Gas station without pumps

2017 May 30

Need to find new PC board software

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:54
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I need to find an learn some new PC-board layout software.  For several years I’ve been using Eagle, a reasonably decent program from Cadsoft that was free (in a crippled version) for hobbyists and reasonably cheap for small-scale commercial use.  Apparently the program (or the company) was bought by Autodesk, and the newest version requires that you login with an Autodesk account every time you use it.  Furthermore, the upgrades now come by subscription, not purchase.

I am not willing to log in to a web-based account every time I use my PC-board layout tool (even though I do that for my schematic capture for non-PC-board schematics—I think I understand how Digi-Key monetizes Scheme-It, and I’m comfortable with it).

So I’m now looking for new software to use for PC board design.  Open-source would be nice, but only if the user interface is not horribly clunky (as so many open-source projects are, such as Gimp and Inkscape, both of which I’ve used, but am not fond of). Free, or very cheap, are important to me, as I mostly do PC board design as a hobby, and I’d like to encourage students to use the tools I use, which is not compatible with expensive software (such as the Cadence suite that UCSC pays for).

The main programs I’ve heard of other than Eagle are DipTrace and KiCAD, and I’d like to hear reviews from users of them.  Last I heard, KiCAD was both clunky and woefully incomplete, but that was some time ago, so things may be different nowP.  I know of one student who likes DipTrace, but I’m slightly worried that they’ll go the route of Eagle, raising barriers to easy use. Other suggestions would be welcome, as would updated information on the strengths and weaknesses of the different programs.

I don’t want programs that tie me to a particular manufacturer of PC boards, as I’d like to be able to take advantage of cheap prices (like Elecrow’s new offer of 5 10cm×10cm boards for $4.90).

Anyone out there with suggestions or experience?

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2 Comments »

  1. Yes, there are clunky things about the kicad interface. It has definitely improved since I started using it. I would not describe it as intuitive; the learning curve was a bit steep at first. The main inadequacy in my opinion is the parts library, but that’s improving recently by having a central github repository to collect parts and to which you can contribute when you model a new part. It’s way better than it was when I started.

    One of the clunkiest parts of the interface is the old pixel-based view that leaves artifacts and requires you to sometimes manually re-draw the screen; something I hadn’t had to do for over a decade in any other software. (Remember running xrefresh occasionally in the early days of X?) They are moving to a more modern view architecture, but are doing so in tandem with other development; this means that they have a real chance of finally completing the work (unlike a many years-long fork that is hard to take advantage of and test until it’s “done”), but also leads to a somewhat clunky-feeling option to choose which viewer you are currently using, and to have to sometimes revert to the old-style view for actions that aren’t yet supported in the more modern views. I expect this problem to resolve, so I see it as a temporary annoyance.

    The other clunking is the schematic editor tends to show false DRC errors. I have been able to resolve some with extra power flags, and some I just have to ignore after deciding that they are bogus. The ERC has been more reliable.

    I like the push-and-shove routing. Set design rules and just shove the traces around to get consistent spacing with the general layout you want. Even before they added push-and-shove, I got a gestalt for how the routing worked that made it efficient to route fairly quickly and easily. In fact, it’s good enough that I don’t have to use push-and-shove much for my designs; it’s just nice to have when I’m cleaning up.

    And, honestly, I like that it’s open source.

    But I certainly needed to follow a tutorial when I started. I started with no real experience. I expect that it’s different enough from Eagle that it will be a worthwhile investment of time to follow a tutorial through the first time. The tutorial I followed when I started some years ago was at that time a bit behind the current interface and so had some gaps; I don’t know what’s available now.

    Comment by Michael Johnson — 2017 May 31 @ 04:18 | Reply

    • Looks like I said approximately the same thing when you asked about a year ago. ☺ At least I’m consistent!

      Comment by Michael Johnson — 2017 May 31 @ 04:20 | Reply


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