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    Open Source Hardware & PCB Projects in Altium Designer

    Petr Tosovsky
    |  April 12, 2016

    open source computer example

    Article translated by Google, and edited in English by Ben Jordan.

    More and more engineers and PCB designers are getting involved in the rising tide of open source hardware projects. There are some really cool ones out there, and in this blog, FAE and consultant Petr Tošovský from Retry S.R.O. in  Czech Republic  highlights a few that caught his eye, and I ask the important question at the end - so read and answer with your thoughts!


    When you’re starting out with new electronics design software, or even beginning the adventure of electronics design and engineering, it’s very beneficial to examine the work of others in reference designs. One can obtain an idea of what can be achieved and how. Just as often, one gets inspiration for solving certain issues, like how to route DDR on the minimum number of layers, or how to fanout a BGA. Open source PCB projects often provide the help and inspiration needed - while also serving the world with new products that benefit everybody. So I wanted to showcase a few open-source software projects, all done using Altium Designer®, for the user community.

    Altium Designer is a professional commercial design environment and it is, from this point of view, under-represented in the Open Source community. Recently more and more open source projects are being released where the design was done in Altium Designer. Often these are projects with complex hardware, where the purpose of the design is development in other environments, such as Linux-based software applications. Some are projects developed in commercial companies who have decided to release their hardware openly, or where the design engineers are given the freedom to design and share Open Source Hardware (OSHw) and design files in support of their commercial research. Here are just a few OSHw projects, created in Altium Designer, which you may be interested in taking a look at:

    FEDEVEL baseboard

    iMX6 Rex is a processor module sporting a 1.2 GHz Freescale iMX6 CPU (Dual or Quad-Core), including DDR3 memory, and high-speed signal connectors for a wide range of interfaces. It’s all done on a Printed Circuit Board the “size of a credit card”. The iMX6 Rex has been designed, tested and the results documented thoroughly on the developer’s web site and blogs, so I  can easily draw value out of the PCB design process and experience. There is an associated Development Baseboard also which brings out all the various IO interfaces with the appropriate connectors. It forms a powerful computing platform including PCIe, SATA, HDMI & LCD port, Hi-Def Audio, Ethernet, USB, serial port, SD-Card, and user IO. The design projects and documentation for the iMX6 Rex and the development baseboard are available after a free account sign-on. Download the source data here.

    2014-05-23 13_47_12-Altium Designer (14.3) - E__Customer Files_OSHW_Rhino_trunk_elec_pcb_Rhino.PcbDo.png

    RHINO, which stands for Reconfigurable Hardware Interface for computiNg and radiO, is a relatively large platform for developing software-defined radio applications. The design centers around a combination Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA and an ARM Cortex A8 processor from Texas Instruments. The analog part is connected with two FMC expansion connectors. The circuit board includes DDR2 and DDR3 memory, 10Mbps Ethernet, USB 2.0 and 10 Gbps communication interface, and there are a couple of tutorials available to help users get started using the BORPH Linux port. You can obtain the hardware design sources from the project SVN repository. 


    Turris. Project Turris is an Internet of Things (IoT) project in the truest sense. The heart of the Turris project is a home WiFi router and GigE switch, which analyzes in detail all the transmitted and received data, searching for behaviors that indicate an attack on your home network. For this reason, the router has more computing power than is usual for these devices. Over time, the Turris router devices across a network share threat analysis data and build a mesh database that makes it fast and easy to detect threats, converging to a very secure network. The Printed Circuit Board contains several switching power regulators,  DDR3 SODIMM support, and uses a powerful Freescale P2020 1.2 GHz processor. Triple Diversity WiFi (up to 803.11n) is implemented using a commercially available mini PCI-express card. Hardware source files are available for download at the Turris hardware page.

    Novena-desktop-configuration project-points

    Novena took the project aim to be the first totally OSHw laptop. The parameters include an iMX6 CPU (same as iMX6 Rex), built on the ARM Cortex A9 running at 1.2GHz, a slot for DDR3 memory, two USB 2.0 ports, a mini PCI-express slot, a Full HD display connected via LVDS, GigE network ports, HDMI and Hi-Def audio. The primary objectives of the specification were the selection of with openly available schematics documentation, and the easy support of  Open Source operating systems. The motherboard also has a Spartan 6 FPGA for hardware acceleration of graphics and high-performance computing applications. As at May 2014, the Novena project is in the final phase of its crowd-funding campaign, which has already surpassed the required funding limits and is likely to propel Novena into mass production. Design source files can be downloaded here.

    CERN - The CERN (Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire) is a research center famous for its particle accelerators. Using Altium as one of many tools in such a design environment, CERN electronics engineers use it in a number of projects, many of which are available at the Open Hardware Repository (below are just a few):


    VUE32 is a universal control unit for experimental electric vehicles. This began as a student project focused on creating an electric car, and VUE32 was designed to play a critical role in ensuring contact between the sensors, controls and follow-up communications with the host computer. The main processor is a PIC32. The unit has four control outputs of up to 10A, and two up to 2A, with a total of 12 analog inputs. Communication is done via the CAN 2.0b and USB 2.0 ports. Download the source data here.

    Should Altium Live be involved?

    In addition to “formally open source” designs are those which have been publically developed utilizing Altium tools. Among them, for example, are Red Pitaya or the ZedBoard. To make it easier to design these projects to popular and capable form-factors, the Content Store offers to its users a relatively large of template projects, including standard board outlines (with connectors) like PCI, PCIe, SODIMM, VME, QSeven etc.


    The question we want to ask is, what does the Altium user community think? Given the rising tide of open source in the hardware design world, would it be useful and beneficial to have a page on this site dedicated to open source content and community sharing?

    Let us know what you think!

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