In this article, we are looking at two software programs by Altium. Both are high performance PCB designing applications. We will be comparing CircuitStudio Vs Altium Designer.
One is an entry-level design software, and the other is more advanced with better features and faster processing. Even so, both applications have their pros and cons, and serve different user needs.
Technical features such as layout editing and ease of making a new schematic are among the many features you will find in this detailed comparison of Altium Designer vs CIrcuitStudio.
CS is the new software for PCB designing by Altium. It is a Schematic Capture and PCB design tool with 3-D modeling. Released in 2015, it is very similar in functioning to Altium Designer. Users who learn one software program can easily shift between the two. CS has limited functionality and features as compared to Designer, but it also comes at a lower cost.
CircuitStudio can be used to create projects and output files for PCB circuits, assembly and even manufacturing boards. Projects designed in Altium Designer can be opened and edited in Circuit Studio as well as vice-versa.
CS uses a simple interface which is easy to learn and master. The search bar can be used to type-in commands to run certain tasks, which saves time. Another great feature about CS is that it can open files made in EAGLE and OrCAD and even older layout files saved with .MAX extension.
Below we will discuss the main features of CircuitStudio in detail.
- Powerful Schematic Editor: CS offers a schematic editor that is easy to use and is highly efficient. The files generated are high quality, and saved in standard extensions. So they can be opened using most PCB board viewers.
- In-Built SPICE Engine: For users who need to run simulations using their CS software, can do so using the integrated SPICE simulation This is one of the most used and accurate analogue electronic circuit simulators.
- Hierarchical Design Editor: With CS, you can work on multiple sheets simultaneously by organizing them by hierarchy, which makes an advanced design easier to understand and solve.
- Professional Workflow Accountability: It is now easier to document and access your design history with two-way synchronizations between your board and schematic.
- Extensive Content Library: Plan in advance and achieve your production targets with real-time part information and pricing from suppliers. CS also has vast libraries of professional components that are ready-to-use.
- Advanced PCB Designing: Altium’s famous CDIR features are available in CS too. With an inbuilt Autorouter Engine and support for differential pairs, PCB editing becomes easy, no matter how complex the design.
- 3-D Visualization Capabilities: CS offers a powerful native 3d visualization engine, for ECAD functions. Check, inspect and analyze all features and any possible errors for every PCB in 3D views.
- Centralized Content Management: CS gives designers access to a growing content library of over 350,000 components, which you can use for your project. It is equally easy to create your own parts from scratch or from existing libraries.
Why Choose CircuitStudio? (PROS)
- Interactive Routing – The Heuristic and Shape based engines provide topological routing, simple collision avoidance and circumnavigation.
- Design Rule Checking (DRC) available in the categories: Batch, Online, Basic Routing and Basic Electrical, and is helpful in designing an error-free circuit.
- Ribbon Based UI – A simple and clean user interface with customizable options.
- CS also has a unified search system plus and supports accelerator keys or hotkeys for shortcuts.
- Online remote working is possible with cloud based data storage, so team-members can collaborate and communicate remotely.
- Affordable software with a low price for the base version.
- CS cannot be used to open and edit FGPA, Core, Embedded or Script projects.
- In CS, designers have to manually make a new library in the project and place your schematic components in it by copy-pasting.
What is unique about CircuitStudio?
One of the main features about CircuitStudio is its competitive pricing. For any entry-level program to have these many features is rare. CS is not a fancy or decorative software application that is loaded with features.
Instead, it is reliable and powerful with its basic functions. In addition, CS provides integrated Analog and Digital simulation with XPSICE, to help accurate analog and digital simulation, and designing.
Who’s it for?
CircuitStudio is a good platform for designing PCB circuits, but is limited in certain features and functions. However, this is low-priced software and this makes it accessible to students and beginners.
This is not an application to serve industry level producers or board manufacturers. The program still has many capabilities and entry and mid-level designers can definitely opt for it.
- Windows 7 (32/64-bit)
- Windows 8 (32/64-bit)
- Windows 10 (32/64-bit)
Here we have given the minimum system requirements for hardware and software on your PC to run CircuitStudio properly.
