PCB Design Software Features To Consider

Created: October 20, 2017
Updated: January 1, 2021


Before making a decision on buying a home, you would probably ask a lot of questions. Is it close to the facilities and services that are important to you? Is it in a good and safe neighborhood? Will the layout of the house satisfy your needs? These are all important questions that need to be answered before you commit to living there.

In the same way, buying new PCB design software deserves the same level of scrutiny. You will want to find out if the software will do what you need it to do and what kind of support is available. You will also want to consider your company’s future and whether or not these tools will be able to grow with you as your design needs change.

Just as with buying a new home, moving to new software can be an overwhelming task. To help you, we’ve organized a list of topics here that you can use as a guide when asking questions about PCB design software.

Will your PCB design software do what you need it to do?

The first thing that you should find out is if the PCB design software that you are considering will do what you need it to do. In order to answer that question, you need to define what kind of design technology that you will be using it for. Will you be designing single layer, two-layer or multi-layer boards? Will these designs be for power, analog, mixed-signal, high-speed, or RF applications? A large complicated high-speed multi-layer design may require a more robust set of design tools than a small simple two-layer analog design. Knowing what kind of designs that you will be working on will give you the foundation for determining which design software is going to be your best choice.

Now that you’ve determined what kind of design work that you will need the software for, you need to evaluate the software in light of your entire design process. For instance, do you need a schematic capture application, and if so does the new software have one associated with it? Does it contain simulation tools or have the ability to interface with external simulators? What kind of part library system will these software tools require and how much work will it take to manage that library? A failure to look into these kinds of details could put you in the awkward position of having to purchase more CAD software further down the line to get your job done.

3D image of PCB
Will your new PCB Design Software lay out the circuit board as you want it to?

Will the tools work the way that you expect them too?

Once you have settled the question of if the PCB design software will do what you need it to do, the next thing to consider is specifically how will these tools work? All PCB layout tools will allow you to place components and route traces, but they may approach these tasks differently. One tool may include an auto-interactive router, while another may not.

Another consideration is how the different tools in the PCB design software work together. It is not uncommon for schematic and layout tools to look and behave differently from each other. This can cause intra-tool interface problems, as well as time and effort on your part to “re-learn” the other tool each time you use it. A unified design environment on the other hand will ensure commonality between applications. The tools will look and behave the same because they were designed to work together instead of being cobbled together from different sources. This will save you time and effort when jumping between the two tools during your design process.

These details may seem relatively small, but they can significantly affect your design productivity. Make sure that you know what you are getting and how it works before you make a decision on the software.

Businessman pointing to PCB circuitry
Will your PCB Design Software grow with you?

Will this PCB design software grow with me as my design needs change?

This last topic is an area that isn’t often considered, but it is very important. As time goes by, so will your design needs. Since your level of design technology is bound to increase or change altogether, it is very important that your CAD tools are poised to grow with your needs. Since none of us can see into the future, the best we can do is to look at how the software company portrays itself now.

Is this a growing and thriving company with a healthy corporate culture? Do they have a vision for the future? Do they regularly come out with new design technology and software enhancements? If they pass these tests, then they are likely to be a solid technology partner with you for many years to come.

Like buying a home, buying new PCB design software should be closely investigated before making a commitment. We’ve talked the features, the support, and the future growth of the software as areas that should be examined before making a decision. Making sure that you’re satisfied with these three key factors will help you to make the best decision possible on your next PCB design software.

PCB design software, like Altium Designer and Altium’s CircuitStudio, have enhanced features and support that can help you with what you are designing today. Would you like to find out more about how Altium’s vision for the future can help your company’s growing design needs? Talk to an expert at Altium.



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