In the past, I’ve done much of my PCB design in KiCAD, Eagle, or DipTrace. While KiCAD is a nice Open Source package (and was great to use when I was teaching), I’ve become somewhat tired of it’s awkward interface and clunky workflow when going from schematic to PCB layout. I recognize that KiCAD improvements are coming rapidly, and I’m really excited to see where the development efforts take it. However, I spent some time in the past year to evaluate (or re-evaluate) some low to mid-range commercial PCB design software offerings to see if it was worth permanently moving. Below are some of the main packages I’ve looked at:
- Autodesk Eagle (version 8.4-8.6)
- DipTrace (version 3.0-3.2)
- Altium CircuitStudio (version 1.4.1)
- Labcenter Proteus (version 8.7 RC1)
Pros: command based interface (i love!), very popular in the hobbyist and semi-pro community, rapid development (especially now that Autodesk has taken over), good forum support, free version with limited sheets, signal layers, and board size, files are in xml plain text format
Cons: cloud based licensing (no perpetual license), cloud based integration with Fusion 360 (could be a pro, but it doesn’t feel snappy to me), somewhat clunky mouse interface compared to other software, some instability and crashes with certain actions, no built-in 3D viewer
Pros: Intuitive, easy-to-use interface, very fast program loading and response, good forum support (from user community especially), not bloated with unnecessary features, free version limited only by pin count and number of signal layers (can also be used as a viewer for larger designs), perpetual key-based licensing with several levels of pricing, stable with very few bugs (that I’ve found), the option to export files in ASCII format, great 3D viewer
Cons: Some features found in other packages not present (e.g., push & shove), development paced is a bit slower, library is referenced with hard-coded absolute paths (instead of relative paths) which could be a problem in some system configurations/workflows
Pros: basically a stripped down version of Altium Designer, great feature set, and excellent PCB design workflow, excellent 3D viewer
Cons: very slow development/bug-fixing, questionable future support (?)
Pros: perpetual key based license, very nice and full feature set (very mature), excellent real-time simulation capability, beautiful schematics (the best that I’ve seen!), good 3D viewer (but buggy with some pad types)
Cons: Slow development pace, seems to have several bugs (though none really deal breaking from what I’ve seen), can be somewhat expensive depending on pricing level, very little user community/support, seems to be declining in popularity, I don’t care for the way it handles pad types, very slow loading times!, files are in binary format and not easily portable/translatable
This is not meant to be an extensive review of these packages by any means – only a few notes about what I consider pros and cons of each package. Ultimately, I think any of these will get the job done, and I would generally recommend hobbyists, students, and beginners to give KiCad a serious look. It packs a good feature set for an unbeatable cost (free!) The current nightly builds are full of new features, so the upcoming stable version 5 is going to be very interesting. I also think Eagle probably has a bright future ahead based on the speed that development has been occurring now that AutoDesk has acquired it.
Based on my evaluation, though, I’ve decided to focus on DipTrace as my main PCB design package. The workflow is great, and it feels snappy and stable. The developers at Novarm seem to be ramping up development efforts to increase the pace of adding features and fixing bugs. As a bonus, I was able to get the full package at a great discount due to a special offer to current Eagle subscribers!