Electronic – Schematic capture/PCB layout program recommendations


I'm still using PCAD2006 for my schematic capture and PCB layout. I'm not very happy with this; it is rather buggy, but it's a leftover for which I have an extensive library.
Due to the problems I'm having with PCAD and the fact that it is no longer supported by Altium I'm looking for an alternative. Shopping list:

  1. Free or low cost (Altium Designer is out)
  2. No restrictions in board size beyond the obvious. E.g. Eurocard (160x100mm) or 200x150mm should be possible. 1 meter square shouldn't. Some free packages have a 100x80mm limit IIRC.
  3. Gerber output
  4. Extensive library of both PTH and SMT components
  5. Nice to have: real-time DRC


Best Answer

I would go with the professional version of Eagle-- $1000, plus $500 if you want the autorouter.

I've tried Kicad and GEDA; despite Jim's comment above, I think neither are comparable in stability or features. They've improved a lot from the past, and you can't beat the price, but I think Eagle is worth the money. I also think that Eagle has a promising future in that they are alleged developing an open file specification, according to Adafruit. If that actually happens, it will be huge.

In the even longer run, I hope that GEDA and Kicad get better, but I've been literally hoping that for a decade (about GEDA). (And yes, I realize that I should shut up and start contributing patches. So should you, dear critic.)

Altium is $3500 plus an optional yearly subscription for updates; I'd say it's not worth it unless you need specific features that Altium provides-- for most boards, Eagle wins.

Since you have an old PCAD license from Altium, you might also investigate Mentor's deals. They were recently offering a large discount to switch from Altium to their stuff. Though I haven't used Mentor's stuff, I suspect it's like most established EDA software-- powerful, but with frustrating interface quirks that go unreplicated in the rest of the software world.

I'd also think seriously about what boat you want to be in for the long term. I learned Altium back when it was Protel 98, and now the transition to anything else would be a sizable productivity hit. I do use the free version of Eagle for small stuff, but it's painful (mostly because of my experience with Altium). If I could restart now, I probably wouldn't invest the time to learn a package that I couldn't afford for personal projects.