On 01:25 PM 30/05/2004, Jim Monroe said:
At 10:25 AM 5/29/2004, Terry wrote:
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.

I'd agree that PCB has not got a lot. Things I can think of are:
1) Being able to shelves polygons is nice but there are ways of doing that already. The auto plane pullback is nice but again there are ways of doing it already and it doesn't support internal routs.

2) Dimensions are *much* better - a wider range of dimensions (linear radial etc) and they remain associated with objects so they resize auto-magically as you resize things - these are much better than P99SE. Also you can set the units and precision - so you can have mm dimensions even if you are designing with imperial display setting. P99SE doesn't compare here. Not sure how much others value this, though.

3) Height based component placement rules - used with rooms usually. Components can be associated with rooms so they move together when the room moves. Polygonal rooms are supported. P99SE didn't have this but you could do it by being careful and possibly be setting up component classes, I guess.

4) BOM reporting and templates allow easily repeatable BOM formats - again not necessary as this can be managed other ways.

5) Component Type allows better control over things like components that are copper only and stuff that should not by synched with the Sch - such as mechanical parts and mounting hole components. Not an essential change again, but useful.

6) Better management of rounding errors when flipping between metric and imperial. There is no change to the underlying base unit though :-(. It is still in imperial so the conversion between metric and imperial is imprecise - it could be exact. I have not seen many situations recently where DXP/P2004 creates rounding errors, though there may be one where you can occasionally get a DRC error saying a net is 10mil wide and this violates the minimum width of 10 mil - not sure if it is metric/imperial rounding but it may be. Re-entering the rule or changing the width to 10 mil seems to fix it.

7) Rubber stamp mode - save having to do a Ctrl-V/paste while plonking stiff down. Only a small improvement as you can do it the old way by pasting lots of times.

8) Not really PCB but useful to PCB designers possibly - the scripting system allows access to the underlying PCB (snd Sch etc) databases. Something that P99SE required a license to do. The server and the scripts look pretty similar (both being pascal-like) so this is again only a smallish improvement. It is certainly easier to write and test the scripts in DXP/P2004 as you don't need to play tricks to install and debug the DLL like you did in P99SE.

9) The rule system is much more powerful and you can finally clear DRC errors between No-Net and No-Net objects (something that remains an issue in P99SE). The downside to the more powerful rule system is a more complex method of accessing this power (when you need the power you have to use more complex manually prepared queries rather than the simple ones you can get from the Query Builder).

10) Also Net Ties are useful for RF shorted copper components and controllable power net shorting. There are ways of doing the same thing in P99SE and the current implementation of the Net-Tie needs some work to fit better with updating the design on subsequent passes, but DXP/P2004 is certainly better in this area than P99SE.

11) DXP/P2004 has better library management so you can control from what library a PCB part comes from. Again not essential but certainly useful for those of us worry about configuration control.

12) Flipping selections containing components works correctly. There is a method of doing this in P99SE but it is quite involved but it can be done - so mark this one as a small improvement if you like.

13) Multi-channel design. If you don't use multiple channels you wont need this so put it down as a small issue. Also there are still some improvements that could be made to do with how tracks that cross the channel boundary are handled.

14) Mech layers can be associated with one another so they flip when a component or selection is flipped. Useful for assembly drawings when using the .Designator special string in the footprint library. Not essential as there are ways of dealing with this in P99SE and certainly a server could be developed to help this if it was a priority in P99SE.

15) Polygon editing tools are better. Not sure how often you use polygons, maybe not enough to have to worry about this one.

There may be other differences but they must be pretty insignificant as I have forgotten them.

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).

Certainly - these tools are missing. I suspect a package targeting PCB designers rather than those of use that do the full design chain may be better. Have you looked at PCAD or the Mentor/Cadence/BigNamePlayer offerings?

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).

Second monitor is not essential but not that far off it. The panel rest nicely on the right monitor with the design on the left. I have heard of someone that is using three monitor (was it you John Ross?) PCB on one, Sch on one and panels on another. DXP/P2004 works quite well on multi-monitors but there is still a few issues that come up.

I just counted the max number of panels that I could get up that would make any sense for PCB. I think I got to about 17 or 18. Are you including floating tool bars? I normally have these turned off to maximise screen real-estate. I normally have three open on the right monitor (List, Inspector and Libraries) and then a few docked but shrunk on the left of the main screen and the rest off mostly. Oh, I have all animation of the panels turned off and the pop-up and pop-down delay set very short.

Certainly there are a lot of panels, enough to be confusing initially and yes, it does take a long time to figure out how you want them to all sit and who docks how with what and where.

So yeah, I'd agree that the changes in PCB are incremental rather than radical.


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