Low cost PCB layout software

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I am looking for low cost PCB layout software.  My designs are not
overly complex, and are on small boards, but I will be using very small
parts and features ~0.4mm/0.016" pitch, .006"/.006" trace/space.  I have
looked at a couple of web sites that list free software and have found
two types of packages; the no strings attached open source packages that
are not very mature or run on xNIX (and not windows) or the PCB fab
house supplied packages that tie you to getting your boards from them.  

Clearly I need something that actually works, so most of the truely free
packages are not viable.  The PCB package from
http://bach.ece.jhu.edu/~haceaton/pcb/ seems to work, but is not
supported under windows.  It is not clear if it will run under Cygwin.
I guess I could dedicate a machine to PCB design and run Linix, but I am
pretty sure I would end up creating problems from my lack of experience
with *NIX.  

I looked at a few of the PCB vendor packages and have done one design
and ordered boards.  It was fairly low risk since it only cost $59
including shipping from expressPCB.  But these boards have no soldermask
or silk screen.  I can live without silk screen, but the solder mask is
important when using fine pitch parts.  In general, I am not happy being
tied to a vendor and having to duplicate the layout work to use a
different vendor.  Reentering a schematic is no big deal, but layout is
very time intensive and each tool is toally different.  

So that brings us to the commercial layout packages.  Most of them are
several kilobucks and out of my budget.  I found a list at
http://www.olimex.com/pcb/dtools.html of a lot of packages, but there is
no real info on them.  So that is why I am here.  Can I ask for opinions
on what tools will give the best benifit for the cost of the low end
tools?  I hate to spend even $100 on a tool that I am not sure I will
want to continue to use, but if I have confidence that it will be a good
tool, I would not mind paying $500.  

So what are my options and how good are they for fine pitch work, up to
6 layers?  

And does anyone have any experience with TCI3?  It seems to be a free
tool, but when I follow the link, the page is in French.  Anyone know if
the tool can be used by English speakers (and readers)?  Any English
docs?  I guess I could learn metric dimensions; 0.15 trace - 0.15 space

Re: Low cost PCB layout software


I have had three packages I have purchased over the years.

Two are no logner available.  :-(

All PCB packages will have a different user interface. This is
really a pain. When you get use to useing one package, the same
vendor will change their interface, or they will go under.

So, try some of the freeware packages just to get a feel for
whats out there. Yes, you will burn up a lot of time.

I have just starting useing E.A.G.L.E software.

Their demo version will only allow you two layers and a small PCB,
but it does work and you can send the Gerber files to anyone you like.

If you find anything you like, reply here so we can get a feel for
how you evaluated those packages.


Re: Low cost PCB layout software

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Laying out boards is such a pain in the neck. As the layout s/w becomes more
"featureful", the work becomes more difficult and more time consuming.

My opinion is that it isn't worth doing these things on your own. I had
olimex.com do a several board layouts for me and the boards came out fine.
They can do the manufacturing, too, at a good price, and I'm pretty sure
they can provide you with gerbers.

There are a lot of other places to go for board layout, for sure. I just
mention this place because I've worked with them before and they did a good


Re: Low cost PCB layout software

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Check out Protel Autotrax and Easytrax.  They are at the
bottom of the page under freeware:

http://www.protel.com/resources/downloads /

I started my company with Autotrax when I couldn't afford
anything else.  If you can find yourself an early dos
version of Orcad, Autotrax will take it's netlist.

Autotrax runs under DOS, but that shouldn't be a big
hassle if money is your major concern.

Re: Low cost PCB layout software
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I agree; give Protel Autotrax a go.

There are some higher resolution display drivers available.
It runs fine DOS full screen in windows.

The biggest problem I found is that display zoom; it would be nice to go
another level or two in for very fine work (0.001 tweeking). It doesn't
support burried vias and the copper pour could be better, but it's OK
for fine pitch double sided boards.

