by the awkward creation of new footprints for components, and so I am willing to consider other tools, and am looking for recommendations for free PCB tools that are better than Eagle.

Two I’ve heard of (but not tried yet) are

  • EasyEDA , which is web-based, and
  • DipTrace, which (like Eagle) is a commercial package with a free, but limited, hobbyist version.

I’ve not used either of these yet, and I don’t have any PCB designs to do right now (nor time to do them until the quarter ends), but I’m curious whether any of my readers have tried EasyEDA or DipTrace, particularly if they can compare them with Eagle.  I’m also curious whether there are other PCB tools out there that run under both Mac OS X and Linux and that are free, easy to use, and robust.

My son and I are planning a couple of boards this summer as part of the LED theater lights project, so there will be an opportunity then to try out different PCB tools, if anyone has ones to recommend.

5 Comments »

  1. I have used KiCad and it works great. I haven’t used any others so I can’t compare between them. KiCad is open-source and has CERN’s approval.

    http://home.cern/about/updates/2015/02/kicad-software-gets-cern-treatment

    Comment by F — 2016 May 6 @ 11:50 | Reply

    • I looked at KiCad some time ago, and it seemed very incomplete. Perhaps it is different now and I should look at it again. Thanks for the reminder.

      Comment by gasstationwithoutpumps — 2016 May 6 @ 15:05 | Reply

      • KiCad has its quirks, and the tutorials I found when I was learning it were out of date and I had to keep guessing on how they applied. Also, the most recent update changed how it implemented its libraries in a way that broke my existing projects. However, it now has a shared central parts library that is integrated (that’s related to how it broke, I think), I had a model fix to a library accepted, and the routing improved noticeably in recent versions. The push and shove routing is really nice.

        The default canvas still has occasional artifacts, and the GL canvas can get really slow sometimes, and some functions don’t work across all canvases. The modernization work is taking some time.

        The schematic editor throws bogus DRCs; it doesn’t seem to recognize power flags too often. The ERC in the PCB editor is better but I got a few bogus ERCs when it lost track of ground planes being connected; I ended up adding an unnecessary via to quiet an ERC on my last design.

        The schematic editor uses (of course, given KiCad’s origin) normal european symbols. Some I like (rectangles for resistors can make for a nice compact way to put the resistor values in); some I prefer the US symbols. No big deal though.

        The only problem I ever had sending in gerbers was when I added a component at the last minute and forgot to reflow the ground plane (or indeed do an ERC) and ended up with Vcc tied to the ground plane at one through-hole. That was entirely my own fault.

        I got good help on the IRC channel when I was struggling with the changes that broke my existing projects.

        It’s definitely possible to do complex projects that go far beyond my meager skills. I saw today an impressive 5cmx5cm 4-layer OSHW FPGA board designed in KiCad: https://olimex.wordpress.com/2016/05/06/ice40hx1k-evb-open-source-hardware-fpga-board-designed-with-kicad-and-working-with-icestorm-foss-toolchain-first-prototypes-are-ready-and-run/ with the project files at https://github.com/OLIMEX/iCE40HX1K-EVB — I haven’t cloned that and loaded it up in KiCad but it might be a way to look at a meaningfully complex design in KiCad.

        Overall I find some frustrations but very much appreciate it and am encouraged by the improvements I’ve seen.

        Comment by Michael K Johnson — 2016 May 6 @ 19:43 | Reply

  2. I have been using EasyEDA since last year now with great results. There’s no subscription cost to use it and in Anonymous mode you don’t even have to register. The most startling things about EasyEDA are not just that it is free up to the point where you want to physically buy a (low cost) PCB directly from EasyEDA, you are not tied into buying the PCBs from EasyEDA: you can download Gerbers and send them off to any PCB fab house at no charge from EasyEDA.It has some pretty impressive import (and export) options. For instance it can import schematic and PCB designs from Altium and Eagle. Library import from KiCad is also provided. It can even import schematics from LTspice which gives LTspice users a really easy route into doing PCBs straight from LTspice schematics.Although maybe not important to this discussion, EasyEDA also has good simulation support using ngspice. Many LTspice simulations can be run in ngspice with little editing effort.Symbol and footprint library searching is simple (although searching for spice models is still a bit clunky but all devices in the default library have models already associated with them). Moreover, you can access open source projects for free here https://easyeda.com/explore

    If you are interested to try it, I’d recommend looking through the Tutorial and the Simulation eBook before diving in.
    https://easyeda.com/Doc/Tutorial/

    https://easyeda.com/Doc/Simulation-eBook/

    Comment by Roy — 2016 May 8 @ 19:37 | Reply


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