PCB designing is a rapidly advancing field, and engineers in this field are faced with a variety of challenges. Before the advent of EDA (Electronic Design Automation) software, designers used breadboards and diagrams to represent circuit designs.
There are numerous PCB design programs available, and choosing the right one can be a challenging task. To decide that, there are a number of factors to consider, and in this article we will help you with that.
Here we are doing a comparison between Proteus vs Altium Designer. These two are highly acclaimed programs, and have been in the market for years. They are reliable and capable programs with advanced features, and aimed at experienced designers.
 Major Differences Between Proteus Vs Altium Designer
In this section, you can find a detailed point-wise comparison of Proteus vs Altium Designer on major factors such as workflow, user design experience, pricing, performance and features offered.
To pick the right PCB software for you, be sure to read the following 8 main differences between Proteus vs Altium Designer.
 Schematic Capture and Editing
The schematic module in Proteus provides you with a powerful workspace with a comprehensive set of features and tools.
The wire autorouter allows you to place wires easily by clicking the two components to connect. Proteus also supports bus wires, device pins, module ports and terminal pins. You can use it for advanced designs with numerous pins.
The system allows you to interconnect buses between bus terminals and module ports, and even specify hierarchy levels. Furthermore, Proteus includes hierarchical design support. You can define the number of levels in the hierarchy as well, for fine-tuning the accuracy.
Altium Designer also has a set of features for advanced schematic capture. It allows you to simplify working with multi-sheet and multi-channel designs through hierarchical conversion, which displays the schematic on single sheets in an organized manner.
 Layout and Routing
Manual routing in Proteus does not need to be started from the ratsnest lines. You can lay traces in any manner, and the system will handle removal of ratsnest lines. Even while manual routing, the system will follow the mouse movement and avoid or move around obstacles intelligently.
You can edit routes and re-route if needed, or even delete older sections of the rack. The thickness and layer of any tracking can also be modified later through commands. The program uses active rule checks while routing as well, to ensure that the design is valid and standard-compliant.
Proteus offers shape-based autorouting. The router works on a cost-reduction algorithm which favours solutions to conflicts in favour of reducing cost and maximising completion.
Users can have a higher level of control if required, through the option of writing custom code to drive the routing process by dynamically entering commands to the router. Proteus provides a great level of flexibility by allowing routing specific areas or net classes and the option to set the direction and length for fanout routing.
With Altium, you get an advanced manual and automatic routing experience. The manual routing includes interactive routing options such as hug and push, push and shove, obstacle avoidance, diff pair routing and more.
The autorouter offers a higher level of control over the process by allowing you to set and define routing parameters. The rule checking systems are also active during the routing and can pre-emptively indicate rule violations so that they can be corrected.
 Design Verification and Rule Checking
Proteus actively works to check rules and verify the design as you place each single track and indicates any violations. The constraints for the board are fully customizable and the rules can be defined specifically for certain regions such as a layer or a custom selected area.
The bottom panel of the workspace shows real-time connectivity and the DRC status. You can easily access any reports by clicking on the respective component in the panel.
To provide even stricter quality control, the system performs a pre-production check before manufacturing and works as a quality assurance check. This also checks the power plane geometry, power and signal integrity and runs specific tests to find any other mistakes.
Altium Designer also has a real-time rule checking system. While you route the board, the system can predict and indicate rule violations and suggest alternative routes. It also features a constraint manager, which lets you selectively apply constraints for projects.
 User Interface and Functionality
The workspace you design the PCB in, is the user interface, with all the tools and options, panels and navigation bars.
Proteus is a professional platform for experienced designers, and has been in the market for over 25 years now. In that time, it has improved by leaps and bounds. Proteus is now available in various versions to suit different user bases.
The program supports up to 16 Copper layers, 19nm resolution and placement in any angle. The GUI is hardware accelerated, and gives a smooth and glitch-free experience.
The user interface in Proteus is designed with a simple yet modern outlook, and has icon based tools that are placed in the workspace intuitively.
Altium Designer has greatly improved its UI over time. The current design offers a lot in terms of functionality. You get the option to customize the UI as per your preferences. The toolbars and panels can be undocked and placed where you need to provide a faster experience and minimise navigation.
Library content can really be helpful when you readily need components for use in your design, and don’t want to make them from scratch. Some parts are used widely and may be needed in multiple projects.
For such parts it would be impractical to have to create them from scratch every time. Libraries provide a lot of useful material like footprints, parts, symbols and more.
Altium includes a centralised content management system. You can easily access all the libraries and downloaded content from one place with minimum navigation. The library content is extensive, and contains more than 400k+ components.
You can find 3D models, footprints, symbols, datasheets, links and components from verified suppliers. The supply chain management system also includes catalogues with part info from various manufacturers which you can directly access.
Proteus also offers a great set of library features. The included libraries contain a number of through hole parts, which include the most widely used IC, transistor, diode and connector packaging type components. The complete IEC libraries are also available.
You also get access to SMT footprints which contain the entire set of standard IC and discrete packaging types. In addition, Proteus also contains the IPC-782 and the IPC-7351 SMT libraries which are the industry-standard.
Proteus also makes it easier to perform searches for components and more through the integrated web search import feature.
You can also import CAD parts through the online libraries which give you access to content from Ultra-Librarian, SnapEDA, SamacSys, Library Loader, PCB Library Expert and more, containing over 14 million parts.
