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Anyone who is reading this article has already designed their own PCBs in the past, or intends to in the near future. Whether you are a professional or a hobbyist, every now and then the question of which PCB design application is most suitable for your application will come up. And the answer to this question is…it depends!!!!
As far as personal choices go, everyone wants different things from their design software, and everyone has a different level of expertise with their software. Sometimes, the choice of an appropriate PCB design package is governed by your available resources and the required investment. Today, we can divide available software into two categories: desktop applications and online PCB CAD software. Let’s take a look at both categories and their advantages, difficulties, and some popular applications in each category.
What’s the Difference Between Desktop and Online PCB CAD Software
As its name implies, desktop applications must be installed on your local machine. Once you do download and install the software, there is no need for an internet connection to use this software. Online PCB CAD layout tools do not need to be installed on your local machine, although some online tools provide an optional desktop version. This allows users to access the software on-demand. Users don’t need to worry about installation, keep track of their file structure, or worry about constantly compiling and downloading component libraries. However, users must have internet access to use the software.
Who Benefits from Desktop PCB Design Software
Some of the most popular desktop design platforms are Altium Designer, CircuitMaker, Eagle, KiCad, and OrCAD. These are heavy-duty software packages that come with a ton of features; you’ll normally need a license to run a full-featured version. While most of these are Windows, Mac, and Linux compatible, some might need Wine to allow the program to run on a linux-like platform. Once installed, one doesn’t need the internet to work on projects, but usually any work will require frequent data storage, sharing, retrieval, and occasional software updates.
All design data is stored locally on your computer’s HDD or connected storage. You can use some cloud-based storage platforms like Dropbox or Google Drive to save and backup design data. There is some version control software also available, which is preferable to manually transferring data every time you make changes to your design.
Another aspect which users must consider is data sharing. Whenever you are working as part of a team on a complex project, everyone needs a way to collaborate seamlessly on multiple portions of a design. Desktop applications cannot provide these capabilities without expensive addons or third-party software.
Desktop vs. Online PCB CAD tools
Online PCB CAD software
Web-based PCB design software is popular among the open hardware community. All you need is a browser that is compatible with your software and a decent internet connection. The leading names in online PCB CAD tools are Upverter, EasyEDA, and Multisim. Users need not concern themselves with software updates, but these platforms provide different features and disparate levels of support.
All the data is stored in the cloud and can be easily accessed from anywhere in the world. This gives designers freedom to share their data easily without using a separate cloud storage platform. One doesn’t need to worry about version control either because each design version is stored on the cloud.
Perhaps the most important benefit of using online PCB CAD tools is the ability to collaborate. This is where online tools stand out from desktop software. However, not all online PCB CAD platforms provide collaboration features. If you are working on a complex project as part of a team of designers, then you’ll need to ensure that the platform you want to use provides collaboration and data sharing features your team needs to track issues in new designs and make changes to a schematic or layout.
Collaborating in Upverter’s Online PCB CAD Tools
Upverter is an online PCB CAD platform that sets itself apart from other platforms. Here’s some of what makes Upverter different:
- Import and sharing features. You can import an existing design (Altium, OrCAD, Eagle, etc.) or choose from a great selection of open-source designs from the community. You can design your schematic, layout and choose from a vast library of reliable components.
- Collaboration and sharing. Collaboration for remote teams is easy in Upverter. Users have access to team-management and advanced access controls, providing multi-level permissions, instant notifications, and version control. Designers do not need to trouble themselves with hitting ‘Save’ each time they change something—Upverter automatically saves design changes in a Google Docs-style interface.
- Customizable constraints. Upverter has an easy-to-use yet powerful constraint manager that allows users to customize DRC and DFM requirements. The constraint manager also reports violations in real-time so that you can fix errors before you send your board off for production. You can also prioritize rules, enabling you to manage multiple constraints targeting the same object. These constraints can then be examined in a final design review before you move to manufacturing.
- 3D viewer. Upverter gives you a 3D preview of your layout directly in your browser.
Constraint Manager Upverter
With the online PCB CAD features in Upverter®, anyone has the ability to create custom projects from a unique browser-based design interface. The schematic design and PCB layout tools can help you take your design from start to finish and prepare for manufacturing. These standard design and production planning features are accessible from anywhere by multiple collaborators.