Altium’s Circuit Studio opens into what looks like a moderns CAD system, complete with a design tree. Into each project sits a collection of details about it. Click the home tab to navigate the less ‘designy’ aspects of the software. What I like most is simplistic preview of all the design files in the home screen. It boarders on tablet/smartphone level simplistic.
A familiar set of PCB layout tools populate the top band of the window. If familiar with any other PCB design package, or even CAD software, then the tools will feel quite familiar. However, similarity doesn’t go hand in hand with familiarity here. I followed the one and only PCB layout example on Circuit Studio’s website, since most of the critical selections I had to make were all over the place.
Laying out a simple circuit, 2 LEDs, 1 resistor and power contacts was quite easy. I started in a schematic design window. I laid out the parts as simply as possible. I used the generic component, which will only place a footprint for the parts. Standard is through-hole components. Using the Altium component vault, I could have grabbed specific parts.
Next, I “compiled” the schematic. This will allow me to import the schematic as components in the PCB layout window. I did just that. I then placed the parts on the board. (Which, I re-shapped to look like a bow-tie. This wasn’t intended, as I was seeing how the “board shape” options work. So, I went with it.)
After placing the components, I used the manual route option. Which I simply connected the dots. There is an auto-trace option too, but, for this simple design, I didn’t this is was necessary. I checked for errors using the “Design Rule Check” button, found none. It is done!
I switched to the “3D view” from the view tab. There you go. A design in less than 3 minutes.
I can from here get all the necessary design files for fabrication… but I will leave this step for the next-level review of Altium’s Circuit Studio 1.0.
Since this is a new program, examples are nil. On the Circuit Studio documentation page, there is a single example that explains all the steps to creating a simple PCB. I didn’t see much about multi-layer designs though.
I have a tendency to move the cursor to the top bar and select the tool I want to use. However, Circuit Studio keeps the last tool used active until right-click a few times or hit escape. So, as I move the cursor the view on the screen moves alone with the mouse. I just have to get used to it.
My optimism of the simplistic menu view changed after having to navigate through the menu trees to change simple settings, get library files, etc. I think this is where Circuit Studio should improve with later versions. Bring the most common setting to the top of menus, put all the rest in the background out of sight.
While I am at it… everyone that uses this software will do the same thing. Make a schematic, lay out a PCB, get the build files. The software should simply walk the user through those steps automatically. Instead, it leaves the used stranded with lots of little options everywhere. As I said above, not all those little options will be used.
Originally, I thought the design was so simple I could just lay it all out in the PCB view, skipping the schematic altogether. This proved impossible. I could place component footprints, lay tracks/traces, but it always gave me errors. So, lesson here… start with the schematic stage.
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