I'm seeking out a new PCB design package, and have been pointed to look at Altium Designer from someone in the group.
On (digital!) paper, it looks excellent, ideal in fact.
But I would like to hear from real users, as our current system (EasyPC) although lacking in many areas being bottem end, still lets us down in areas it shouldn't because some areas of it are very buggy.
Is Altium Designer stable, and does what it claims to well?
It used to be called Protel, and is definitely very good. It's very stable and I can't recall the last time I crashed it. I like it quite a lot, especially the "mouse less - alt less" access to menus feature.
Not always. The Cadsoft forums are rather non-censored. Well, maybe not if someone would let off a political rant or something.
They should offer a demo pack to test drive it. Also, check out Cadsoft Eagle. Very favorable pricing. I defected from OrCad to Eagle last year and the only bug I found so far is that the print routine hangs at times. Not badly though, deselecting and then again selecting the printer gets it going. This company is also very good about listening to customers. One of the line items on my "Dear Santa list" will be honored in the new release. All it took was one mention and a brief discussion on one of their forums.
We get most of our support straight from Altium's phone-support guys. Their annual maintenance fees are fairly high, and one doesn't necessarily get a software update every year, so they have to provide good support to justify the charges. For the most part the programs work well (we use their PCAD products), and the support is only needed to explain something that's not obvious in the manual. Or, perhaps I should say, not obvious until *after* you understand it.
With Altium, you have two options. Either to have the subscription which costs a yearly fee and includes every upgrade to a new version, or you just pay for the new version when it comes out. The servicepacks are free. A subscription is in the order of 1100$ plua VAT. The last standalone upgrade was in the order of 3200$ plus VAT after a couple of years free servicepacks.
The prices are available at the countries distributor website.
I'd have to disagree with your last statement. I've found that these higher end re-sellers rarely state a pricing structure, preferring you to contact them for a quote. Then they can badger you every few days to see if you're gonna buy yet.
For example, from the altium main site I found this:
leading me to here:
from which I couldn't detect any link to pricing numbers.
With google I did manage to find this:
which at least told me what ballpark figure we were looking at.
Yes, in the high four-figure, low five-figure territory.
You can save a lot by going with their lower-priced Protel PCB-design program. While it's nice to have the PCB-board layout program know automatically about any pin changes in your cPLD or FPGA, the price increment to get this feature is high enough to keep me transferring that information by hand. I've had enough bad experiences with cPLD and FPGA- design programs created by someone other than the original IC manufacturer (remember the old Data IO / Scenario / ABLE mess?), that I'm skeptical of the wisdom of that approach; ditto for its cousin, the manufacturer plug-in. The Xilinx WebPACK cPLD and FPGA development program I like is free, and it doesn't talk to Altium's Designer, SFAIK.
Another prime element making up the Designer package is the integrated Spice analysis, but again I object, pointing out that the PCB schematic does equal a proper Spice schematic. Spice analysis needs selected parasitic elements explicitly added, and benefits from having the irrelevant items removed, to help Spice converge and to keep the CPU time reasonable. In the end for a skilled designer there's often little direct match between a PCB schematic and the corresponding optimized Spice circuit. And there's also little match between Spice model libraries and PCB pattern libraries, BOM descriptions, etc. Trying to press these items together is asking for some real malfunctions and lots of extra pain, in my experience.
But, if you get Altium's Protel PCB package, you'll at least be able to upgrade to Designer at a later time if my analysis above turns out to be wrong, without being forced to leave your past finished designs behind.
The one extra feature I could be persuaded to spend serious money on would be better PCB libraries and BOM capabilities.