Having just been offered a discount to upgrade from 99SE to 2004 it's time to think about it again. (I knew those special offers would keep coming).
Is it fit to use yet or should hold out for a couple more service packs and the next special offer?
Is DXP04 fit to use? I think so, but that doesn't mean you won't run into problems that you don't have in 99se. Is the upgrade a good idea? Well...
Let me start by saying that the worthiness of the upgrade depends heavily on the modules that you'll use. My opinions are based on the following.
As a contract PCB designer, my past use of Protel 99se breaks down approximately as follows, about 10% schematic, 88% PCB, less than 1% autorouter (wish this was much, much higher), and about 1% Camtastic. I don't have much use for simulation or FPGA development. I have been driving the DXP04 upgrade for only a couple weeks so my comments will be initial impressions. I'll be starting a fairly large (>1800 parts) highspeed layout after the holiday and I'll keep this forum updated as my experience progresses.
So far, I find absolutely nothing in the PCB layout module that warrants the cost of upgrading. The features that I most need are still not there. These include, an intelligent auto-interactive component placement for sub-groups of components (what Protel labels as 'Interactive Placement' is just unintelligent array placement), simple pin & gate swapping (came and went way back in Adv PCB 2.x days), better high speed layout tools & rules, auto-interactive routing tools (eg. for diff pairs, buses, matched length, etc.), and a good autorouter. The first four items simply are not there, and the latter (Situs) isn't useable (in my opinion).
The best PCB layout enhancement that I've found in DXP04 is the improved split planes (nested planes are now fully supported). Although it's quite nice, it doesn't really improve productivity much. There are lots of little things (both features and interface) that give DXP04 a more professional polished appearance (you can read this as "complex"), but there isn't anything that will enable me to design a better layout or to design it in less time. I'm sure there are other features that DXP enthusiasts will say they can no longer live without. I've looked for them, but if they're there I haven't found them yet.
Fortunately many of the 99se hotkeys are still functional. The downside is productivity loss because of the substantial learning curve of queries, selection and masking. The use of focus and selection are dramatically different than 99se and it takes some getting used to. The concept has evolved into selection and masking which are tightly linked to queries which replace 'global editing'. Queries are powerful, and although there are 'helpers' you'll still need to learn the query language to be able to do some of the global editing that was a breeze with 99se (queries also drive the design rules - you always wanted to be a programmer, right?).
Another thing, there are too many panels! It's difficult to get an exact count, I stopped counting at 18 and I never left the PCB editor! It takes considerable time to master a good layout for them. The default panel layout doesn't make sense to me and takes away too much real estate from the workspace.. I'm considering setting up a second monitor just to display panels (I'm not yet sure that it's feasible).
I think some of the other DXP modules are reason enough to upgrade (if you'll use them), but PCB isn't it. I am happy I upgraded but my reasons are mostly long term economics, not software capabilities. In order of importance they are to stay compatible with the software my clients are using, staying in the upgrade path, and the discount that was offered. I'm confident there will be future feature enhancements that will also justify the upgrade, but it's sure taking a long time. It's been more than two years since DXP was released and in my opinion, the PCB layout isn't better, just different.
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