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Altium vs KiCad: What’s the Difference?

Considering the variety of some software for PCB design now on the market, selecting the best one might be challenging. As a result, we have thoroughly compared KiCad with Altium Designer below.

The key distinction between these two might be one of them is a free app whereas you will have to pay for the other. Since KiCad and Altium have both been on the market over ten years, they have both undergone improvements and modifications, making them significantly better over the years.

Two popular software platforms enabling schematic capture as well as layout are Altium and KiCad.  Although these two programs are significantly different from one another, they share many fundamental characteristics. Read our comprehensive guide on contrast between the Altium Designer and the KiCad EDA to comprehend the key characteristics and variations.

What is KiCad EDA?

One of today’s most exciting EDA applications available today is KiCad. This is a completely free software package with excellent functionality. Since its original release back in 1992, this program has been available on the marketplace for almost 30 years.

It provides resources for developing PCBs, circuit layouts, and schematics. This offers several sophisticated features, like BOM generation, creation of artwork, Gerber files, as well as 3D rendering and modeling, in contrast to a lot of many other free softwares.

The fact that KiCad is indeed a multi-platform suit is another fantastic feature. It is free to download, install, and employ on macOS, Windows, and Linux. The five primary parts of this package are as follows:

  • KiCad: (For Project Management)
  • Eschema (The Editor and Schematic Capture)
  • Pcbnew (Serves as the solution for the PCB layout featuring 3D capabilities)
  • GerbView (This helps in viewing the Gerber)
  • Bitmap2Component (Converts the Image to the PCB footprint)

The aforementioned tools are incorporated into KiCad to give users a centralized design environment. Now let us examine the key components of this application.

What are the Main Features of the KiCad EDA?

kicad 4 layer

 Schematic capture

KiCad offers a beautiful and practical schematic capture, with all the tools at your disposal as needed. Also, its interface is tidy and practical, concentrating on the most important tools. Additionally, it provides hierarchical conversion to serve complex designs that breaks down multi-sheet schematics to smaller sheets. In addition, all common export formats, including SVG, PDF, Postscript, and HPGL are supported.

Design and Electrical Rule Check

In addition, KiCad provides a robust DRC and ERC system that looks for issues like conflicts of the output pin, missing drivers, as well as disconnected pins. Also, it features netlist export that enable designers to be able to save all their netlists to take a variety of file types, including XML, Pspice, PcbNew, and Cadstar.

Routing and Layout Using PCBNew

PCBNew enables more efficient and faster routing. This software removes barriers by pushing the forward traces thanks to its great routing features. Alternately, this program can perform rerouting and ignore the obstructions. This system complies with DRC standards.

3D Viewer

Users of KiCad have access to 3D viewing, interactive viewing, as well as the choice to see 3D models in the shape of two-dimensional drawings, making it simpler to comprehend part details.

Cross and open source platform:

KiCad is known as open-source software that permits users as well as developers to improve as well as debug the platform constantly. This means improved features and faster upgrades. Linux, macOS, and Windows systems can all run this program.

Simple-to-use user interface:

This program offers a user-friendly, intuitive interface that makes it simple for beginners to learn design and develop their talents. Because of the tutorials’ emphasis on major tools as well as working speed, its learning curve is simple.

Pros of KiCad

layout
layout
  • The hotkey feature is a great tool for productivity because it enables users to create shortcuts for quick access to commonly used functions.
  • The program’s functionality and range of features are excellent considering that it is totally free.
  • Support for SPICE simulation is offered by Eeschema with the ngspice integration.
  • The partial support function of the clipboard allows for the movement of nets and symbols between the hierarchical sheets.
  • Better preview and navigation features, including cross probing and a capability for custom color choice.
  • KiCad now includes an editor for the environment variable to assist users in managing internal environment variables.

Cons of KiCad

  • KiCad’s library management functions require centralization and development. Working with less or newer prevalent components has reduced part availability.
  • Some earlier KiCad versions may have latency difficulties for macOS users.
  • KiCad does not enable autorouting or quick feature design.

Altium Designer

Altium Designer is a pioneer in the sector of PCB design for the past 20 years. Also, Altium Designer 22 is their most recent version, which includes new enhancements as well as performance upgrades.

