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Uncovering Hidden Innovation in DIY Electronics
NI and Mouser Throw Curveball into PCB Design Ring
by Ryan Sailor ▪ 8.6.2014 News

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This is big news. Really big, and not just because there’s a new PCB Design program or because it’s sponsored by Mouser and… free.

It’s big news that it’s an increasingly good time to be an electronics maker, and the big names in the industry are noticing. Mouser recently announced a free version of National Instrument’s MultiSIM Circuit design and testing software.

The new version is called MultiSIM BLUE. Details pertaining to this specific release are slim, but presumably BLUE will feature all of the circuit design and testing capabilities of MultiSIM, including SPICE simulation.I don’t expect any surprises in terms of capability, rather there may be limitations to look out for. A Reddit thread comment hints at a 50 component limit. This is probably enough for small to mid-sized projects, but it strictly depends on whether passives are included and if the limit is counting unique components.

I haven’t personally reviewed MultiSIM, but National Instruments makes serious software. If BLUE is up to snuff with its commercial counterpart, then be prepared for a very impressive and comprehensive design experience. Even if the PCB design component isn’t a radical departure from other free alternatives (see our DesignSpark review), the addition of circuit design and SPICE simulation wrapped into the package makes this a powerful offering.

Interested in the release date? Well, it’s probably soon, but you can find out for certain if you sign up on Mouser’s website here.

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DesignSpark: Better Than Eagle? – A New Look At PCB Design Software
by Ryan Sailor ▪ 12.11.2013 Editorial

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The PCB design software market is admittedly a little stagnant. Newcomers often traverse old forum posts where PCB veterans suggest the same few design applications for the same few superficial reasons. The bottom line is that until recently, there were only a few good offerings and most engineers choose by experience or comfort with a particular brand of PCB software.

EAGLE is one very popular PCB design software created by Germany-based Cadsoft Computer GmbH. The name “EAGLE” is almost ubiquitous with amateur PCB design, probably due partly to its freeware option but certainly mostly due to the fact that everyone keeps mentioning it whether for better or worse. Yeah, I’m guilty too.

In a number of forums you’ll see mentions of KiCAD, EAGLE, gEDA, Fritzing, ExpressPCB, and AutoTRAX DEX. They range from free to commercial products, but regardless of their cost they all seem to be good for different reasons and it’s best to try out a bunch of them before deciding which to use for a project. Take a look at this comparison on Wikipedia for starters.

EAGLE is an old-timer: it’s been around for a while and as such has become somewhat of a standard. In fact, Sparkfun usually uploads EAGLE format files for their open-source hardware. The problem is that if you spend some time with EAGLE and then some more time with other, newer EDA (that’s Electronic Design Automation) software and you will realize that EAGLE’s UI is definitively out of date. In an industry of software where the features are similar across the board, it’s the user interface and user experience that makes all of the difference.

With the number of more modern EDA products on the market that are free, many of which have fewer (to no) board size restrictions than EAGLE Free, I think it’s worth taking a detailed look at several EDA options for PCB design newcomers.

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