I purchased Autotrax when it was first released probably 15 years ago
and still use it. Autotrax can be used very quickly from the keyboard
with little mousing. The manual editing, draging etc. is quick and easy.
It's also quite easy to create new component footprints.

I've recently tried other packages looking for a replacement but haven't
picked one yet. To get the same features you end up with a bit more at
prices starting at $1000 to $1500 USD, and a windows interface that's
quite different to Autotrax and I find slower.

Paul Bealing

Re: Low cost PCB layout software

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One replacement for Autotrax I tried was Circuit/Traxmaker (now from
Protel, originally from Microcode).
It's interface is similar to "Autotrax for the Mac" which it was
probably derived from. It has a lot of autotrax type stuff which make it
eminently recommendable. But it also violates a lot of it's own
interface guidelines i.e. it does lack consistency in it's interface.
Anyway it is downloadable from the Protel website.

http://www.altium.com/circuitmaker /

regards Andrew

Re: Low cost PCB layout software
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Yes, it's not bad; I have the demo CD.
Bad; the demo only runs for 5 or 10 minutes at a time for 30 days.
Good: it imports Autotrax files.
It's like a windows version of Autotrax with a few improvements.
It's quite expensive for just the PCB layout considering Autotrax is
free and almost as good. The Circuitmaker packet says it includes
schematic capture and simulation but I haven't tried these.

Another that was quite good was Protel For Windows (PFW). I've looked at
version 2.8 (I think); again an improved Autotrax.
Problem; I don't think it's free and no longer sold.

I think Altium should continue selling the last version of PFW for about
$250 USD.

Paul Bealing

Re: Low cost PCB layout software

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Did you evaluate EAGLE (www.cadsoftusa.com)? It is available for
Windows and Linux, it is very mature, and the current version has
(finally) added support for blind/buried vias, making it much better
suited for 6-layer boards and MBGA. You can't evaluate that in the
free version (limited to two layers) but trust me, it works :) Eagle
is always the package I recommend when people ask here for
cost-effective PCB layout tools. It even has an autorouter which is
adequate for most simple jobs.

Pitch is neither here nor there, Eagle can handle any trace
width/spacing you care to name.

The cheapest version is $50 but it won't do your layer requirement
(basically, it is just permission to use the free version for
commercial projects). But the pricing of the full package is very
reasonable compared to similarly featured products. And the Cadsoft
newsgroups are very active, so there is good peer support.

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These packages are evil. Don't use them.

Re: Low cost PCB layout software
I've used Eagle from CADSoft for a few months now and have been
generally pleased.  The trial version is free for download, but the
board size is limited and the auto router dosen't work.  This can be
"fixed" by paying a resonable registration fee of 50 USD, or by other
means.  Their website is:

http://www.cadsoftusa.com /


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The autorouter is disabled in eval versions now? That is a new twist
for 4.11. Download 4.09 - it's still available on their ftp site, and
the autorouter works in eval mode.

Re: Low cost PCB layout software
Ralph Malph threw some tea leaves on the floor

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It definitely does work, I've been using it for at least 5 years.

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That's because it was developed on GNU/Linux.

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I think if you can lay out pcbs, you can handle simple file operations
with GNU/Linux, it really isn't hard.

PCB is "click and grunt" just like any other GUI cad app.

I have some pics of PCB at work on my site:-

              Kind Regards from Terry
    My Desktop is powered by GNU/LinuX, Gentoo-1.4_rc2  
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Re: Low cost PCB layout software

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Have a loom at EasyPC: http://www.numberone.com

It's very easy to use and is inexpensive. I used it for years.

Leon Heller, G1HSM
Email: snipped-for-privacy@dsl.pipex.com
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Re: Low cost PCB layout software
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Have a look at www.seetrax.co.uk

Re: Low cost PCB layout software

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    Check out http://www.icadsys.com pretty complete, I've been using it for
12 years when it ran on an XT under DOS.

