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scotta
09-18-2007, 09:18 AM
Has anyone here used the KiCad tools for PCB layout ?

The program is very worthy, but the built-in auto-router tends
to paint itself into a corner. There is an external hook
to the MUSC-PCB tools, but I can't find enough information
to get this working.

http://intranet.cs.man.ac.uk/apt/projects/tools/mucs-pcb/

Scott

P.S. My board is too large for the low end version and free
version of Eagle. gEDA has me confused.

scotta
09-18-2007, 09:41 AM
12 views and nobody wishes to talk open source EDA ?

Ariba
09-18-2007, 10:52 AM
I use FreePCB - also OpenSource (www.freepcb.com).
It has no built in Autorouter, but I never use Autorouters, the results are rarely convincing.
But FreePCB can work with the FreeRoute Autorouter....

Andy

Phil Pilgrim (PhiPi)
09-18-2007, 11:07 AM
Ditto to Ariba's autorouter comment!

Laying out a PCB is part science, part art. Autorouters just connect the dots and, if you're lucky, connect all of them. But just any connection isn't always an optimal pathway for high frequency signals or power distribution. There's a certain feng shui involved that makes a well-laid-out board not only smoothly functional but a joy to behold. It's the kind of thing that takes practice and that no autorouter can ever achieve.

-Phil

Lawson
09-18-2007, 12:03 PM
Good to hear a recommendation for KiCad. I'm currently trying out TinyCad+FreePCB for laying out a PCB. I'm planning on giving KiCad a spin for my next project. Is the schematic capture of KiCad any good? TinyCad works well, but would benefit greatly from some more polish. (as an asside, I tried to start this layout on Mentor Graphics PADS software. gha! is that program hard to use and it's got useless help files)

I assume KiCad has rat-lines that directly connect the pins like they're connected in the schematic? I've found unsnarling the "rats nest" of rat-lines an ideal starting place for laying out a board. My board is pretty simple, but it fits 95% on one layer with a ground plane.

I can think of situations when an autorouter would be a godsent. Laying out a wide system bus, or making lots of matched length traces, etc basically anything that has a lot of little details that follow simple rules.


scotta said...
gEDA has me confused.


Heh, well nearly all the electronics software I've used has shown clear signs of it's roots in command line tools from the 70's. Unfortunately the documentation for some of these GUI tools assumes you already know how to use the old command line tools. SPICE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SPICE) is one of the core programs that lots of stuff is based on directly or indirectly.

The adventure never ends!
Marty

P.S. anybody know of gEDA binaries for windows? I'd like to try it out too, but I'm still a windows only user.

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Lunch cures all problems! have you had lunch?

Post Edited (Lawson) : 9/18/2007 5:09:58 AM GMT

mirror
09-18-2007, 01:56 PM
I've tried various (cheap/free) packages over the last 12 months, and ended up using RimuPCB and RimuSchematic. It's not free, but it's not stupidly priced either!

The web site is http://www.hutson.co.nz/rimu.htm

There isn't an autorouter, but the schematic and PCB editor are relatively straightforward to be immediately productive. The schematics look nice on screen, and look especially nice when printed.

Leon
09-18-2007, 06:42 PM
The autorouter for the Pulsonix software I use is excellent, but is a fairly expensive option. Boards routed with it are difficult to distinguish from manually routed boards. Critical nets are best routed manually, of course.

Leon

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Amateur radio callsign: G1HSM
Suzuki SV1000S motorcycle

Skogsgurra
09-18-2007, 07:25 PM
My .02 €

I use Eagle from CadSoft. I don't really like it. But it is like a marriage. And Eagle has developed all the time. The free packages from PCB Express and other board manufacturers may be more comfortable. But I have got used to Eagle. I used it way back in the eighties when it was a German DOS program where you wrote long netlists.

It is Windowed a lot now. You don't need to type much at all. The ease with which you create new components (like a Propeller) makes it flexible. And I like the autorouter. I put my critical paths manually where they shall be and then let the aoutorouter do the rest. The problem I have is to see what my gerber files look like. I have found that ViewMate is simple to use for that.

