Freeware CAD Programs vs. Integrated Design Software
Freeware CAD programs are great if you are learning about PCB design or if you are a hobbyist. But free software doesn’t contain the features you need to build modern PCBs with the best functionality. Rather than trying multiple free platforms and cobbling together features from multiple programs, you’ll be most productive when all the best design features are included in a single design environment. Altium Designer is the only PCB design platform that integrates all your critical design features in a single interface.
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The only PCB design package with the best design features in a unified interface.
When I was learning PCB design, I downloaded some freeware CAD programs to help me get started and learn the process for designing PCBs. The simple interface in these programs helped me understand the basic workflow involved in PCB design, how standard design features should work, and how to use CAD programs that are tailored for PCB design. Once I started working with other engineers on serious projects, I quickly found that freeware programs created more problems than they solved.
Different freeware programs offer similar CAD tools, but they don’t contain many of the critical functions you need to design the best PCBs and bring them to production. Getting access to different design functions requires cobbling together a mish-mash of different freeware programs. These programs will have different workflows, data formats that aren’t always compatible, and you’ll spend more time trying to force incompatible tools to work together than you’ll spend designing.
If your organization is wasting time forcing incompatible freeware CAD programs to work together, you should try working in a unified design environment. This type of design software overcomes the problems of free design software and other professional design packages. You’ll have access to the best design features in a single interface. Only Altium Designer give you all of the best design features and more in a single interface.
A free PCB design program can help you get started and learn how to use basic design features. As you dive deeper into PCB design, you’ll soon find that it lacks the important features required to design production-level PCBs. Features like library management, automated routing, hierarchical design, and verification tools are critical if you want your next PCB to stand up to the competition.
You’ll quickly find that your PCB design software will not have the functions you need to configure your board properly, and you’ll have to gather even more free tools to finish your designs. You should count yourself lucky if your design tools can work together and use a consistent data format. Features that you need to design a production-level PCB simply aren’t present in free programs.
The Best PCBs Take the Best Design Software
Instead of taking the difficult route and forcing incompatible design programs to work together, you need to use design software that includes all the critical features you need in a single location. Your design software needs to have tools that are built on a single design engine and communicate in a consistent data format. Other design tools can’t offer this level of functionality or adaptability.
If you’re a serious designer, you run a hardware startup, or you just want to see your new device come to life, you’ll need to plan your PCB for production. This take tools for compiling bills of materials, Gerber files, and assembly files for your manufacturer. Free bill of materials tools force you to manually compile your deliverables because they can’t interface with free design tools. Instead, you need design software that integrates your design tools and deliverable generation tools into a single software package.
- Free PCB design software isn’t really free, you’ll pay a cost in lost time and productivity. You’ll be stuck managing incompatibility and devising difficult workarounds involving other free design tools.Learn more about the pros and cons of free design software.
- Free bill of materials software can create the same productivity problems as free design software.
- You can avoid incompatibility errors and lost productivity that arises from using multiple design programs. Instead, you need to work in a unified design environment.
Altium Designer give you access to critical design features in a single interface
Open source or licensed software, no matter the computer-aided design approach you take you’re bound to run into difficulties. Whether it’s a tough learning curve, lack of users to bounce ideas off, poor web browser interactions, or a plain lack of user-friendly interface or intuitive interface actions, you should demand more from your tools. Make sure your rendering is accurate, solid modeling is complete and create models with modeling tools that can be relied upon. Ensure your design CAD tools aren’t going to be forgetting mechanical parts anytime soon.
As modern PCB design can be rather complicated, you’ll need tools that let you handle multiple design roles all at once. This means you need more than just ECAD design tools, you’ll need analysis and simulation tools to ensure your device will work as planned. You’ll need to play the role of a manufacturing engineer and plan for fabrication and assembly. If your device has an odd form factor, multiple boards, or odd shape, you’ll need to use MCAD tools to design your packaging.