- Windows 7 (32-bit)
- Intel® Core™ i3 processor or equivalent
- 4 GB RAM
- 1.2 GB hard disk space (Install + User Files)
- Intel integrated graphics HD4000 or equivalent, supporting DirectX 9.0c and Shader model 3 (or later)
- Main monitor 1280×1024 screen resolution at no greater than 100% DPI scaling Strongly recommended: second monitor with minimum 1280×1024 resolution at 100% DPI scaling
- USB2.0 port if connecting to 3D Mouse
- Adobe® Reader® (8 or later)
- Internet Connection
- Up to date Web browser
- Microsoft Excel (required for Bill of Materials templates)
Below are the plans available for purchasing CircuitStudio. This is a license based software; hence with a perpetual license you can have lifetime ownership of the application.
- A free trial is available for eligible students for 6 months.
- A free trial is available for 30 days for new users.
- A Perpetual License costs $695 (Lifetime Ownership)
- In case you are switching from an existing Altium product, $495 (Perpetual License).
Is CircuitStudio worth it?
The download installer for CS is a mere 8MB. And the full-version installer package is 530MB. So as compared to other PCB design softwares, this is a very compact application and the installation is quick.
It is affordable as well and provides all the main functional utilities for a PCB designing project, so this is definitely a software app you can consider purchasing.
Altium’s latest release of its Altium Designer 20, a high-performance PCB design tool, gives a number of enhancements and improvements to the software’s performance and stability. This is an industry level professional PCB designing program with the most advanced features and tools.
The new version also increases productive design time and efficiency. Altium Designer is a flagship product, developed through user and critic feedback, hence will give you a very refined designing experience with minimum interruptions.
In addition, statistics show that the Altium Designer 20 release has 2X fewer glitches than the Altium Designer 19.1 release. This trend continues to improve with coming versions.
- Unified Library Management: Library management is based on a single data store for all component models and linked data such as 3D models, data sheets and supplier links. There is a single point of contact for version control and external project management systems.
- Advanced 3-D Visualisation Engine: 3D Visualization gives a realistic and rendered on-the-fly view of the board; including MCAD-ECAD support with direct linking for STEP models and real-time clearance checking, view configurations for 2D and 3D, orthographic projection and texture mapping of 2D and 3D PCB models.
- Intuitive & Fast Routing: With the new interactive routing engine, layouts can be designed quicker than ever before. Essential features are present and in addition: hug and push, push and shove, diff pairs, obstacle-ignore etc. are also there and work well.
- Conversion to Hierarchical Design: Complex and advanced designs can be simplified into smaller logical based layers which are easier to work with. Hierarchical design tools let you convert multi-channel designs into step-wise design units.
- Ease of Production Planning: Manufacturing your board has never been easier. Altium Designer gives you ActiveBOM: a real-time system that provides you with information such as part availability, pricing etc. before you even complete your design.
- Centralised Tool Interface: A relaxing and smooth new interface has been given to users for easy tool selection and part creation plus editing, all in one place so you don’t have to waste time navigating.
- Advanced Design Rule Checker: The powerful DRC system of Altium can check your design against electrical rules automatically and indicate when it detects a violation, so you can fix the error before building further upon the design.
- Seamless Remote Working: With Altium Designer, team projects can be worked upon by team members around the world through a cloud-based editing system, which runs on optimized bandwidth consumption, so as to reduce latency.
- High Speed and High Density Design: This application has powerful tuning and filtering options. The EM solver has capabilities to handle complex features like propagation delay impedance measurement. Now you can also integrate HDI structures into your project.
Why Choose Altium Designer? (PROS)
- Altium Designer makes it easy for you to check your board against the mechanical enclosure to verify clearances.
- A central communication centre keeps track of all exchanges between team members for easy 24×7 accesses.
- ActiveBOM helps solve your part orders and production issues quickly.
- An Interactive and user-friendly interface, with options to customize your window layout, is a great feature for efficiency while designing.
- Access to extensive online libraries with thousands of components and shapes saves your time.
- A 24/7 online support team to help you with any issues you face and resolve them quickly.
- The pricing plans are expensive and it is difficult to afford individual licenses.
- Altium’s simulation results are not as accurate as other programs’.
What is unique about Altium Designer?
If you are looking to design and work on projects that involve circuits with multiple layers, or multi-level circuits, Altium Designer can handle such tasks without much difficulty.
Moreover, with the supply chain management features, Altium provides multiple options to you for selecting the right parts for your project, so when you go to production, there are no hassles with part availability.