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Fred Hawkins
09-18-2007, 07:44 PM
"My board is too large for the low end version and free version of Eagle."

How big is too big for Eagle's free version?

RDL2004
09-18-2007, 07:52 PM
Eagle Freeware board size limitations:

The useable board area is limited to 100·x·80·mm (4·x·3.2·inches).

Only two signal layers can be used (Top and Bottom).



http://www.cadsoftusa.com/





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- Rick

Ale
09-18-2007, 08:25 PM
When I used to be paid for playing... ahem *work* in electronics, we used Orcad (ancient versions, the 1988 version during 1994..1996), for schematics. Nothing was what it seem to be. For PCBs we used Autotrax, also ancient. Those tools were... outdated. But got me started. When I started my own projects on 2005 (for fun), I picked up Eagle. It is completely different from what I used before. The Schematic is sort of aware of components and connections... nothing like that old Orcad I used. So many hours I spent doing once and again what I thought was the right way of using it, till I learn it. I know is not the best, but once you learn it, is quite good. If you complain about the autorouting in todays tools... you should check Autotrax... that was crappy !. BTW, the only useful feature I really miss from is to highlight a net, with a color that can be distinguished... Evidently I need more time with it.
The good about Eagle are the multiplatform support http://forums.parallax.com/images/smilies/smile.gif. Protel tools were too "winblows" for my taste http://forums.parallax.com/images/smilies/smile.gif
I also tried PCB I think is called, or GNU PCB... well is not for me.

mynet43
09-18-2007, 08:52 PM
I recently started using DipTrace.

I struggled my way thru Eagle (which is not at all intuitive) and several others like ExpressPCB.

DipTrace has a free version that meets my needs.

It's upgrades aren't expensive if you need them.

The technical support is excellent.

The program is very intuitive and easy to learn. It outputs standard Gerber files, so any place can use them.

It's autorouter is like the others, works, but not as good as manual layout.

Includes both schematic capture and PCB layout which are linked well together.

Highly recommended (and no, I don't work for them:)

mynet43
09-18-2007, 09:20 PM
Here's a little 1" x 2" propeller board done with DipTrace.

scotta
09-18-2007, 09:43 PM
Thanks for the replies everyone.

My first board was done by hand (1988) at 4x on a drafting
board, reduced by a copy house, and photo-etched (using
the sun as the UV light source). The machine that used this
board was a few feet from a bolt header, the concrete was
8 feet thick and it vibrated, so the placement of components
was vibration critical. We ended up putting the board in a
bud-box and onto a paint shaker for 3 days. It passed the test.

The fastest pc back then was a 386sx, and Eda was primitive
and very expensive. It funny how Eda companies come and
go, there must have been 30 or 40 since then, all are out
of business or have been bought out by companies that
don't even list prices on their web sites (if you have to
ask, you can't afford it).

For Lawson and others:

KiCad does not have the best schematic editor, if you are
used to traditional editors. Rubber banding is non-existent.
Its not that the software is not complete, the original author
and the current group of developers have a different design
methodology. The primary purpose of this software is to
generate a netlist for spice and PCB layout.

With that said, you use wire connections for small bits of
your circuit, and labels to connect these bits together. The
greatest feature is the ability to add schematic sub-sheets.

One sheet is your propeller, another the input devices, another
the output devices. As you build designs with it, you end up
with pluggable modules. I love this methodology.

The PCB layout software has built in auto-routing, but the
documentation does not mention that the component placement
grid IS your routing grid too. If your board is small it will
always auto-route. When the density goes beyond a threshold,
it will fail, even with a very fine grid (which is very slow to do).

I just figured out last night that if you tell it to auto-place
the components, auto-routing will work with higher densities.
Of course you will need to place, and LOCK, critical components
first, before you run auto-place.