Re: Low cost PCB layout software

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I was talking with a friend of mine the other day. We were talking about
winxp being fairly stable. "Yup," I said, "Its the most stable microsoft OS
since DOS." -- Mike

Re: Low cost PCB layout software
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Well, I have read all the replies and have looked at most, if not all of
the recommended systems.  Unfortunately I have not found any of them to
be workable (or at least easily used).  

The Eagle software from CadSoft seemed like it had the most promise, but
I tried to download the older version 4.09 as someone recommended and
could not get either release to install.  Both complain of bad files
even though I downloaded them twice.  I then tried to download 4.11 and
can't seem to connect to the server.  

So at this point I am still looking.  The Protel Autotrax software is
very much a DOS package complete with a memory manager which did not
seem to initialize correctly under Win2k.  So I don't think it is worth
trying to get it to work with a modern OS.  Other packages installed ok,
but are very limited including providing nearly no parts library.  If
they are going to limit the number of layers and pins, why don't they at
least include a moderately complete library?  My idea was to do a
simple, small project to evaluate the tool.  But with all the work
required to learn how to create my own device footprints, it is not
worth it.  

I find it expecially odd when they don't provide a file save
capability.  If you can't do *any* useful work with their eval package,
just how much time do they expect you to spend with it?  

Eagle      Cadsoft      Can't download or install
Autotrax   Protel       DOS based memory management
Easytrax   Protel       Poor UI
EasyPC     Numberone    Demo has no save or plot functionality
Cadstar    Zuken        Not simple
RangerXL   Seetrax      Still haven't gotten a password file (not sure
if it is time limited or not)

I'll keep trying to download one of the Eagle versions.  But otherwise I
have found all of these demo programs to be lacking for my needs.

Re: Low cost PCB layout software
Hi, the eval package is just that, your not supposed to be able to do any
useful work with it. Libraries: even the pro packages have allmost useless
ones, you will allways have to build your own. You get what you pay for (if
your lucky). If your really short of cash ask someone to layout a board for
you, when you have some sales under your belt you will have the money to buy
something worthwhile.

Re: Low cost PCB layout software
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Only a few companies set up the tools to prevent you from doing any work
at all.  Most allow you to do small boards with limitations on the pin
counts or nets or similar.  This is exactly what I want to do.  But most
of these make the process very hard by expecting you to make your own
library of parts (unless you are still working with 1/4 watt axial
resistors and DIPs).  

My time is not worthless and I expect a vendor to allow me to truely
evaluate a tool before I buy.  I never said I was looking for a free
lunch.  I just want to buy one tool that I know I will continue to use
rather than to pay for a tool and expect to have to pay for another one
when this one doesn't work out.  To ask me to spend time to learn their
tool that won't even save my work, is not only a waste of my time, it is
absurd!  I couldn't even begin to evaluate a product if I have to start
over every time I have to leave it and do some real work!

Re: Low cost PCB layout software
Hi,as I said you need to make your own parts anyway, so you might as well
evaluate how to do that at the outset.

Re: Low cost PCB layout software
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Eagle really is a good package.  It'd be worth working through your
install errors, if you've got the patience.

Cadsoft hosts newsgroups for product support, and I've been pleased with
the user community as well.  Before I bought, I scoured both to look for
the chronic complaints and found there were no serious issues, and a lot
of compliments - a nice side-effect of an open support forum.  Here are
their English newsgroups:

If you're like me, you'll dislike Eagle's mouse UI, but once you learn
the keyboard syntax things go much faster (it also has some potent
scripting capabilities).  It does take a little training; the UI is not
intuitive to newcomers.  There's a tutorial you can download from
Cadsoft's site - I highly recommend it.

The demo version is full-featured, but limited to ~4x6" board and 2
layers.  (The board, traces, and PTH can exceed this dimention, but not
component pads/holes.)  The demo sadly does not include the PDF manual,
which makes eval quite a bit harder.

And as someone else commented - when it comes to libraries, "Trust but
verify" against datasheets.  I've been very pleased with the extensive
Eagle library, though I have found a few errors (like pad spacing on an
SMT package).  The good thing is... it's fairly easy to publish the
corrections to the user community.

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