During a recent trip to Upstate New York I visited nine electronics OEMs in various markets from military to medical to transportation, and six were either using Altium CAD tools for their PCB design needs, or were migrating to Altium in the next year.
If you had asked me three years ago to list all our PCB design clients who used Altium, I would have had to look it up. Today, our team supports Altium designs monthly, and almost 30% of all our new design clients are Altium users. Clearly, Altium is gaining traction in the PCB design market.
Altium, Protel’s successor (well done on the re-branding Altium), is one of four software tools supported by ACDi, including PADS, Cadence Allegro and Mentor Expedition – what we call the “Big 3”. Altium seems to be gaining more momentum than its predecessor, and its success is not surprising when you consider the value/functionality of the tool in comparison to Protel and others on the market today.
Here are three reasons why:
- For starters, it’s cheap. The per-seat cost of an Altium license is less than any of the “Big 3” tools (in some cases, considerably less). Altium offers an all-in-one schematic capture and PCB layout tool fully integrated into one toolset.
- The CAD tool is also ahead in terms of 3D design functionality as it allows for importing 3D modules for all components and allows users to view the board in 3D. (Side note: our Design Services Manager did report that PADS, Cadence and Mentor unveiled during PCB West 2015 they will all have this feature in their next release.)
- Altium also has a smoother translation feature, so most CAD databases can be imported straight into the tool with little manipulation. This is a huge advantage over other tools as conversions between CAD databases are typically painful.
All these factors make Altium an attractive choice for many users in terms of both user-friendliness and price point.
Despite Altium’s growing popularity, PADS continues to be our most popular toolset amongst our client base. Even though Altium has beaten them as the most inexpensive, PADS is still a cost-competitive choice. PADS’s ability to allow for netlist deviations and flexibility is also a plus that the other tools aren’t as accommodating towards.
Cadence and Expedition are still the preferred tools amongst our clientele for designs requiring numerous constraints, like large, high-speed digital boards. These tools offer better physical and spacing constraints that can be built right into the device and allow for smoother auto-routing – a huge advantage when working with certain technologies. These added features are pricey as both these tools are the higher-cost choices on the market today.
Designer preference aside (this matters more than you might think), generally speaking any of the PCB design tools mentioned can support most requirements, and the quality of the design is ultimately dependent on the designer. If you are looking to switch to Altium, however, you might not want to wait too long. I’ve heard their rise in popularity has also given rise to their price structure.
For more information on Altium, PADS, Allegro or Expedition, see the following links.