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Should you use a desktop or online circuit simulator?
Remember the days when you had to download an open-source SPICE package for circuit simulations? Me too… I still like to implement SPICE simulations in Matlab, but there are plenty of tools for SPICE simulations that include a user interface and that automatically import data from your schematic as inputs.
With the right online circuit simulator, you won’t have to rebuild your circuit as lines of code Some online circuit simulators will force you to send your schematic from your design software to a separate simulator module, but the best browser-based software will have these capabilities integrated into a single interface.
Who Needs an Online Circuit Simulator?
If you’re designing a new product, at some point you may need to validate your circuit design to ensure it functions as you intended. This is not so simple a task as checking against your design rules in a desktop application. Sure, your design rules are important, but they can’t tell you exactly how a circuit will function.
If you already have some simulation capabilities built into your desktop application, then great! But not everyone is so fortunate to have these capabilities. Not all desktop applications have simulation capabilities built in, and those that do may only be limited to certain analyses. Some circuit simulators are offered as addon programs for desktop design platforms, meaning they can carry a hefty price tag, depending on the capabilities you need.
If you’re using online hardware design tools to collaborate with a remote team of designers, then your online schematics and layouts will still need to be simulated. Not all online circuit simulators include the capabilities to go much farther than to create a simple layout from a very short list of components. Other online circuit simulators can only interact with certain desktop applications, meaning that distributed design teams will be unable to collaborate on a design and simulation simultaneously.
Any distributed team of hardware designers can see major productivity gains when they use an online circuit simulator. Individual designers can also see the same benefits as these online tools typically carry a lower price tag. Some have a decent user interface and will accept schematic file formats from several different desktop PCB design applications.
Individuals and distributed teams that plan to use an online circuit simulator need to carefully plan their design workflow. SPICE has been a very popular circuit simulation tool for decades, and SPICE-based or Verilog-based online circuit simulators can take a schematic and netlist and use these data to generate a complete simulation. You should start running simulations to verify your circuit design before you start your PCB layout. If you complete your layout before running circuit simulations, you put yourself at risk of an unnecessary redesign.
What You’ll Need to Verify in Simulations
Your design rules are there to make sure that you’ve properly placed components, vias, and traces so that your board is manufacturable and obeys important design standards. However, your design rules can’t guarantee your circuit will work as you intended. With simulations, you can get a direct view of how your circuit will operate in different situations without having to completely analyze your circuit on paper.
As an example, analog simulations are useful for filter and amplifier design. This allows you to see exactly how your circuit will respond to different driving frequencies and make changes as necessary. With a mixed signal simulation, you can examine how devices with pulse-shaping or signal processing capabilities will operate and how they
Simulating a circuit driven with a series of pulses or spiked with an impulse is useful for examining the transient behavior of a circuit. This is very important when selecting bypass capacitors, designing decoupling networks, and impedance matching networks. If you want to simulate a purely digital circuit, then you need to make sure your component library includes logic models for your components.
A portion of Ben Jordan’s Sausage Factory schematic. This is one of many designs that could be brought into an online circuit simulator.
In the event you find your circuit behaves differently than you envisioned and you need to do a redesign, be sure to pay attention to the supply chain and replace any parts with those that are currently available. Once you go to manufacture your board, you might find yourself waiting many weeks for parts to arrive if you don’t select sourceable components.
An In-Editor Online Circuit Simulator
Not all schematic editors and circuit simulation tools are integrated. Those that offer an integrated online circuit simulator can immediately translate your schematic and netlist into a SPICE-based, Verilog-based, or other type of simulation without sending design data between different programs. This is a much better option than exporting between desktop programs, or exporting between browser-based programs. Best of all, you won’t have to rebuild a circuit schematic in a separate program or manually write out your netlist and circuit elements before running your simulation.
Online design software with a built-in circuit simulator provides plenty of other benefits. These tools will save your design in an online repository, allowing it to be easily shared or downloaded. The best design software will actually offer live collaboration and version control in a Google Docs-style interface. This greatly speeds up circuit design and allows you to run simulations instantly. You won’t have to devise an odd collaboration strategy just to perform important verification tasks. Any online circuit simulator that interfaces with an optional desktop application will allow users to access their online design tools alongside other desktop design applications.
The flexibility offered by browser-based design software with an online circuit simulator is something that other design platforms just can’t match The browser-based PCB design platform from Upverter® provides new design teams and established organizations with the tools they need to take any new idea all the way to a complete prototyping run. Upverter wants you to stay engaged and continues to update the platform with new features that are demanded by the community.