Introduction to Altium PCB Software
Altium Designer is a popular printed circuit board (PCB) design software used by engineers and hobbyists worldwide. It provides a complete platform for schematic capture, PCB layout, component management, design rule checking, and much more.
- Intuitive schematic editor with advanced editing tools
- Real-time design rule checking for errors
- Automatic generation of bill of materials
- Integration with component libraries
- Powerful PCB editor with intelligent autorouting
- 3D visualization and clearance checking
- Export Gerber files and manufacturing outputs
- Import CAD files and mechanical models
Library and Component Management
- Extensive library of ready-to-use components
- Wizard for generating new components
- Vault-based version control and component storage
Design Reuse and Collaboration
- Save schematic sheets and PCB blocks for reuse
- Team collaboration with managed projects
Altium PCB Licensing Options
Altium offers different licensing options for Altium Designer based on the features needed and budget available. The main options are:
This is a traditional software license purchased outright without any yearly fees. Perpetual licenses give you full access to Altium Designer forever. However, you won’t get access to updates or support after the first year unless you purchase separate maintenance plans.
This provides access to Altium Designer for 1 year, 3 years, or 5 years through low monthly or yearly payments. The subscription license includes maintenance so you get full access to updates and support. After the subscription period, you can renew to continue access.
Free Trial License
Altium offers a 30-day free trial so you can test and evaluate the software. The free trial is fully-functional but saves are disabled after 2 weeks. You need to purchase a full license to continue using Altium after the 30-day trial.
Students can get a free 1-year license to learn PCB design with Altium. This also includes access to updates and support during the 1-year period. Educational institutions can also get special discounted pricing for multi-user licenses.
Is There a Free Version of Altium Designer?
Unfortunately, Altium does not offer a completely free or open-source version of Altium Designer. The 30-day free trial is the only free usage offered. Here are some key points on the pricing:
- No indefinitely free or freemium version is available
- Must purchase a paid license to use full software
- Subscription or perpetual licenses start at around $2,000 to $7,000
- 1-year free license available for students
- Special discounted pricing offered for educational institutions
While there is no free version, Altium does provide some limited free resources:
- Altium Designer Viewer to open and inspect designs
- Free library of components and templates
- Blog articles and tutorials on best practices
- Altium 365 cloud platform with selective features
However, to access the full capabilities and unlock all features of Altium Designer, you need to purchase one of the paid license options. There are no “free downloads” or “free full versions” offered.
What are Some Free Alternatives to Altium Designer?
If the cost of Altium Designer is prohibitive for your needs, there are some free and open-source alternatives to consider:
KiCad is an open-source PCB design tool available for Windows, Mac, and Linux. The complete suite is free with no commercial licensing required. Key features include schematic editor, PCB layout editor with autorouter, Gerber viewer, and library manager. Extensive component libraries are available.
This free PCB design software is offered by RS Components. It includes schematic capture, PCB layout tools, library manager, forward/back annotation, and export of manufacturing files. An integrated free library of components is available.
Fritzing lets hobbyists create electronic projects with an easy-to-use interface. It includes a schematic editor, PCB layout module, and breadboard view for prototyping. Extensive documentation and project examples are available.
Some other free or open-source EDA tools to consider include FreePCB, Horizon EDA, Open circuits, GerbView, and gEDA. Most provide basic schematic capture and PCB layout capabilities.
While not equivalent to Altium Designer, these free options can be great for hobbyists, students, and makers on a budget. For more advanced capabilities, Altium’s paid versions remain an industry leading choice.
Comparing Free vs Paid Versions of Altium
Here is a comparison of key differences between the free trial version of Altium Designer and the paid (subscription or perpetual) licenses:
|Feature||Free Trial||Paid License|
|Software Usage||30 days||Perpetual / 1-5 years|
|PCB Design Capabilities||Fully enabled||Fully enabled|
|Number of Users||Single user||Single or multi-user options|
|Number of Designs||No limit||No limit|
|Updates and Support||Limited, 30 days||Full support and updates|
|Component Libraries||Limited libraries||Full component libraries|
|Import/Export Formats||Limited access||All formats enabled|
|Advanced Features||Fully enabled||Fully enabled|
|Cloud Features||Minimal access||Full Altium 365 cloud access|
In summary, the free trial provides comprehensive access to Altium’s PCB design features but only for 30 days. To continue using the software, you would need to purchase a paid license subscription with ongoing updates/support. Only the paid version provides unlimited usage over time.
Tips for Using the Altium Free Trial Efficiently
To make the most of Altium’s 30-day free trial period, here are some tips:
- Carefully evaluate your PCB requirements beforehand and prioritize critical tools
- Watch Altium tutorials on YouTube to jumpstart the learning process
- Start a simple project first to get familiar with the interface and workflow
- Explore all the advanced PCB layout features like routing, 3D modeling, etc.
