It's time for me to request equipment & software for next years budget and I still don't have a warm & fuzzy feeling about Protel 2004. Has SP1 improved the Situs autorouter?
Yes but not enough to make it useful for the boards I design (mostly high speed). I know others are using it successfully but everybody has different needs and different levels of acceptability so you'll probably need to test drive the router to really get a feel for what it can do.
Are the other improvements worth the $3500 USD?
If you are upgrading from a version earlier than 99se, I'd say its certainly worth the price and will give you many improvements in all areas of the software.
If you are upgrading from 99se its a much tougher call. I'll direct the rest of my comments for a 99se upgrader.
First, let me say my experience is the following: Most of my work is in PCB layout- probably 90%, about 9% Schematic, and maybe 1% CAM and Autorouter. I don't use the FPGA module at all. If I used PCB less and others modules more, my comments would quite different since they received more attention and improvements than PCB.
I've been using DXP04 for a few months now. If I were considering the upgrade at the current price I'd pass on it till the next major upgrade in features. This is mostly because DXP04 reduces productivity by replacing easy-to-use global editing with complex queries and it offers no enhancements in high speed design. Features that are added to PCB layout do not substantially improve productivity.
I have seen a few of you say that once you had upgraded you would never go back.
I have seen a few of them too. I wonder how many of them can claim PCB layout as their primary job function? I may be wrong but I'd guess that they may already have one or more programing languages under their belt. This would make DXP's query based system more natural for them.
Is it really that much better or are the systems so incompatible that once 2004 is learned it would be tough to go back and do it the 99SE way, much less admit that the money was poorly spent? We only design about 10 boards a year and I am having a real problem justifying the cost of upgrading from 99SE SP6 to myself much less my boss.
I don't think that it's difficult to go back to 99se. On the contrary, it's difficult to return to DXP due to the more complex user interface and query language. After going from DXP to 99se for just a couple weeks I find I am forgetting much of the query structure.
I really have to work at learning DXP. The learning curve is much steeper than any of the past Protel/Altium products. As I'm sure you've seen others write, DXP uses selection differently than 99se. The selection also works in conjunction with a new 'masking' feature. It's different enough from 99se that I find it very difficult to stay proficient on both systems. Also, gone is the quick and easy to use global editing replaced with overly complex text based queries. DXP also employs a 'Find Similar Object' function which was meant to replace some of the ease-of-use of global editing, but it falls short failing to match the power and simplicity of global edits.
After a few months using DXP for PCB layout I'm still much slower in DXP. I know I'll get more proficient in time but I'll never match my productivity using 99se until more improvements are added to DXP.
If you use more autorouting or schematic more than I do, let that be the deciding factor and give DXP a try. Then again, the cost of the upgrade and the cost of the learning curve are both steep. At just 10 boards a year you would probably be better off from the standpoint of financial cost and delivery schedule to stay with what you have.
If your making equipment requests, don't forget a faster machine. My AMD3200 with 1G dual channel RAM is too slow for DXP. After cross probing to an 11 sheet schematic it takes an agonizing 12 seconds just to clear the selection and mask (guess I'll start cross-probing paper or PDF prints)!
Also, you're going to want a second monitor (and maybe a bigger desk for the extra monitor). It seems accepted that DXP's plethora of panels and lists make a 2nd display necessary for efficient use.
My estimate of the real cost of the DXP04 $3,500 upgrade is closer to $10,000+ after adding the hardware, hardware & software installation, training, learning curve, slower design cycle, possible design errors, and more.
I have a feeling that my copy of DXP will start gathering dust once my current series of designs are complete. I'll dust it off after some serious enhancements come along and I've upgraded my hardware.
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