EDA or Electronic Design Automation is a widely used and highly important field of electrical engineering and design. Its applications are present in all major technological fields.
To help engineers work on this, there are numerous software programs in the market today. And selecting one from those can prove to be a cumbersome task. Hence, here we have made a comparison between SolidWorks PCB and Altium Designer. These two are very capable and popular EDA platforms.
They have both been in the market for years now, and to select one from SolidWorks PCB vs Altium Designer will be difficult. But we have compared these two applications based on all major and important parameters such as learning curve, performance, features, cost and system requirements as well.
So read on to learn more and find an in-depth comparison of the two design programs to see which one is better for you.
SolidWorks PCB is a software platform for innovative PCB design, developed by Dassault Systems and powered by Altium.
This is a design platform for mechatronics / electronics that provides features with a focus on collaboration of electro-mechanical design. This greatly simplifies the entire design to production process.
Users can design in PCB mode, switch seamlessly to SolidWorks and check the fit of the board with the enclosure, switch back, make any changes as required, and finally go to SolidWorks and generate files for DFM and a Bill of Material as needed.
SolidWorks provides a highly productive design solution with advanced schematic capture and circuit layout. Since SolidWorks is powered by Altium, users of Altium Designer can effortlessly transfer data between SolidWorks and Altium Designer for ECAD and MCAD collaboration.
SolidWorks also offers additional packages for a complete electrical design suite. They include SolidWorks Electrical Schematics, Electrical 3D and Electrical Professional.
Below are the 8 main features offered in SolidWorks PCB.
- PCB Design Engine: SolidWorks has made a smart decision by collaborating with Altium Designer. Altium is the industry-leading software program for complete PCB and electrical circuit design solutions. SolidWorks gets the Altium design engine for layout and routing, offering remarkable performance and great features.
- Productivity Inspired UI: Designers using SolidWorks get a streamlined interface with a focus on productivity, along with great simplicity and ease-of-use. The UI looks modern and offers easy navigation for faster working and designing. Users of SolidWorks will find that the PCB module also offers a similar workspace as the MCAD platform, making it easier to learn the software.
- ECO Process System: SolidWorks makes it easier to edit and manage the board shape, part orientation, mounting holes, component placement, cut-outs & keep-outs with SolidWorks and SolidWorks PCB through Engineering Change Orders (ECOs), regardless of where the first change was made, you can switch between both platforms seamlessly.
- Advanced Simulation Module: With SolidWorks, users can output PCB Copper SolidWorks has a detailed database containing in-depth info about copper, which makes it easier to perform simulations and analyses such as thermal and vibration. The information also gives more meaningful and accurate results.
- Supplier Database Search: Search for info on pricing and availability of parts used in your design in advance. SolidWorks contains a vast database with info directly from suppliers and manufacturers; this info can be linked to parts in your design for future reference as well.
- E&MCAD Integration: One of the best performing features of this software, SolidWorks provides a class-leading ECAD-MCAD integration. This allows users to unify design data and make edits in real-time to both mechanical and electrical aspects of the design.
- Rigid Flex Design: Considering that rigid flex designs are challenging, SolidWorks offers some great features to help users get better spatial efficiency. Designers can control the parameters of the flexible board substrates and get the shape they require.
- Comment and Editing Review: This is a really helpful feature that allows users working as teams to see all the details of every single edit that is made to the project. This also improves design quality control, debugging and makes it easier to make corrections or improvements at every stage of the design process.
Why Choose SOLIDWORKS PCB? (PROS)
- Real-Time 3D clearance checking is a very capable feature and works well in design validation and checking dimensional accuracy.
- The file support system saves the final output file as a native SolidWorks compatible file, which means it can be opened in either design package and edits can be made effortlessly.
- Online library content that SolidWorks provides is extensive and contains parts and info from various suppliers, and ready to use components that can be downloaded and added to your project.
- Mixed-Mode SPICE 3f5 Simulator; With SolidWorks, you can analyze mixed-signal and analog circuits directly from schematic editor with SPICE reliability.
- The integration of mechanical and electrical design is efficient and works without glitches or lags.
- Designers get supply chain features to help reduce the design-to-market time and avoid problems that may arise later due to part supply or compatibility.
- The system requirements for running SolidWorks are high, and the program might sometimes lag on low-end computers.
- There is also a slight learning curve, and beginners may not find this so easy to use.
What is unique about SOLIDWORKS PCB?
Definitely the best feature SolidWorks offers is its designing ecosystem that Dassault has created with Altium. Designers get the proven platform of Altium Designer for their layout and schematic editing needs.
And they also get the MCAD support SolidWorks provides. This overall gives the user a complete PCB designing solution, with smooth switching between apps, format compatibility and file support with native SolidWorks files.
Who’s it for?