The Design Rule Checker for schematic and pcb layout is
excellent and should leave you with a warm fuzzy feeling.

I feel comfortable putting my energy in this software because
its on the top of the list at sourceforge, although Google is
putting some energy in gEdA (summer of code...).




Oh yes, the rats net feature of KiCad lets you know how to
place and rotate. Just move your mouse over the part, hit
the M key (move), then, while your moving, hit R to
rotate. You should see the nest for that component un-snarl.

DynamoBen
09-18-2007, 10:26 PM
I use diptrace and love it. If you intend on making boards at home the free version allows you to print your designs. To produce Gerber files you will need to purchase a copy.

Roadster
09-18-2007, 11:09 PM
I like diptrace also, and the free verion now allows export of gerber files and with a 250 pin limit it fits my needs

Skogsgurra
09-18-2007, 11:26 PM
@ Ale,

"BTW, the only useful feature I really miss from is to highlight a net, with a color that can be distinguished"

Do you refer to Eagle here?

They have it! The "blue eye" symbol just below the "grid" tool does just that. It highligts the net (light green plus red for component connections plus bold for pin names) when you activate it and click a net. Works in .brd mode as well.

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Werner
09-19-2007, 04:19 AM
I use KiCad for small DIY type projects, and I like it a lot better than gEDA. With gEDA, lack of integration and subtle inconsistencies
in the component libraries were a constant pain. gEDA's PCB is great for switching visibility of layers, and the autorouter sometimes
does a credible job on very simple layouts, but often enough, it creates strange patterns that are incorrect and hard to fix.

I don't think the autoplacer/autorouter of Kicad is any good, but I find the manual routing capabilities quite decent, although still not
on par with the "DRC-hugging" operation available in many commercial systems. There are also several minor items, such as a quick
way of changing layer visibility or "magnetic" traces (so that you can start or end a new trace on an off-grid trace) that would be nice
to have. Of course, the good thing about Kicad is that you can extend it according to your needs.

Schematic capture in Kicad also takes some getting used to. I wish it was a bit more like Qucs in that regard, but I wonder if Qucs'
very intuitive but also space-grabbing model will be suitable also for complex circuits.

- Werner

mirror
09-19-2007, 04:41 AM
Possibly the best autorouter I've seen in low-end software is the one in WinQCAD. However, the rest of the package (schematic and PCB) has a very "special" user interface.

I looked at DIPTrace for a while, and looking at my computer right now I see that I've uninstalled it.

One of the most dissappointing packages that I spent money on is AutoTRAX EDA (which has got nothing to do with Protel). I found it to be highly unreliable on my computer (Windows XP Pro).

PCBArtist looks nice, but the catch is that it's tied to a PCB manufacturer.

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Lawson
09-19-2007, 05:20 AM
scotta said...
KiCad does not have the best schematic editor, if you are
used to traditional editors. Rubber banding is non-existent.
Its not that the software is not complete, the original author
and the current group of developers have a different design
methodology. The primary purpose of this software is to
generate a netlist for spice and PCB layout.

With that said, you use wire connections for small bits of
your circuit, and labels to connect these bits together. The
greatest feature is the ability to add schematic sub-sheets.

One sheet is your propeller, another the input devices, another
the output devices. As you build designs with it, you end up
with pluggable modules. I love this methodology.


Hm, interesting. TinyCAD has rubber banding for wiring, and labels but the wires don't follow components when they're shifted around while wired. (some of that polish it needs...) It also "supports" sub-sheets via hierarchical sheets and extra pages. Unfortunately if you have R1 in the main sheet and a hierarchical symbol, TinyCAD can't tell them apart >_<, and there is no automatic way to fix this. (the temp solution is to give each sheet a range of numbers that won't overlap with other sheets, a decided pain in the arse)

Lots of good info in this thread!
Marty

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Lunch cures all problems! have you had lunch?

scotta
09-19-2007, 07:37 AM
To everyone, Thanks !

I'm learning faster here than with Google.