Most of the complaints you will hear from Protel users will be directed at Altium's business policies - focusing on attracting new users with feature bloat rather than fixing long standing bugs, indifference to existing customers' needs etc. - but since you are already an Altium customer this shouldn't shock you.
We use the Altium DXP (which is the latest version of the Protel software) schematic package at work. It is the worst schematic package I have ever used. It is buggy and has a lousy user interface. I have used many schematic packages over that past years and I am constantly amazed at how Altium can make the simplest things so complicated.
- Simple features like dragging sections of schematic never works properly. It insists on adding connections between wires that weren't there before.
- Clicking on Undo after a drag and drop causes the program to crash
- The Help files are useless. It has never had any help information on anything I have tried to look up.
- There is no easy way to specify that you want to have seperate ground planes that connect a single point.
- The print function is hopelessly complicated (There are 3 different Print Menu fuctions and settings from one conflict with settings from others).
The list of problems goes on and on....
I think that DXP is an overpriced, underperforming piece of software. I think that the programmers who wrote it should be sentenced to a year of doing 'real' designs with it for an electrical engineer and then see how they like it.
I also agree with what you say. The programmers at Altium seem to play with different programming paradigms. It is extremely clear that the people who write the software has never used the program to do a real world design. They seem to have spent an amazing amount of time adding all sort of functionality that nobody uses. Who uses Protel DXP for EPLD/FPGA design ? I think the first company that comes up with a viable alternative, and goes back to the core business of writing usable software for designing of schematics and laying out of PCBs, will have many takers.
The older Protel Packages could import files from Tango. This functionality has been thrown out since Protel 98. The router of Protel DXP is still not on par with an old version of Specctra Router, that I am still using. There was a period about 10 years ago, where the new versions of the PCB cad packages made greate improvements on the previous versions. The last 5 years, they seem to have been going backwards. The packages need much faster machines, but in actual functionality nothing has been gained.
I am very interested in this topic as well. We have been using Tango PCB (for DOS) for the last 10 to 15 years in conjunction with Orcad Capture (Schematic) 9.1, and we want to move to something more modern but everything I have tried sucks in comparison. We cant get tango to run properly on our new PCs (even when win98 is installed the fonts are all garbage). I am going to try the virtual PC software from VMware and Microsoft to see if I can squeeze another few years out of our old tango keys.
I am planning on sticking with Orcad since I don't have too many complaints with it and I know how to keep it from crashing now (save your work when you do a lot of cut and paste).
I have been leaning towards PCAD since it seems to be very popular. I would like to hear other people's input on PCAD since I have not seen it in action yet.
I have been wanting to write my own PCB program for the last 10 years, but there are too many other activities that seem to be more profitable and less boring.
I went from Tango to PCAD many years ago and I'm reasonably happy. The good things about PCAD are that it is as solid as any cad program I've run and it does not "eat" your work. There are tons of documentation options and the user interface is pretty good.
My major gripe is the shape-based autorouter. We started using it in PCAD2000. It had promise but the interface between it and the layout program was crufty. Promises of a Spectra-class router never happened. PCAD seemed not to have any motivation to fix the router and we dropped off support a couple of years ago, tiring of their promises.
Another place where I felt burned was following the dotcom bust. Best I can remember, PCAD about doubled their support costs, presumably to make up revenue from fewer seats sold.
I have used Protel starting with 98 up through DXP2004 SP2. I am not a huge fan of it, but I can get simple things done since I know my way around it. I agree with all the other comments about DXP being bloated, overblown and buggy. If they would have just fixed the bugs in 99SE, then I would have been happy.
I also recently used PCAD2002 to complete a reasonably sized project and I was *NOT* impressed. 4-layer board, 4x5 inches, solid power and GND plane.
I think the schematic package is decent, but the layout, in my opinion is terrible.
Among other issues:
- PCB library from PCAD is *wrong* sometimes. QFP64s, for example, were not labeled in the right order.
(Protel's library of footprints is actually quite decent).
- Creating schematic and layout symbols ia royal pain. There is no "wizard" (that I found) that lets you create a footprint off a common type (i.e. can't create a new QFP128 using a QFP template).
(Protel does have such a wizard and it's very fast to create footprints if they're based off anything standard, like a DIP or QFP).
- PCAD's layout tool lets you violate the Design-Rules you set (i.e. trace to trace width) as you are doing layout, and it will only real- time show if you go out of you way to set some options. Even when the real-time DRC is enabled, it shows a violation AFTER you make the mistake. Effectively, PCAD makes you keep track of your rules, all the time
- PCAD's final DRC check will often mistake one problem for another, so you get a crytpic error message which is invalid. A lot like what a compiler might do if you leave of a semicolon on line 5, it complains about some syntax error on line 7.
- Integrating mechanical information (i.e. cut-outs in the PCB I needed to make given an Autocad file from the MechE) was a royal pain. I ended up doing things very manually (printing pages and measuring things with calipers) because it was tough to specify exact positioning.
I was impressed with the way PCAD lets you create a "selection mask", so you can select components by various attributes (both in schematic capture and layout).
I think the selection mask is needed however, given how PCAD works.
There were more minuses (and probably plusses), but I've tried to forget PCAD.
For the record, I don't think that DXP does things "well", but those core features that made their way from 99SE to DXP are still useful (like the footprint wizard). I think Jim was right in that PCAD IS relatively solid, I didn't find it locking up on me very frequently.
But I couldn't honestly reccomend either package. Maybe I'm spoiled by much higher end tools...
You can also try the VESA 3 driver for nVidia cards from nVidia if you have a nVidia card. AFAICR I got Tango for DOS going under Win98 by using this driver.
I have looked into using PCAD, but it suffers from the same malady as most of the old favourates. Companies buying each other up, and then after getting rid of most of the old programmers, try and merge multiple applications into one "CAD suite". My impression of the current incarnation of PCAD is that it will be fine if you work with it often . If you use it for a week or so every other month, it will be a pain.