Software addresses PCB design process as a whole

An Altium product story
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Edited by the Electronicstalk editorial team Mar 20, 2002

Altium has revealed that the next-generation Protel board-level design product will be named Protel DXP.

Altium has revealed that the next-generation Protel board-level design product will be named Protel DXP.

The DXP is derived from the new version's full exploitation of the power of Altium's proprietary Design Explorer technology integration platform.

With Protel DXP, the Design Explorer platform has been re-engineered and significantly enhanced to provide faster application startup and a more responsive and tightly integrated design environment.

With this enhanced platform Protel DXP delivers designers a host of new and enhanced PCB features such as topological autorouting, native support for multichannel design and design variants, enhanced error checking and synchronisation, and the integration of VHDL design entry.

Protel DXP's enhanced PCB features are coupled with a highly optimised graphical user interface and significant project-management features to provide a design tool that addresses the needs of the PCB design process as a whole, rather than from a point-tool perspective.

Protel DXP is being previewed this week at PCB Design Conference West, Santa Clara, CA.

For the DXP release, Protel has been re-engineered so that all system components work as native Design Explorer servers, allowing Protel DXP to work as a single board design application with seamless integration between its different design capabilities.

"With Protel DXP, we've made a fundamental architectural change to a software platform that allows seamless integration of all components of the system and has set the foundations for quick and easy expansion", says Nick Martin, Joint CEO and Founder, Altium.

"We will now be able to very easily and quickly add new technologies and capabilities to the platform as they are developed.

This will greatly benefit our Altium Total Support customers who are entitled to download our latest product releases, program enhancements, technology add-ons, service packs and component libraries free of charge, as we roll them out".

Protel DXP is a very "project-aware" release and will be the first product to bring a strong sense of the design process to desktop EDA software.

Enhanced design capture capabilities allow for text or schematic-based VHDL documents to be integrated into the board design process, facilitating the use of FPGAs within projects.

Designers can freely mix text and schematic-based VHDL design capture and can easily propagate changes such as pin reassignments automatically throughout a project.

Protel DXP will allow engineers and designers unprecedented freedom to move back and forth through the design process, making changes as they go unrestricted by the data integrity and version control issues that this would otherwise bring up.

"Altium has long recognised that design tools should work with the natural design process, not against it", says Martin.

"With the time-to-market pressures that today's designers are working with, it is no longer practical to rely on a collection of different point tools that are not synchronised, and that don't allow for the flow of the modern design process.

It is Altium's philosophy that designers should be able to focus on their designs not their design tools and that their design tools should cater to the natural, nonlinear flow of today's design processes".

Protel DXP uses a "compilation" paradigm to ensure project integrity.

The project compiler combines design and error checking with a powerful comparator engine to ensure full synchronisation of both source documents and the target board design.

Changes can be propagated both to and from the board design on a per-difference basis, so changes can be made easily at any stage of the design process.

This also means that the schematic and PCB documents can be worked on at the same time and then, using the design compiler, changes can be synchronised in both directions.

The advantages of this project-compilation approach are that designers can be sure that their entire design project is error free and synchronised at all stages of the design process, and that multiple and even conflicting changes can be reconciled quickly and easily.

Protel DXP is the culmination of Altium's design-focused approach towards the development of software tools.

"The current weaknesses of design tools such as making different tools work together, and moving the design from one tool to another are not addressed by using a selection of fragmented point tools", says Martin.

"We believe that these weaknesses are better addressed by a board design system that is fully integrated and takes a holistic approach to the design process.

This includes providing all the capabilities needed to take a design from concept to completion, and to manage all stages of the process along the way".

As well as powerful design capture and PCB layout and editing features, Protel DXP integrates Spice-compliant circuit simulation and board signal integrity analysis into the system.

Circuit simulations can be run directly from a schematic, and signal integrity analysis is fully integrated into the PCB editing environment.

Situs, Altium's new Topological Autorouting technology, is also fully integrated into the Protel DXP PCB editing environment.

Situs moves beyond traditional rectilinear shape-based routing by adding a topological board-analysis stage to the autorouting process.

Situs offers enhanced compliance with the Protel design rule system, control over routing passes and costings, and superb completion rates and finished route quality.

Other major capabilities of the Protel DXP release include: full support for hierarchical multichannel designs; support for multiple board variants from a single set of source files; support for integrated component libraries that link schematic symbols to footprints, simulation models, signal integrity models etc; support for major third-party version control systems such as Microsoft Visual SourceSafe; and enhanced documentation and reporting features.

In Protel DXP, Altium has re-designed Protel's GUI with the focus on ease of use, intuitive control, and consistency of interface across all editors.

The result is that designers have better and easier access to design data and don't need to spend time learning a new design environment for each stage of the design process.

Also, Protel DXP's GUI has been normalised in harmony with the best-practice design for Windows applications with Windows-standard functions, such as "CTRL + scroll wheel" to zoom, drag-and-drop functionality, and standard Microsoft keyboard shortcuts.

"We have a different approach from many of our competitors, who design tools that require their users to undertake extensive training courses in order to be productive", says Martin.

"We believe that focusing on ease of use and intuitive interface design will benefit our customers because they can spend less time learning the software before they gain the benefits of access to the powerful features".

Pricing is expected to be in line with the current Protel product, which will be confirmed at the time of release, as will further details about shipping dates.

Customers can purchase the current Protel product Protel 99 SE which comes with 12 months free membership to Altium Total Support (valued at US $1995), thereby guaranteeing they receive Protel DXP free of charge as soon as it is released.

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