 3D Visualization
3D model generation is extremely useful while designing PCBs and working on layouts. It allows you to inspect the model and design in different ways and check for dimensional accuracy by assembling it with related mechanical components.
Proteus offers a comprehensive set of 3D visualization features. You can navigate in two ways, and both are designed intuitively and are smooth to use. You can define a height plane as per your board which will be displayed around the board for quick reference.
The libraries include 3D footprints and the option to create custom footprints is also available. You can import models in STEP, IGES and 3DS formats. Proteus also allows you to export these files in all major formats supported by MCAD programs.
With Proteus, you can directly output files from the 3D viewer in all major formats. IDF output is also available through the layout editor’s output menu.
Altium Designer contains extensive 3D model generation and viewing support too. The main feature which Altium is known for in this sector is the ECAD-MCAD collaboration function.
You can open your ECAD files and modify them through native MCAD platforms such as SolidWorks, Creo Proteus, Autodesk Inventor, Pro/E and many more. This allows you to verify the dimensional accuracy, fit of the board with its enclosure, the clearances and so on.
The 3D module allows you to generate models through 2D drawings; alternatively, you can import 3D models from the extensive libraries and use them in your project.
 Production and Additional Features
Proteus supports a variety of export formats for production and features for industry level manufacturing. The main output format is Gerber X2. This can be combined with the IPC-D-365 netlist and documentation to give a comprehensive design representation to the production house.
ODB++ is also available, along with others. Alternately you can even choose to output the files into MCAD software programs, such as SolidWorks through STEP, IGES or IDF formats.
Proteus also includes a via stitching and shielding function. The stitching method helps in reducing noise and making the length of return paths shorter. Using a shield also helps by reducing or preventing EMI (Electromagnetic Interference) with other components.
You can even apply this method to high speed designs involving microstrips or striplines, and create a separation or isolation between signals that work on different frequencies.
In Altium Designer, there are some innovative features to enhance productivity as well. It gives you real-time supply chain management tools. The system automatically compiles a list of parts used in your design and gives you dynamic prices, details, availability and more from the suppliers directly.
It also features a pin-compatible backup option, where the system suggests alternative components that can fit in your design, in case the primary component you selected is not available.
Additionally, Altium gives you ActiveBOM, their Bill of Material manager. This intelligently generates and updates the BOM as you work on the design.
Using the cloud based team collaboration features, multiple members of a team can work online, remotely, and their edits are synced in real-time. This is quite beneficial in large organisations where work can be completed faster by delegating it.
In terms of file export, Altium supports all major formats. Moreover, you can even export files to be opened in MCAD applications and check the interaction of ECAD models with MCAD files to ensure the fit and other dimensional parameters are as required.
 Pricing Plans
Finally, it is important to know the various pricing plans available while purchasing any software. Most developers offer their products in multiple versions to suit a more diverse array of users.
Looking at Proteus, it offers two main categories of licenses, for personal use and for commercial use. The personal use licenses are further sub-divided into Standard and Professional packages.
To purchase a standard Proteus PCB Design Level 2 package, which has a 1000 pin limit, you will have to pay $982.00 for a perpetual license. There are also versions 2+ and 3 available, with fewer restrictions, but higher prices. The Full Proteus Platinum Edition can be purchased for $8003.00.
Altium Designer is available for purchase through monthly, annual and perpetual licenses. The starting version for Altium Designer 20 costs $7245.00, and the full version costs between $8890.00 and $9890.00.
There are monthly and annual licenses available as well, which are priced differently. The details for these can be obtained from their website.
Both Proteus and Altium Designer works only on 64-bit Windows OS devices.
Which Software Is Best For PCB Designing, Proteus Vs Altium Designer
Although both programs are highly capable and powerful, they have differences and suit different requirements. In terms of design prowess specifically, Altium has the edge over Proteus.
The entire design experience that Altium provides is a notch above Proteus. This is due to the advanced set of tools it provides, the easy functionality and powerful performance.
The support for production related functions also makes the entire design to manufacturing process easier and quicker. Proteus also has similar features, and offers pretty good performance, and is just slightly behind Altium in this sense.
Labcenter Proteus Vs Altium Designer: Who’s the Winner?
Although Altium may be better in terms of design related tasks, the overall package which is better depends on a lot of other factors as well. Proteus provides a wide range of functionality and features at a much lower price for the starting version.
Proteus also offers some high-end features as standard on all their versions. So it is quite a contender. Altium makes it easier to focus on the core designing by taking care of documentation, supply chain and other such tasks.
Hence, it is not practical to pick one program as the better one for all users. Based on your needs, you can pick either of the two. Proteus is better suited for simulations and layout related tasks. On the other hand, Altium is considered to be better for schematic capture and editing, and designing for manufacturing.
So, Which One Should You Pick? (CONCLUSION)
The answer to selecting the right one from Proteus vs. Altium Designer will vary from user to user. Different designers have specific requirements which one program might be better at. Overall, with all factors considered, Altium Designer might be the better choice.
Altium is also better suited to users with less experience in PCB designing as well. Absolute beginners will indeed find it difficult to use either application as they have high level features, but with Altium’s tutorials and easier UI, novice users may prefer this.
Both of the programs also offer free trials, which you can avail. This way you will be able to decide which one meets your requirements the best and is within your budget as well.
Hopefully, you have found this Proteus v Altium Designer comparison guide worthwhile and it has helped you to make an informed choice about these two PCB Design Software.