When we first started Rocket Scream Electronics about a year ago, we were in dilemma on which CAD package to use. This is simply because we were using Altium Designer while we still have access to them back then. It is a very efficient and easy to use CAD package despite it’s complexity and monstrous look. Secondly, being a tiny start up company, we simply could not afford to purchase Altium Designer even though they lowered down their price (they used to cost like a piece of car!). So, we embarked on a journey to get ourselves an affordable CAD package with the feature we were looking for. Of course we came across tonnes of questions along the way:

  • Ease of use – how easy to get a task done? If you need 10 minutes to figure out how to place a component on the schematic, you should move on to the next CAD package in the list.
  • Features – what features you are looking for? This is a very subjective point and depends on the design you are making. It also depend on whether you can live without having certain features.
  • Cost effectiveness – what is the price structure looks like?
  • Support – how good is the support and where to get help? Does the developer provide support and other community driven support (forum, mailing list, groups)?
  • Platform – runs on what operating system? We run both on Linux and Windows, so our choices are a bit wider. Mac compatible CAD packages are less supported.
  • Community – who else is using? This is important to able to share and use existing libraries to avoid reinventing the wheel.

Those were some of the criteria that we were looking for in the CAD package candidates. So, we went on a CAD package test drive mission. After hours and hours of testing different CAD packages, we have some shortlisted candidates:

  • Eagle – this freaking CAD package will show up no matter what keyword you entered on Google search engine. Used by majority of the open source hardware community and companies (Sparkfun, Adafruit). Non profit free version is available. Weird enough, they even have anti-Eagle and hate Eagle groupies around.
  • gEDA – a collection of open source schematic capture, PCB layout editor and simulation tool. Pronounced as “gee-daahhh” and it’s growing community is a force that cannot be ignored.
  • KiCad – another open source CAD package with feature pack schematic capture, PCB layout editor and a gerber viewer.
  • Diptrace – very intuitive CAD package with various very affordable packages. Non profit free version is available.

We didn’t include any of those free software that is locked to a certain PCB manufacture. There are some CAD package that we didn’t manage to include or test such as Design Spark, FreePCB, Proteus, Pulsonix and few more less known CAD packages.

In order to show the differences between these CAD packages, we are going to basically design a board using the above 4 CAD packages. We’ll be breaking the post into 4 sections with each concentrating on one of the CAD packages. We’ll be making a simple Arduino compatible board from the schematic level all the way to the PCB design level on a 2 layer board. Here’s the board that we are going to design! We just gave it a simple name “Simduino”, shorten from “simple Arduino compatible board”. Please ignore our less than perfect handwriting. 🙂

Simduino V1

All schematic and PCB files will be posted for everyone to download at the end of each section. We hope this series of post will help people to decide which CAD package that they want to work with. We believe that for each of the CAD package, you’ll love some and hate some of it’s features.

Now, get ready for Eagle test drive! We hope you guys will have the patience for each section to be published. We promise we’ll steal some time in between designing, assembling, testing, programming and shipping for this series of post.

Happy tinkering and take care!

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