First Impressions Migrating to Altium Designer 18

Created: May 1, 2018
Updated: November 12, 2020

Updating a software package is risky business – and not just because of new bugs that could be added. It’s also possible that a perfectly working new feature looks like a bug from the perspective of your workflow. I’ve recently upgraded to Altium Designer® (AD18) and released a new design with it, finding a few nuances. And not just the new color scheme (FYI: AD18 doesn’t support the legacy skin colors, but may in future versions). Overall, the change wasn’t as jarring as the color scheme and icon arrangement might suggest. But these points may be helpful for folks looking to prepare the switch!

New and Delightful Altium 18

These changes were nice to see, and a piece of cake to recognize and implement. A round of beers for the engineers!

‘Properties’ dialog panel is the new go-to in the tool. Similar to the inspector in AD17, this was the conduit through which I set my parameters. The inspector is gone thanks to the prevalence of Properties. I always had it open on a 3rd monitor since I was in there so much. The Properties dialog is also very useful without anything selected. Being able to quickly change the selection filter and grid settings is right there, and the parameters for the document are just a tab away. Properties panel is LIFE in AD18.

Layers View Configuration in the PCBA is more intuitive than before thanks to groupings by signal pairs. Nicer than seeing the wall of possible layers in AD17. It is also easier to configure the Layer Sets.

The new ‘Search’ box in the upper-right corner works well, and live-populates with possibilities. For example, I wasn’t sure where to edit the document parameters to change the project’s revision letter (FYI: it’s in the new properties panel when nothing is selected). I started to type it in the search box with a list of suggestions that narrowed itself down as I typed. This is particularly great for folks like me who may not be working in the tool for a few weeks and forget what a feature is called or where it can be found.

New and Good, but Different

There were some things that I quickly saw as positive differences, but not without feeling weird about it. Kind of like trying a new food in a different place. “Slimy, yet satisfying.” –Pumbaa, The Lion King.

Place Dialog is more nuanced. The interface is better, but there are more knobs to worry about. It’s probably best to have this docked somewhere when placing. I’m sure it’s a godsend for folks with an expansive; possibly overkill for my two-person-shop.

The more significant panels selector in AD18 is the only menu in the lower-right corner where AD17 had several items to select. I was always hanging out down there to change things up, but honestly I never remember which button has my desired function so having it all under one is kind of nice.

New, but Oops

Write software, make bugs. That’s the way it is.

The only thing I found that might be a bug was the time to post-process has gone significantly. On looking closer at the issue, I found getting live data for the BOM generation takes about 4x as long (25 seconds in AD17 vs 110 seconds in AD18 from my simple test design).

I’m not sure yet, but there could be something making my computer work harder with my setup using a laptop screen plus 2 HDMI monitors via a USB3.0 hub setup. It’s always a PITA to nail things like this down, but my gut says I may need to look into updating drivers or something.

Running the latest and greatest software is always the easiest way to go since delaying upgrades will eventually be annoying for everyone you work with. One of the best things about running software locally is that you get to pick when to upgrade and avoid interrupting projects (Ahem, unless we’re talking about an operating system that rhymes with Bimbos…). I prefer to update between each project to get small doses of the changes instead of the larger hassle all at once. No matter how you like to manage your updates, good luck!

About the Author:

Dave Young works as an electrical engineering contractor under the Young Circuit Designs banner servicing mostly small companies and startups. His 15+ years of PCB design experience has touched many platforms: Altium, CircuitStudio®, OrCad, EAGLE, KiCAD, and even ‘Sharpie-and-chemicals’.

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