Software tool

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Software design tools

Some people still build circuits without ever using any software tools. For complicated circuits, software design tools can save a lot of time.

This section is being reorgnized and expanded, it may be a bit messed up for a few days.

The design tools fall into several classes:

Schematic Capture

Listed in Class as SchCap

PCB Layout

Listed in Class as PCB, generally includees a footprint editor to make new parts.

Circuit Simulation

Listed in Class as CirSim.


Other tools that do not fall in the classes above


"Suites" that combine schematic capture, component editor for the components used in schematic capture, circuit simulation, PCB layout, autorouter, and footprint editor for the footprints used in PCB layout. A suite can be nice as you need draw the circuit only once.

Quite often people mix-and-match tools -- using a schematic capture from one suite to generate pretty schematics and a netlist, then importing the netlist a third party Specctra autorouter, then importing the result into a PCB layout program from another suite for the final manual clean-up and design rule checking. For this to work the tools must have compatible import and export tools.

(Is there another place for listing stand-alone tools such as a switching power supply "wizard" and a RF analysis tool? -- yes as this section is not limited to suites [anymore] )


In no particular order:

Class Name Platform License AutoRouter Comments
*PCB Liquid PCB Linux, Win32 GPL no Liquid PCB wiki at SourceForge Liquid PCB is a computer aided design application for designing printed circuit boards. You are not restricted to straight tracks and 45º angles, you can draw tracks any way you like. The tracks will move and bend as required to maintain your design rules. It is open source, and still in the Alpha stage.
*PCB gEDA Linux, *BSD Free, OSS autorouter This may be the goto open source tool for schematic capture through PCB. Generally does not run on Windows. There are no restrictions on the package to cripple it for a paid version. Boards may be very big. Would be nice to have a full review sometime. gEDA wiki includes schematic and PCB for makeing gerbers etc...
*PCB McCAD EDS Lite MacOSX, Win32 Free demo max 200 pin autorouter Free demo version available for download, 200 pin limit
*PCB McCAD EDS SE MacOSX, Win32 "free"? autorouter Free with book, "Apple I Replica Creation". Supports 750 pins, 11"x17" sheet size, 6-8 data layers. <tangent>(any useful tips in this book for those who want to build a CPU from scratch?) <reply>No, there are not. The book is more entry-level. - Tom Owad</reply></tangent>
*PCB FreePCB Win32 GPL can use FreeRoute PCB Design Software
*SchCap TinyCAD Win32 LGPL n/a Schematic Drawing Software
*tbd KiCad BSD, Linux, MacOSX, Win32 GPL autorouter EDA suite ; KiCad wiki
*SchCap *PCB Express SCH/PCB Win32 Free use crippleware ? ExpressPCB's propietatary free schematic capture & PCB layout designer locking you to use ExpressPCB for manufacture explicitly. Manufacture in 3 business days of two boards for ~100 USD.
*PCB Protel DXP Win32 autorouter independent Protel users FAQ
*tbd Eagle Eagle Links Win32, Linux Free use crippleware ( Russ Hensel says>> ) I have been kicking around as a hobbyist for a while and Eagle seems to be the main hobbyist circuit/pcb cad program. It supports schematics and board layout with an auto-router. The free version can easily support 2 dual op amps with wide traces and a one sided board. There is quite a lot of info on the Internet and many projects supply eagle files. There is also a $125 non profit version supporting larger boards. It then gets expensive. Eagle is not really easy to learn: cut for it would be copy in almost any other program. It probably deserves a page or more of its own. ( << end RH )
Eagle tutorial from Sparkfun
Eagle tutorial (makezine)
*tbd DipTrace Crippleware 250-pin Freeware or Purchase more advanced versions
*tbd WinQcad Crippleware Demo with max 499 pins available for download
*tbd Rimu Schematic and Rimu PCB Win32 Payware Schematic & PCB design for MS-Windows
*tbd SuperCAD and SuperPCB Win32 Mental Automation schematic & PCB for MS-Windows
*tbd AUTOTraxEDA needs MS-NT, won't work on MS-W98/ME. User forums have shown a certain lack of satisfaction with the program.
*tbd Win32 Crippleware Circad's DOS version is free for non-commercial use.
*tbd BSD, Linux, MacOSX GPL autorouter xNIX Electronic Design Automation project has Schematic capture with PCB CAD.
*tbd Win32 autorouter Vutrax for MS-Windows. Free for under 256 component pins.
*tbd Electronic Workbench, 400 USD for 500 pins. Includes schematic capture and simulation, virtual instruments and PCB layout. Said to be stable.
*tbd Harry Eaton's PCB BSD?, Linux?, MacOSX?, Win32 GPL autorouter PCB design program which can work under any POSIX compliant operating system like Linux (or BSD under API compability layer). Have Gerber and PostScript output options.
*tbd They have a lite version "PIC bundle" ~149 USD includes schematic + simulation + pcb layout. You can write pic code for your pic schematic design and simulate. Even multi-pic, keypad, lcd display. Right now it can only simulate PIC16x83, PIC16x84 (lite version limited to 1k program code). Working on more pic modules. Will not produce Gerber or Excellion drill files. Only dxf, bmp, hpgl, tiff output (not sufficient!).
*tbd Payware Winboard PCB Layout, now
*tbd Linux, Win32, DOS Draftcad, Schematic Capture and PCB Design
*tbd Win32, Linux+Wine MicroCad
*tbd "PCB ARTIST" Win32 ? schematic + layout. Seems to lock you into using Advanced Circuits for manufacture (?).
*tbd PCB123 Win32 ? schematic + layout. Seems to lock you into using Sunstone for manufacture (?).
*tbd ProSchematic Win32 "free trial" no can make schematics that look almost like photographs of a solderless breadboard.
*CirSim Spice Various Various na The generic term for many simulation programs.
*CirSim LSpice Windows free na A free version of Spice from Linear Technology. Draw the schematic and see its simulations. Many components. Seems to be very popular. Should ( will ) have a page here of its own.

(Some of this information in this table came from the list of software design tools at the Massmind).

A SourceForge search for "schematic" lists dozens of tools. Other than the ones already listed above, what tools in that list are useful for open circuits?

Is there any way to objectively compare these tools? How well did they do at the PCB Top Gun contest ?

Timing diagrams:

When you want to post a picture of a schematic or timing diagram on a web site, should you use JPEG or PNG? I hope these 2 pictures answer your question:

Further reading