[time-nuts] Schematic capture, anyone?

John Miles jmiles at pop.net
Fri Feb 24 02:38:11 UTC 2012

> I'll add another vote for Eagle.  It is a German program written in
> Unix, and ported to Windows.  Therefore, you select the action
> first then click on the object of the action.  It takes some getting
> used to.  There has been a pattern of PC layout companies getting
> cobbled up leaving you with an orphan program, or an upgrade
> to some very expensive program.  Orcad and Protel go gobbled up.
> Eagle did too, but by a distributor, Newark.  They just came out
> with a new improved version.  You can finally draw arbitrary SMT
> footprints.  I think that was the major limitation of the old
> version.  You can of course draw your own symbols any way you like.
> I have been using Eagle for 5 years now and never looked back.
> One other drawback of Eagle is that it is difficult to move a design
> between computers, and there are issues with the way preferences
> are stored.  If you use a part from a library in a design, you are
> forever locked into that library.   Many other CAD systems have these
> issues.  Mentor used to be terrible about having absolute path names, etc.

It's worth noting as well that Eagle has just moved to a more "open"
XML-based format for their data files.  Assuming they've done a good job (I
have no experience with the new version yet), I wouldn't be surprised to see
it become the lingua franca of EDA, with a lot of third-party support in the
future.  Eagle is quirky but it's also inexpensive, reliable, and highly
functional, making it accessible to a lot of users at a lot of different
levels.  Their new public file formats could be a major selling point.

I use Sunstone for PCBs myself, but I don't use PCB 123 because I don't want
the board house to 'own' my data.   In most serious projects you spend a lot
of time not only drawing schematics and routing traces, but also building
part definitions and writing various scripts.  This all adds up to a
long-term commitment to whatever tool you select.  In most cases you should
use Eagle or another program that can generate standard RS-274X Gerbers, and
you should always double-check those Gerbers in a third-party viewer before
hitting the big green button.  The free GEDA Gerber viewer (gerbv) is pretty
good; there are plenty of others.

All that being said, Eagle V6 is brand new, and historically it's been
painful to use brand new major versions of Eagle.  Everything went smoothly
on a recent project with the last version of Eagle V5, but if you look back
at CadSoft's support forum posts dating from the initial V5 release era,
there were a lot of unhappy campers.  The downside of the new XML file
formats is that migrating back to V5 will be difficult or impossible, so you
should take some time to be sure that V6 is really ready for your
application before going with it.  I can't overemphasize how important it is
to read their support forums to learn what to expect with any new Eagle
version, and what to watch out for. 

-- john

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