- Download components from the limited free libraries available
- Save your work frequently since files get locked after 2 weeks
- Export your PCB design files, schematics, Gerber files for future access
- Use Altium’s powerful schematic, layout, and autorouting capabilities
- Review your experience after the trial to determine if the paid version is worthwhile
Following these tips will help maximize your free trial and determine if the productivity benefits justify the cost of a paid Altium license. Be sure to export all your work before the 30-day trial expires.
Educational Options for Free Use of Altium
Students interested in learning PCB design can access Altium software for free or at low-cost through educational programs:
- 1-year free license for students enrolled in engineering or related majors
- Includes full access to Altium just like paid licenses
- Available for students 13 years or older
- Verification through school email address required
- Altium offers discounted pricing for universities
- Universities can purchase multi-user licenses and campus-wide access
- Enables PCB design software for engineering labs and courses
- Support available for curriculum integration and training
- A simplified cloud-based version of Altium for educational institutions
- Allows students hands-on PCB design experience
- Integrates schematic capture, PCB layout, and CAD capabilities
- Promotes access to EDA technology for future engineers
Leveraging these special academic options enables broader access to advanced PCB design tools for university students and future engineers who will propel innovation. Hands-on exposure facilitates proficiency with leading-edge technologies used in the electronics industry.
What Are the Limitations of the Altium Free Trial?
While extremely capable, the free trial version of Altium does have some limitations to be aware of:
- 30-day time limit – Can’t use software beyond the 30-day trial period
- Limited file saving – Files get locked and can’t be changed after 2 weeks
- Minimal cloud features – Restricted access to Altium 365 platform
- Reduced component libraries – Only default component libraries available
- Lack of updates – No updates or bug fixes provided
- No support – Technical support not included
- Limited file import/export – Some manufacturing file formats disabled
- No customization – Can’t customize features, toolbars, templates
- Multi-user access – Only for single user, no team collaboration
- License expiration – Exported files may show watermark after expiration
Essentially, the free trial gives you complete access to Altium’s features, but only for 30 days. To unlock unlimited usage over time plus other benefits, you would need to purchase a paid license subscription.
What Happens When the Free Trial Expires?
Here is what happens when the 30-day free trial period for Altium Designer comes to an end:
- The software will switch to a view-only mode. You can open and inspect existing designs, but can no longer modify or edit any files.
- Any files not already saved will become inaccessible. Make sure to export and backup any files before expiration.
- You will lose access to any components downloaded from the component libraries. External component libraries will also no longer be accessible.
- The project history panel will be cleared, and documentation like PDFs can no longer be generated.
- Manufacturing outputs like Gerber files can still be generated from the existing designs.
- All advanced editing tools for schematics and PCB layouts will be disabled in view-only mode.
- You can still inspect 3D board models and clearance checking will still work.
- Any features requiring an internet connection like cloud storage will cease functioning.
- Exported board files may display watermarks or license expiration warnings when viewed in other tools.
- To regain complete access, you will need to purchase a paid license subscription.
So in summary, view-only access is retained for reference, but to resume design work, a paid Altium license will be required. Make sure to back up your work before the free trial ends.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Does Altium offer a free version for hobbyists?
A: Unfortunately no, Altium doesn’t currently offer any permanently free versions or freemium options. The only free access is the 30-day trial which requires purchasing a paid license later for continued use.
Q: What is the cheapest way to get Altium Designer?
A: The lowest cost option is the 1-year subscription-based license for around $2,195. Academic discounts can provide Altium for students at even lower pricing or free through the student license program.
Q: Can I get Altium Designer for free if I promise to buy it later?
A: No, Altium doesn’t provide indefinite free use with a commitment to buy it later. The 30-day free trial still requires a paid license to continue using the software beyond that trial period.
Q: Does the Altium free trial work for commercial projects?
A: Yes, the free trial is fully-functional and can be used for commercial projects. But files get locked down after 2 weeks, so it is mainly intended for evaluation purposes.
Q: What features are disabled in the Altium free trial?
A: No major features are disabled, but access term is limited to 30 days, file saving stops after 2 weeks, and only default component libraries are available during the trial.
In closing, while Altium does not offer a completely free perpetual license, the 30-day full-featured free trial provides an excellent opportunity to evaluate the PCB design software. For students and educational users, additional options like 1-year student licenses and academic pricing facilitate access to learn professional EDA tools. To move beyond short-term trial use, a paid Altium subscription offers full capabilities, support, updates, and unlimited usage for a reasonable cost. The powerful functionality of Altium makes it a worthwhile investment for PCB designers who seek productivity benefits using this industry-leading platform.