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I'm still using PCAD2006 for my schematic capture and PCB layout. I'm not very happy with this; it is rather buggy, but it's a leftover for which I have an extensive library.
Due to the problems I'm having with PCAD and the fact that it is no longer supported by Altium I'm looking for an alternative. Shopping list:

  1. Free or low cost (Altium Designer is out)
  2. No restrictions in board size beyond the obvious. E.g. Eurocard (160x100mm) or 200x150mm should be possible. 1 meter square shouldn't. Some free packages have a 100x80mm limit IIRC.
  3. Gerber output
  4. Extensive library of both PTH and SMT components
  5. Nice to have: real-time DRC

Suggestions?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by PeterJ, placeholder, Joe Hass, Chetan Bhargava, Nick Alexeev May 13 at 20:13

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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I take it your using a Microsoft Windows only system? There's good free CAD tools on Linux that don't have restrictions, do Gerbers, and are relatively stable, GEDA PCB and Kicad are great - you could always consider a dual boot with a light weight Linux distro –  Jim Dec 16 '10 at 17:16

9 Answers 9

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I would go with the professional version of Eagle-- $1000, plus $500 if you want the autorouter.

I've tried Kicad and GEDA; despite Jim's comment above, I think neither are comparable in stability or features. They've improved a lot from the past, and you can't beat the price, but I think Eagle is worth the money. I also think that Eagle has a promising future in that they are alleged developing an open file specification, according to Adafruit. If that actually happens, it will be huge.

In the even longer run, I hope that GEDA and Kicad get better, but I've been literally hoping that for a decade (about GEDA). (And yes, I realize that I should shut up and start contributing patches. So should you, dear critic.)

Altium is $3500 plus an optional yearly subscription for updates; I'd say it's not worth it unless you need specific features that Altium provides-- for most boards, Eagle wins.

Since you have an old PCAD license from Altium, you might also investigate Mentor's deals. They were recently offering a large discount to switch from Altium to their stuff. Though I haven't used Mentor's stuff, I suspect it's like most established EDA software-- powerful, but with frustrating interface quirks that go unreplicated in the rest of the software world.

I'd also think seriously about what boat you want to be in for the long term. I learned Altium back when it was Protel 98, and now the transition to anything else would be a sizable productivity hit. I do use the free version of Eagle for small stuff, but it's painful (mostly because of my experience with Altium). If I could restart now, I probably wouldn't invest the time to learn a package that I couldn't afford for personal projects.

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Also, I'll make a prediction-- if Cadsoft really does release an open format for boards and libraries, GEDA and Kicad will add import filters. This will finally break the chicken-egg problem of getting users who are making complicated boards to motivate improvements to the software. –  pingswept Dec 16 '10 at 17:46
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I'll add that Eagle can be way cheaper if you tolerate reasonable restrictions on schematic page counts and board sizes. $50 gets you 1 sheet / 2 layer capability with autorouter. $750 gets you 99 sheets / 6 layer capability. $1500 gets you 999 sheets / 16 layer capability... –  vicatcu Dec 16 '10 at 18:42
    
To add to @vicatcu the $750 version has a max routing area of 160x100mm and for the $50 it is 100x80mm routing area. –  Kellenjb Dec 16 '10 at 19:27
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I've always wondered what the value proposition for Eagle is. Does it do something that other programs don't do? Is it the availability of libraries? Is it really easy to use? –  AngryEE Dec 17 '10 at 15:52
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@AngryEE: I think the value proposition is "Much cheaper and only a little worse, plus you can start with a free version." –  pingswept Dec 17 '10 at 18:10

I use the GEDA suite of tools, obviously you get what you pay for, but I've managed to work around most of its limitations and am pretty happy with the price I paid for it ($0).

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I'd agree, I guess it depends on what kind of work your doing and what your budget is, but to me $1000 here and $500 there is a bit too rich for me –  Jim Dec 16 '10 at 18:16
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I hear KiCAD is really awesome if you want something to use on Windows. GEDA on Windows is a 2nd class citizen.. I use it in a virtual Linux machine. –  krapht Dec 16 '10 at 18:56

TinyCAD/FreePCB combo. You'll probably have to create some symbols and footprints yourself, but you always have to be certain of your footprints with any PCB application. It's all free (of cost) and open-source. FreePCB has no limitations and produces gerbers.

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I would definitely recommend KiCAD.

I know it was mentioned in other comments and answers (which were posted 2.5+ years ago.) You may get a bad impression from those comments, but I would recommend checking it out yourself, as a lot has changed in the past few years. If someone told you they tried GIMP 1.0 ten years ago and were unimpressed, you would likely look for a more recent opinion. I also was unimpressed and confused when I first tried it 5 years ago, but the more recent versions have been truly stellar.

I have used a recent version as of this writing (Windows, 2013.05.16) in a professional capacity on several PCBs this year, and am very happy with the results.

Here are some features:

  • It's 100% free (and open source)
  • Cross-platform (runs well on Windows and Linux, not so well on OSX)
  • Active development by CERN (the Large Hadron Collider people)
  • Has DRC and autorouter capabilities
  • Not tied to any PCB manufacturer's proprietary format
  • Outputs standard Gerbers
  • Excellent tutorial included
  • No limit on board size
  • Handles up to 16 copper layers
  • Thriving community
  • Provides a 3D view of the PCB and components
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Just for clarification, while KiCad is technically cross-platform, the OSX build is very unstable and due to low interest, has very little developer attention. I run KiCad in a linux VM on my mac for this very reason. –  crasic Aug 13 '13 at 18:33
    
Thanks @crasic, I edited my answer to reflect your info. –  TimH Aug 19 '13 at 17:41

Pulsonix is excellent, I've used it for years. It starts at $3,000. I run the users group and we have lots of former PCAD users.

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+1 to offset downvote, as Pulsonix certainly does look excellent. –  tyblu Dec 16 '10 at 23:02
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was probably downvoted because of price: $3000 is neither free, nor low-cost. –  Federico Russo Jul 29 '11 at 12:11

Bartels AutoEngineer - Light: 159EUR; Econ.: 2690EUR; Prof.: 6490EUR; High-End: 15kEUR+

  • Microsoft Windows, Linux and various X11/Unix systems.

  • PDF output with symbol/part notes

  • separate autorouter

  • hierarchically structured, including schematics and parts

  • copies libraries to local project, but maintains link

  • default menu seems cruddy, and must be customized for it to work for you

  • Did everything and more than I expected while allowed to use it a year ago

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Do you know what the restrictions for the Light version are? –  stevenvh Dec 18 '10 at 18:03
    
@stevenh, I think it's only double-sided, 100x160mm. That's from memory 1.5yr ago, so it may be different now. –  tyblu Dec 18 '10 at 18:06

Give a try to dipTrace. I wouldn't live without it.

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Out of curiosity. Was DipTrace the first EDA package you've tried (and subsequently got hooked on)? If not, what other EDA packages have you tried? –  Nick Alexeev Aug 13 '13 at 18:29

I had been using PCB Artist at work for a few years and we recently required the need for a system with more advanced features, I was reading a blog and came across Pulsonix. I found it really intuitive to use, had all the features we needed and was an easy upgrade path. The price was what won us over the most, giving us all we needed for $2000!

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I digged 2 online EDA tools, including PCB Layout and Schematic Capture:

http://www.pcbweb.com/ and http://easyeda.com/ .

Both of them are beta now, not full-featured compared to host-based EDA tools, BUT it is the trend. Free, OS-independence(only need a web browser), maybe HTML5 will help them more powerful.

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