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Engineering/Technical Placement Specialists

"PROTEL for PCB design cannot handle high complexity electrical designs and
especially high speed designs. The route tool software applications are
limited in the control a designer has, especially in fan outs on high pin
count high density designs (tracks per inch)."

I have found all CAD software has their strong points and their limitations,
regardless of how much the cost.  I have been using Protel since the Windows
3.1 days and, in my opinion, for the money there is nothing close to Protel
(although the prices for Protel have been increasing as of late...).  It
took a while to master, but is easy to use once the "dues" are paid.  I was
not real fond of the "Design Explorer" concept, but have come to except it
now.  I have done some fairly complex and high speed designs with Protel.

My experience with some other CAD software:

I ran the layout dept of a company (a previous job) that did some large,
extremely dense, high speed (1GHz +), motherboard type layouts.  When I
joined the company, they were using PADs.  We had some major issues with
PADs (limitations in design rule checks, gerber generation anomalies,
plane/polygon creation problems, etc.) that cost us a few very expensive
board runs, not to mention the schedule hits which did not go over well with
the pointy haired types (Dilbert reference).  The cost for the software was
high.  PADs is modular.  Want to cut and paste, you have to buy the "design
re-use" module - $5,000.00.  Want test point support - $5,000.00 module,
etc.  In the end, the cost was 5 times what I paid for Protel and there was
no schematic capture, cross probing, simulation, PLD, etc.

The whole philosophy of how PADs works is bogus in my opinion.  They assume
you have a error free netlist when you start the layout.  This is seldom if
ever the case in my experience.  Many times the layout and schematic are
completed in parallel.  You can't place a part or trace if it is not
included in an error free netlist.  You can't do experimental part
placements for area studies or experimental routes, gate swapping, etc.  The
process of updating  netlist changes was a nightmare.

We looked to replace PADs with a "High End" System.  The experience would
rival any used car dealership nightmare.  Slick salesmen calling daily,
promising much more that they were capable of delivering, applying heavy
pressure to buy NOW or the deal is off.  Once the P.O. was issued, getting
support was like pulling teeth.

The main candidates were Cadence and Veribest (Mentor).  We told the
salesmen in the first meeting that we would be using OrCAD for schematic
capture and we wanted to be able to import PADs layout files so we could
maintain our old designs.  The salesmen from both companies gave a
impressive demo and translated a PADs file that we provided. They showed
Return On Investment graphs showing how the software would pay for itself
because of the decrease in design time and fewer errors.  We ended up going
with Mentor primarily because of their "interactive routing tools" and the
promises of huge improvements in routing time.  After about $80,000.00 we
had 2 seats.

The learning curve was like something I have never experienced before.
There were so many bells and whistles and so many ways to do the same thing
it was very confusing.  The documentation sucked.  There was no information
on using OrCAD netlists, the PADs translator was not a "officially"
supported product, didn't work and had no documentation.  If PADs had all of
the limitations dealing with having a pure netlist before the layout could
be started, Mentor was worse.  Not only did they require an error free
netlist to start the layout, but they also require EVERY part to exist in
the library, without errors, before the layout could be started.

My layout people, seasoned professionals who in my opinion are very good,
said it made them feel like idiots.  They were struggling over simple stuff.
It took months before we could even complete a simple layout.  Now over a
year later, they still haven't realized any significant improvements in
layout time and this was the justification for spending the "big bucks" on a
high end system.

I say keep it simple and keep the designer in control.  Beware of fancy
features that "do it all for you" and slick sales presentations (It's like
the old joke: How can you tell if a salesman is lying? ..... Its when his
lips are moving.).  Talk to designers who have used the product.  Check out
the company's bug lists, user support pages, and message boards.  I also
recommend getting a copy of the software for evaluation and do a simple
design from start to finish.  This is the only way to know for sure what you
are in for....

Cliff Gerhard, P.E.
Director - EE Group
E-M Designs, Inc.
32122 Camino Capistrano
Suite 200
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
PH 949.661.3016 x 501
FX 949.661.3017

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