See What’s Coming Soon to Altium Designer 24

Setting the new standard in electronics design.

Step Up Into Altium Designer from PCAD

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: February 24, 2020  |  Updated: November 14, 2020
Step Up Into Altium Designer from PCAD

The original goal of PCAD, to give PCB designers the best tools possible, lives on today in Altium. Altium Designer is made for designers like you and will import your legacy PCAD designs so you can continue your work.


CAD software that will continue through the years.

Back in 1982, an innovative new PCB design software CAD tool called P-CAD was introduced to the world. This PCAD PCB design tool quickly outgrew its competition and at one point had the record for the largest installed user base at that time. It is not surprising at all to find companies that are still using their older copies of P-CAD to design printed circuit boards today. The question is where is P-CAD now, and the answer might surprise you because it’s right here as part of Altium Designer.

After different sales and acquisitions over the years, P-CAD eventually became part of the Altium family. The original goals of the creators of P-CAD actually align very nicely with the goals at Altium making this a perfect union of software. P-CAD was created to give PCB designers powerful software on a personal computer without having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on mainframe computers and custom workstations. This aligns perfectly with Altium’s goal of putting Altium Designer, the most powerful and versatile software available into your hands so that you have the tools you need to design the challenging technologies of today and tomorrow.

Design Tools That Are Built on a Solid Foundation

Just as P-CAD was groundbreaking when it was introduced, Altium Designer has been groundbreaking since its introduction and continues to lead the field with its regular updates and enhancements. Altium Designer is built to leverage the power of your 64-bit multithreading system architecture giving you the maximum design performance possible. Altium Designer has the capabilities you need to translate your P-CAD designs and libraries, as well as many other design formats so that you don’t have to redesign old work. You can take those older designs and get to work on them right away.

There are many ways that the power of Altium Designer can help you, and one of the first that you will notice is how all the tools work smoothly together. This is due to Altium’s signature unified design environment which allows everything from the schematic to the layout, as well as all the tools between, to work together in unison. You will find that it is easy to open and work with the different tools on your design thanks to the similar interfaces of the unified design environment. Once you start to use Altium Designer’s schematic editor, you will see how intuitive it is to use enabling you to increase your productivity and reduce any chance of design errors. Altium Designer truly is a design system created to help you be at your best.

The Tools You Need to Bring Your Old Jobs Up to Date

A CAD file should be able to keep up with any circuit board you need to design. Your PCB editor shouldn’t be holding you back with it when it comes to layout, board shape, or output files. If you’ve got old P-CAD design jobs that need to be updated, Altium Designer is the tool you need to get your work done.

Screenshot of multiple tools in step up into Altium Designer from PCAD

Altium Designer’s unified design environment makes working in multiple tools easy

Advanced Tools for PCB Layout Place and Route

P-CAD put PCB layout place and route software tools into the hands of designers worldwide, and Altium has built on this standard with the powerful layout features in Altium Designer. With intelligent placement functions, you will be able to use Altium Designer to organize and optimize your component placement quickly and efficiently.

The interactive routing features in Altium Designer have been created specifically to help you triumph over the most difficult routing challenges that you might encounter. To top it all off, Altium Designer’s 3D engine has been refined over the years to give you the best view possible of your design. Not only will you be able to verify your component placement, but you can move your parts in 3D to make sure that you are correctly placing them for all mechanical obstacles and constraints. Altium Designer is the tool you need for your most intricate PCB layouts.

Advanced Placement and Routing Tools and a 3D Environment

You won’t have to worry about your circuit design being read correctly by a PCB manufacturer or during PCB assembly when you are sure in your layout software. With the powerful place and route tools complemented by a 3D environment of Altium Designer, you will be able to accomplish design tasks that you could never have done in P-CAD.

Screenshot of schematic and 3D layout in step up into Altium Designer from PCAD

Altium Designer gives you the powerful tools you need to get the job done

Altium Designer; Because There’s More to PCB Design Than Just the Schematic and Layout

With design schedules and budgets getting smaller and smaller, there is more for the PCB designer to do these days than ever before. Here is where Altium Designer can really help you. Starting with your component selection, Altium Designer’s Active BOM is a bill of materials management tool that comes complete with a cloud connection to your preferred part vendors. This will enable you to get real-time pricing, availability, and technical data on your parts before you use them in your design. Since Active BOM is another portal into your design data, you can use it for selecting and reporting on parts, highlighting those parts in either the schematic or layout and of course, creating a bill of materials list for manufacturing.

Altium Designer also has the ability to give you immediate visual power analysis of your design while you are laying out the board. The PDN Analyzer will allow you to identify and resolve voltage and current density issues while in layout. This will save you the time and cost of creating prototype boards just to find power distribution network problems. Altium Designer is also able to help with one of the last tasks in the design cycle, the creation of manufacturing documentation. There’s no need to take up your valuable time creating the same drawings over and over again when Altium Designer can do this job for you automatically.

Put the Full Power of Altium Designer to Work for You

Whether it’s looking through your computer-aided design software for a component library or utilizing available PCB footprints to produce your design as a PCB prototype, Altium Designer has what you need. As important as place and route are, there’s more work to be done and Altium Designer is ready with a plethora of tools and features that will help.

The same creativity and innovation that brought P-CAD to the world back in the early ’80s is still alive and well in Altium Designer. Take a look at how Altium Designer can continue the work you started in P-CAD with the power and versatility of the most powerful PCB design system available today.

About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 2500+ technical articles on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, American Physical Society, and the Printed Circuit Engineering Association (PCEA). He previously served as a voting member on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee working on technical standards for quantum electronics, and he currently serves on the IEEE P3186 Working Group focused on Port Interface Representing Photonic Signals Using SPICE-class Circuit Simulators.

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