SolidWorks provides a great opportunity for a working environment where all the tools you need are available easily, without too much of navigation or hassles. It lacks some advanced features that expert users might need for working on complex projects.
But other than that, it is a program that can be used by anyone, and also offers good performance at a reasonable price.
- Windows 7, 8, or 10 (x32 and x64 systems)
- Windows Server 2008 R2 and onwards.
The following are the minimum hardware and software requirements to run SolidWorks PCB on your computer.
- Windows 7 or Windows 8 (32-bit or 64-bit)
- Intel Core i5 processor or equivalent
- 4 GB RAM
- 3 GB hard disk space
- NVIDIA GeForce GT 640 series or AMD Radeon HD 7770, 1024MB (or more) graphics card or better, supporting Direct X 9.0c and Shader model 3 (or later)
- Dual monitors with at least 1680×1050 (widescreen) or 1600×1200 (4:3) screen resolution
- 0 port if connecting to 3D Mouse
- 3D mouse for 3D PCB design, such as the Space Navigator
- Adobe Reader (8 or later)
- Internet Connection
- Up to date Web browser
SolidWorks PCB is available as a perpetual license with an annual maintenance fee. The one-time payment is $3995.00. Additionally, an annual recurring payment of $1200.00 has to be made for maintenance and upgrades.
For exact pricing according to your requirements, a quote can be requested from the official SolidWorks website.
SolidWorks does not offer a free trial; there are certain lower-priced academic licenses available however.
Is SOLIDWORKS PCB worth it?
SolidWorks PCB offers the best of both worlds, in a unique integrated design workspace. Seeing as it combines an Altium Design engine and the trusted SolidWorks CAD environment, this is one software program that offers amazing productivity.
The license cost is on the expensive side, and this is not the most advanced software in the market. So if you are willing to spend more, you could consider going for some of the top-end programs also.
For almost two decades now, Altium Designer has been in the market, as a PCB design solution offering hi-tech features and commendable performance. It has greatly improved over the years and now is considered among the best in the industry.
No matter how complex the design, it is possible with Altium. The user interface has been designed elegantly, with a great mix of simplicity and functionality. Moreover, it is also customizable, and every designer can personalize it just the way they prefer, improving efficiency while working and reducing time spent looking for things.
Altium Designer also includes tools to help you deal with your production-related issues. These consist of a supply chain management system, a Bill of Material generation system, rule checks for electrical and design modules, and DFM features.
The core of circuit and board designing, the layout editing, routing and schematic capture – can be performed easily with Altium’s tools and performance. Moreover, it contains some amazing options to help you design faster and more accurately. Let’s take a look at the features in detail.
Below are the 8 highlights and key features of Altium Designer 20.
- 3D Rendering and MCAD Support: With Altium, users can view their boards in 3D, and get an idea about the space requirements, stack heights, and other such information. Moreover, Altium supports mechanical CAD collaboration with software such as SolidWorks, Autodesk Inventor, Creo Parametric, and Pro/E.
- Schematic Simplification: While working on complex projects, it becomes a little difficult at times to keep track of the various sheets and multi-layer schematics. To help you with this, Altium provides an elegant solution in the form of Hierarchical Schematic simplification, which displays the schematics on separate sheets in an organized manner.
- Constraint Manager: Another important feature, the Altium Constraint manager is an editable tool, which allows users to define a custom set of rules and constraints, for a specific design module. Then, while designing, the system will check your design to see the validity of the defined rules and if the design is accurate accordingly.
- Bill of Material System: The Bill of Material is a document containing all the details of every single component that is used in the design, with its pricing and other information. It also contains important instructions and guidelines related to the project, which is given to the manufacturer by the designer before commencing production. Altium Designer has ActiveBOM, which automates certain tasks and dynamically handles generation and editing of the BOM.
- Data Exchange Centre: A feature meant for team collaboration, Altium’s data and communication center is a place for team members to interact, share files and information, and communicate. The system keeps logs and hence it is easier to refer to any old files or messages easily when you need some information or a file.
- Remote Working: Another feature that helps teams work on projects, Altium Designer features a cloud-based environment for members to share project updates and work on the project files in real-time. The changes made are reflected instantly to the other team members.
- Advanced Rule Checking: It is now easier and more efficient to employ rule checking for both electrical and design modules. Altium provides a system that can detect potential rule violations even before you make the error and indicate it to you in real-time.
- Online Part Libraries: To help you avoid the cumbersome task of creating parts and shapes from scratch, Altium has extensive libraries containing over 400k+ ready-made parts and links that you can use directly for your project. You can also make custom parts and store them in the library for future use.
Why Choose Altium Designer? (PROS)
- ActiveBOM takes care of all your BOM needs, and provides a great editing experience. It also provides alternatives if your primary part selections aren’t available, after checking for pin-compatibility.
- Users get seamless PCB documentation and direct export of product drawings to Draftsman documents, from within the workspace itself.