Using a set of free programs segments each of these functions in a single program. Since so many programs don’t use a consistent data format, you’ll have to build the same board multiple times in each program. Instead, if you can access all these critical functions in a single program, you’ll keep your productivity high and you’ll avoid errors that come from using incompatible programs.
Your Design Tools Should Streamline Your Workflow
PCB design is about more than just designing a circuit board. You need data management tools and production tools that help you move through the entire design process. Component library management features help you locate and source the components you need to guarantee your PCB has the functionality you need. Free software programs can’t provide this functionality with consistent workflow.
When you have access to the best CAD tools, your workflow and productivity greatly improve because you won’t have to force multiple incompatible free tools to work together. The design tools Altium Designer are designed to help you create production level PCBs and are easily accessible within a single program. No other design software can offer this level of adaptability or accessibility.
- Unified design software brings multiple features together under one roof. Your software should help you collaborate with across your design team.Learn more about team collaboration in Altium Designer.
- Verifying the functionality of your device is quick and easy when your design software is built a unified rules-driven design engine.
- Real PCBs can be complex beasts, and most free software cannot handle the complexity of modern PCBs. Hierarchical design makes it easy to keep functional blocks in your design organized.
The advanced schematic and layout features in Altium Designer
Instead of taking your chances with a set of free programs that offer overlapping design features with different workflows, inconsistent data formats, and no support, a unified design environment places all the critical design features you need in a single interface. This enforces a consistent data format and workflow, preventing data errors that can cripple other design programs. No other design platform offers truly unified feature sets.
Other design platforms claim to unify features in a single interface, but they still silo features into separate programs. This fragments design teams and makes collaboration difficult. Free software makes the simplest design tasks difficult and can’t provide support when you run into roadblocks. Altium Designer is the only design package that truly unifies the most advanced design features in a single program.
Get the Design Tools You Need in Altium Designer
If you’re using freeware CAD programs, you’ll find that important design tools are spread across multiple programs. Altium Designer contains CAD, analysis, management, bill of materials, and simulation tools all in one place. You won’t spend time importing and exporting data between multiple programs when you use Altium Designer.
All the design features in Altium Designer are built on top of a single rules-driven design engine. Your tools are designed to work together with a single data format. This also offers you unprecedented adaptability as you can define customized design rules for your specific electronics application. Your design rules ensure that your device will meet basic performance standards, ensuring your product will work exactly as you intended.
- The revolutionary design environment in Altium Designer places all your features in a single interface and enhances your total productivity.Learn more about Altium Designer’s unified design environment.
- PCB design and manufacturing are intimately linked. If you intend to have your PCB manufactured, you’ll want to use design software that makes design for manufacturing easy.
- Once it’s time to move on to production, you can save your output settings and easily reuse them with batch output settings.Learn more about saving time with batch deliverable generation.
Don’t settle for a tool that requires a pro version to get beyond minor drag and drop functions for its users. If you’re tired of forcing multiple freeware programs to work together and want to reclaim your productivity, you need to use the only PCB design package that places all your critical design features in a single environment. Altium Designer is the only PCB design software package that includes the design tools you need in a single interface. You’ll be more productive and have access to advanced features that freeware just can’t offer.
If you’re unfamiliar with integrated design, switching to Altium Designer might seem like a major task. Altium wants you to be successful and provides you with the resources you need to get started. You’ll have access to the AltiumLive forum, webinars and podcasts from expert designers, and an extensive knowledge base with plenty of design examples and useful tips. In contrast, freeware programs leave you to figure it out on your own or scour the internet for support.
The design, analysis, and management tools in Altium Designer are built to work in harmony within a single program. The rules-driven design engine ensures consistent communication among design tools, ensuring your next PCB will work as designed. Don’t settle for freeware or other design platforms that claim to create an integrated design environment. Instead, make the investment in your future: invest in Altium Designer.