Free or Cheap EDA Tools

Since I got so many interesting responses to the “Why does Mentor Graphics SUCK so Very, Very Much?” post, I wanted to explore some of the low-cost alternatives to “big CAD”.
Not everyone starts learning this stuff in college or on the job. Lots of people (like myself) started out as hobbyists, and how many amateurs can open a vein and produce the  kilobucks for Big Name EDA packages (like “maxiPADS” or whatever), with their a la carte features and rapacious licensing that cost the price of a good used car to use for a year?

So let’s talk about no-to-low cost alternatives.  The list got started in the comments of the “Mentor Graphics SUCK” post, but I’ll restart the discussion with a few of my faves:

  • EAGLE by CADSoft is a reliable option. I did my first FCC approved design using it, so I can say it works well .  The free lite version lets you do small boards with a limited pin-count. It has a short learning curve, many user contributed parts libraries can be downloaded, and it’s parts creation scheme isn’t too onerous once you get used to it.  The layout portion isn’t bad at all, either (I had this kidney-shaped key-fob transmitter to lay out, but once I imported a  .dxf of the outline it went very smoothly).  I used the free version for a long time, then bought the pro version and was never sorry about it.
  • I did a few small projects using an online layout and PCB fabrication service called Pad2Pad. It’s for laying out straightforward PCBs and getting an instant quote. No schematic capture, though. Still, the pricing wasn’t at all bad for my micro IR proximity detector and your can play with delivery times to slew the cost per board. Good for short prototype runs or one-offs (if you don’t want to smell up the kitchen doing your own etch).
    They have a sister site called, which lets you design simple mechanicals in a variety of materials and processes and get instant quotes.  I thought they were both very nifty ideas for the home inventor types out there.
  • Just today I  read about Upverter, a new “cloud” toolset for schematic creation.  I don’t see any layout options there yet, but it’s just in beta now. It’s worth a look.
    This crew is feeling our pain from the sound of their “Our Story” tab:  “They experienced just how terrible electronic design was and swore to just forget about hardware and spend the rest of their lives writing software”.  Preaching to the choir, gang, and well worth a link from me!

So what nifty-keen software tools or services have caught your eye?
Share your secret finds!


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2 Responses to “Free or Cheap EDA Tools”

  1. Wanderer Says:

    I’d say Novarm Diptrace. It has both schematic capture and pcb layout capabilities. Relatively cheap for what it offers. Below is just a short pros and cons I can think of right now.

    – Fairly short learning curve (I finished a pcb on my first day using it, yes with a moderately complicated custom created library part, of course I didn’t send it to the FCC for checking, but it should tell you how fast the software can be learned).
    – Its cheap. For non-profiting purposes you can get a 300 pin 2 sided version for free. Retail pricing ranges from $75 to $695 (much cheaper even compared to Eagle). And yes, only pin count restrictions and not board size restrictions.
    – Dimensions. Ironically, its dimension ability is better than Altium Designer’s in my opinion because it has autosnap to center of objects, corners, and center of lines. As far as I can recall, Altium only has center snap and maybe some edge snaps. Recent testing shows that I failed to snap to pad edge centers on their new AD10 with a 1 mil grid activated, which is something quite easy to do in Diptrace.
    – No wacky mouse functions. Scrolling will result in zoom in and outs. Pressing the center button will activate panning. Mentor did recently fix their mouse issue with DXD in their latest issue I have for testing, but their mouse feature is still messed up at PADS Layout.

    – Not sure if its me or the software, but it took me quite an effort to actually get an error with the CRC. 😛
    – No simulation ability. You’ll need another software for that function.
    – Lack of shortcuts on some functions.
    – Some minor bugs that could have been improved to increase productivity. However, it is not catastrophic compared to what Mentor Graphics offers in their PADS.

  2. offlogic Says:

    Just came across DesignSpark PCB at, which looks interesting as well!

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