Finding Circuit Design Software Online: Search Parameters and Powerful Tools

Created: March 9, 2018
Updated: October 17, 2020
Picture of Ferry boat in water

Have you seen the movie “Sully,” the story of US Airways flight 1549’s incredible landing on the Hudson River in 2009? When director Clint Eastwood was preparing for the film he interviewed Vincent Lombardi, the captain of the first ferry boat to arrive at the scene of the accident. After walking Eastwood through the events of that day, Lombardi was surprised when the director said; “I want to use you.”

Eastwood must have realized after listening to Lombardi that he wouldn’t find anyone better at portraying the ferry boat captain than himself, so he decided to cast him in the role. Eastwood needed the best in the role, so he went with the best. This principle doesn’t just apply to movie roles, it is sound advice everywhere.

Often designers and companies will go with a certain PCB design tool based on factors other than what the tool can actually do for you. The chosen software may have a very low price tag associated with it, but will it do everything that you need it to do? This question goes much deeper as well. Not only will this software do what you want it to do, but will it truly excel?

You may invest in software that satisfies your needs at the moment, but you are going to grow and change. If your software isn’t able to keep up the pace with your future design needs, what good is that? Explore your matters in the depth that they demand.

Ensure Your Circuit Design Software is Strong Online or Off

With all of the information that is available out there on PCB design tools as well as input from colleagues and even sales pitches, it is very easy to lose focus on the main point of the software. Will this software design the circuit boards that you need it to design? If it won’t, then look somewhere else. It is not going to do you any good at all to get a great deal on some software only to find out later that you can’t get your job done.

Does this new software come with available component libraries, or will you have to provide those yourself? That isn’t necessarily a deal breaker as some companies want to leverage their existing libraries while others are happy with a paid service. Another question to ask yourself is whether or not this new software will create the manufacturing data that you need for your vendors.

Some software will do better at this than others, and you should know up front exactly what your chosen software will do. Your priority when looking at circuit design software, though, will be to ensure that you can access your features when you need them - online with real-time updating and communicating between departments and manufacturers, or offline with cloud-based information storage.

Picture of Altium Designer 18 schematic and layout)The best circuit design software needs to first of all design your circuits

Know Your Software Features: What’s in the Box?

There’s an old joke that goes something like this; “I bought my new car for a really low price, but then they charged me extra for the wheels.” You’ll need to be aware of what your software package is promising, and ensure that the features offered are what you envisioned. You don’t want to brag to your boss that your new software will do some great thing, only to find out that you have to go back to the boss and ask for more money to activate this wonderful feature.

There may be other hidden costs as well. What will the product support cost you? Will you have to pay for it annually or is it a subscription service? If you need training on this software what will that cost you? It’s also a good idea to have an idea up front about what kind of free support and training options are available with this software as well.

Take a look through user’s groups, frequently asked questions sites, and white papers. There may be an incredible amount of help available to you that you won’t have to pay for at all.

Graphic of different car wheels and treads
Make sure you understand the costs, you don’t want to find out later that the wheels cost extra

Let Yourself Grow with Your Circuit Design Software

More than likely you are going to be designing new products on a regular basis. Your new software will do just fine for you as long as you’ve done your homework and made sure that it meets your needs before you buy, but you should also consider the future. Will this new software grow with you as you grow?

It is a good idea to look into whether or not your new software vendor has a growth plan, and how they’ve done so far in that plan. You also want to make sure that the software itself is architected in such a way that it will grow and adapt to new design technology. For example, PCB design systems in the past that were great with thru-hole technology floundered once surface mount requirements required more design advancements.

When you need to access an easy-to-use PCB layout tool that includes everything needed to build high-quality manufacturable circuit boards, look no further than CircuitMaker. Not only does it fulfill the basic needs of the software with its ability to capture a schematic, layout the board, and then create manufacturing files, it knocks these requirements out of the park. All CircuitMaker users also have access to a personal workspace on the Altium 365 platform. You can upload and store your design data in the cloud, and you can easily view your projects via your web browser in a secure platform.

Start using CircuitMaker today and stay tuned for the new CircuitMaker Pro from Altium.

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