ActiveBOM is Altium’s Bill of Material handling system. This tool helps you generate, edit and share BOM files with part suppliers, and the pin-compatibility feature selects alternate components that are compatible with your design if primary components are not available.
Who’s it for?
PCB designers who are required to deal with circuits and boards that involve complex and advanced designs, professionals and companies usually opt for Altium Designer.
However, this program can also be used by students and beginners who are new to PCB designing, just that it is on the higher price range and might not be affordable for everyone.
- Windows Server 2016 Standard Edition (64-bit)
- Windows Server 2012 R2 (64-bit)
- Windows 10 (64-bit)
- Windows 8 (64-bit)
The minimum system requirements to install and run Altium Designer 20 are as follows:
- Windows 8/10 (x64)
- Intel Core i5 processor or equivalent
- 1600×1200 or better screen resolution
- 4GB RAM
- 3 GB DDR4/DDR5 Video Memory
- 12GB storage space SSD recommended
- Internet Connection
- Microsoft Excel required for BOM
- Microsoft Access required for DbLibs
You can find the license purchasing options for Altium Designer 20 below:
- Altium Designer offers a 15-day free, full featured license for all users after they complete their registration.
- For eligible students, a 6-month license is available free of cost.
- Pricing plans for Altium Designer 20 start at $7245.00/year.
- Full version costs $9890.00/year.
- There is no free-version available.
Is Altium Designer worth it?
Altium Designer 20 is a powerful PCB designing software program, and caters to many fields and interests;
It offers fast and precise schematic editing tools and customizable options for creating your own workspace. The learning curve is slightly steep but with the tutorials given, even a beginner can use the program.
It is a capable program, but the high pricing might not suit all the users.
Main Differences Between CircuitStudio Vs Altium Designer
You have seen the pros and cons of both programs in detail, below we have highlighted the major differences between the two for a feature-wise comparison:
 CS does not support Field Programmable Gate Array (FGPA) file types, while Designer does.
 The CS app does not have a CAM editor, so DFM tools are not available. Altium Designer has these tools.
 ActiveBOM is another feature available only in Altium Designer. This provides the users with part details and pricing info for components related to their design.
 CS has a Ribbon-based UI, which Designer does not have. This user interface has tabs grouped by functionality for easier access and a neat layout.
 The UI, menu options and accelerator keys are not customizable in CS; they can only be used in their default configuration.
 Altium Designer is a heavier and more storage-consuming application, whereas CS is a comparatively compact package, quicker and easier to install and setup.
 Altium Designer is priced much higher than CircuitStudio, and for its price, CircuitStudio has a good amount of features and performance quality.
Which Software Is Best For PCB Designing, CircuitStudio Vs Altium Designer
After the Altium Designer vs CircuitStudio comparison, it is clear: is basically a stripped-down version of Altium Designer, with limited features and functions, but also at a much lower cost.
So when it comes to PCB designing, both programs have all the basic capabilities to allow you to design and work on circuits and boards in a logical and systematic manner.
But for advanced designing with complex Vias and pads, hierarchical structures and high-speed features such as RF, you will have to pick Altium Designer, as CS will not be able to help you execute all of these tasks.
CircuitStudio Vs Altium Designer: Who’s the Winner?
Even if you are a professional designer and can work on any project with any software you are given, you might be able to complete your circuit.
But to do it efficiently, without hassles and to make an organized layout which makes sense, you will need a program that intuitively understands what you are trying to do. CS will also try to do this, but it is more reliant on user-inputs and works with a lower amount of scripting and automation.
But if we talk about value-for-money, there are barely any PCB designing programs that can beat Circuit Studio at its performance and capability.
So, Which One Should You Pick?
As you have now seen, CircuitStudio is a basic version of Altium Designer, in the sense that it lacks the production capabilities that an advanced board designer would need for a complex project.
So if you are not required to work on complex boards or do not have to consider production, then you can go for CircuitStudio, and once you establish a good command on it, upgrading to Designer will be very easy, and cheaper as well.
But if industry-level designing is your priority and you have to work on RAM units, Motherboards, HDI structures, or other complex architecture, Altium Designer would be recommended.
In all other scenarios, the two are much alike. Hence the answer to CircuitStudio Vs Altium Designer is based on your specific requirements.