This program’s simplicity and sophisticated technical capabilities are combined in an attractive package, which is one of its best features. Within one main software package, the software offers a comprehensive PCB design through to the production solution.

Despite being on the more expensive end of the price spectrum, this has tools for everyone. Even inexperienced users are able to create and carry out projects thanks to its usability, and experts are given access to adequate cutting-edge technologies to work on more difficult design assignments.

These are just a few of the numerous capabilities you’ll discover in this software: 3-D rendering and viewing, a customized user interface, comprehensive format support, as well as content libraries featuring many prebuilt components available for usage.

Additionally, Altium customers receive cloud services, part information relevant to production, automatic and interactive routing, as well as filtering and tuning tools for building high-speed features. To understand more regarding the Altium Designer, continue reading.

What are the Main Features of the Altium Designer?

shows the layout after correcting these three types of errors.
shows the layout after correcting these three types of errors.

Altium Designer offers 8 major features, which are explained below

Schematic Design

Altium’s innovative schematic solutions, that break down as well as simplify complex models to different single sheets to ensure easy understanding, makes it simpler to work using schematics having complex designs, many sheets, and various layers.

Rule Validation

Using Altium Designer, the designers may use the ERC as well as DRC functionalities to instantly check their circuits as well as routing. This feature operates by flagging any potential electrical and design rule violations and even dynamically predicts possible violations.

Documenting PCBs with the draftsman

For DFM as well as production, and also for institutional and research uses, documentation is crucial. Part drawings, details, component numbers, as well as other information are included in the PCB documentation. Users of Altium can export the production drawings straight to Draftsman documents.

Cloud-based Working Platform

Altium features a cloud-based facility operating remotely to assist members working on big projects. As a result, these team members can collaborate online, in real-time, share information, get work updates, as well as access some project-related data in a safe, secured setting.

Communication Center

Altium members have access to a center of online communication that enables instant messaging, communication tracking, as well as file sharing, which is another fantastic tool geared for companies and businesses. All of this is completed in a safe and practical setting.

Interactive Auto-Routing and Manual Routing

Routing is made considerably simpler thanks to its interactive routing engines, which helps you establish paths for some node-to-node connection, regardless of how sophisticated the design is.

With Altium Designer, you can route round obstacles, and also hug and push, push and shove, and obtain more such capabilities for effective and quick routing.

Large-scale content libraries

With the help of Altium’s special content libraries, you can obtain many pre-built components, information, part details, links, etc. They are conveniently accessible and have more than 400k items that are ready for download. All these are integrated into the software.

Functionality of ActiveBOM

ActiveBOM is a sophisticated tool from Altium that makes it simple for users to create, update, and track bills of materials. It automatically incorporates information from the design and aids in document compilation. The program could also ask suppliers beforehand for information on parts as well as supply-related matters.

Pros of Altium Designer

  • Thanks to Altium’s cutting-edge tuning and filtering tools, designing of high-speed features is made considerably simpler.
  • Management of supply chains is improved and may automatically provide information about production during the design stage, preventing problems later.
  • The UI can be tailored to the preferences of the designer, offering improved navigation as well as shortcuts.
  • Through the incorporation of MCAD and ECAD, it is possible to verify enclosure fit with PBC, which is a great option.
  • When compared to other programs inside its pricing range, Altium’s learning curve is less challenging.

Cons of Altium Designer

  • The license fees are pricey
  • It only works with 64-bit Windows systems; Linux or macOS versions aren’t really available.
  • Furthermore, pre-made bundles rather than need-based custom packages are used to sell licenses.

What makes Altium Designer special?

All user experience as well as requirement levels are catered for by the features offered by Altium Designer. A variety of tools and functions linked to production are included in the program.

Altium will instantly look for alternative compatible parts, which is useful for your project if a specific part related to the design is not readily available.

The degree of customization as well as hotkey editing that it permits is another distinctive feature that makes the use of the software simpler.

Who can Use it?

Altium is ideal for any work related to research, industries with Design for Manufacturing as well as manufacturing requirements, teams working remotely, or even individuals who wish to handle more complex designs and projects. However, it can also be utilized by other designers, essentially anyone who will be able to afford it and find it efficient and easy to make use of.