- Altium is a great choice for working with high-speed features, with its advanced tuning and filtering options, making the task easier.
- A customizable user interface always helps the designer set things according to their preference, and Altium provides a wide range of personalization options.
- This program has an easy learning curve and includes tutorials to help new users learn the software and work on projects quicker.
- Through Altium’s ECAD and MCAD sync, users can easily check the fit and tolerance of their boards with their enclosures and validate their dimensional accuracy and design before its manufactured.
- Altium Designer can only be used on 64-bit Windows systems; it is not available for macOS or Linux devices.
- The high license costs are not affordable by everyone, and there is no free version available.
What is unique about Altium Designer?
Perhaps the unique thing about Altium Designer is that it provides the most advanced features with an easy to learn and use platform. The production and DFM and team-based features are a great addition and really come in handy.
The ActiveBOM system is unique and automatically searches for the parts in your project, and obtains details, pricing and supply info. In case the primary part is not available, the system searches for an alternative that is compatible with your design.
Who’s it for?
Although this is a program everyone can use, the main target audience for Altium Designer is mid-size to large organizations, industries, businesses, and so on.
It can certainly be used by individuals and students/researchers as well, but they might find the license costs a little high.
- Windows Server 2016 Standard Edition, 2012 R2 Edition (64-bit)
- Windows 8, 10 Editions (64-bit)
Here below are mentioned the minimum hardware and software requirements to install and run Altium Designer 20 on your device.
- Intel Core i5 processor or equivalent
- 1600×1200 or better screen resolution
- 4GB RAM
- 3 GB DDR4/DDR5 Video Memory
- 12GB storage space
- Internet Connection (512Kbps minimum recommended)
- Microsoft Excel required for BOM
- Microsoft Access required for DbLibs
- Altium offers a full featured free trial, with 15 day validity.
- Academic trial versions are available for a 6 month period for free, to eligible institutions and students after registration on their website.
- Altium Designer 20 (Base version) starts at $7245.00 for a perpetual license, which can be paid in 12 monthly installments. Additional features are priced extra.
- Altium Designer does not offer any free versions.
Is Altium Designer worth it?
Considering that Altium has been in the market for nearly two decades now, it has improved greatly over the years from user feedback. Given its high cost, it might be difficult to afford, but the price is rather justified with its features and performance.
This software can cater to even novice users and expert users alike. It has guides built in the software to help beginners and also has enough high-level features for the more advanced designers.
Main Differences Between SOLIDWORKS PCB Vs Altium Designer
Given below are the 7 main differences between SOLIDWORKS PCB Vs Altium Designer:
- SolidWorks PCB uses an integrated design environment that combines electrical and mechanical design. Altium focuses on EDA.
- While Altium only works on 64-bit platforms, SolidWorks PCB can also run on 32 bit systems.
- Altium has interactive routing facilities, which interact with the parts on the board while routing and let you control the path.
- The price of SolidWorks PCB is almost half that of Altium Designer. Although it has an annual maintenance fee.
- SolidWorks allows users to conduct advanced simulations such as thermal and vibrational.
- Altium offers ActiveBOM, which is a smart and efficient tool for managing production-related tasks.
- With Altium, designers also get cloud-based online working and communication management. SolidWorks PCB doesn’t have remote working functionality.
Which Software Is Best For PCB Designing, SOLIDWORKS PCB Vs. Altium Designer
SolidWorks PCB uses the same design engine as Altium, along with the CAD environment of SolidWorks. Although the Altium program is priced much higher, it does offer a lot more features and better performance as compared to SolidWorks PCB.
Therefore, to pick a software application on the basis of its design prowess, the answer would be Altium Designer. Given the interface customization, manufacturing-related functions, and capable performance, Altium provides a complete design solution for the entire end-to-end process.
SOLIDWORKS PCB Vs Altium Designer: Who’s the Winner?
The answer to this depends on your requirements from the program. Those requirements can vary for each designer. To select one from SolidWorks PCB vs Altium will have to be decided on the basis of various parameters such as performance, efficiency, time to design, ease of use and the cost.
Altium has a better interface and is easier to learn and use. SolidWorks PCB on the other hand, combines electro-mechanical designing and offers it in one integrated environment with file format support allowing users to open their project in multiple SolidWorks applications.
So, Which One Should You Pick?
Between SolidWorks PCB vs Altium Designer, the one that can suit your needs will depend on whether the program can perform all the tasks you require.
If you are in a business or industry, or work on projects that involve large teams, or require team members to work online, then Altium is the answer for you. Boards with high-speed features and other such complex circuitry can be worked on easily with Altium.
If your needs do not match with the above descriptions, or if you don’t need all of those advanced features, then it might be better to go for SolidWorks PCB, as it is priced lower, and also has enough options and toolkits to get your PCB designing tasks done efficiently.