Free schematic/board tools...

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jack
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#1 Free schematic/board tools...

Post by jack »

Due to the phasing out of Eagle over the next couple of years, there is a need for free/cheap EDA tools that, preferably, can import Eagle sch/brd & libs.

I'll kick off with LibrePCB, https://librepcb.org but please add your own experiences with this and other tools.

https://librepcb.org/blog/2022-10-03_release_0.1.7/

It can import eagle lbr libraries but I've not yet tried sch/brd files.

Eagle has the same sort of architecture as LibrePCB in its libraries, i.e. footprint and symbol are separate and there's a mapping between the virtual pins of a symbol and the physical pins/pads of a package.

Kicad libraries are apparently horrible internally. There's discussion on this on Reddit and elsewhere.

The full v1 release of LibrePCB should be available reasonably soon. There's a lot to like about it - huge number of new features

https://librepcb.org/blog/2023-08-21_release_1.0.0-rc1/
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#2 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by simon »

Good thread, I hope people will share their experiences.

I started with Diptrace which I found quite intuitive, but struggled if components didn't exist in the library as there wasn't an easy way to create them. Or if there is I never found it. There wasn't any limitation on board size for the free version but you're limited to 300 pins (and 2 layers) so anything reasonably complex won't work.

Because of the library limitations I tried the free version of Eagle, which has a board size limit of 100mm x 80mm and 2 layers. It wasn't intuitive and took much longer to get the hang of. But it seems much more powerful and the ability to create components was important to me. It seems a little quirky.

No experience of KiCad. I think some here have used it, hopefully they'll comment.

LibrePCB sounds promising.
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#3 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by Tony Moore »

A couple of years ago I needed to make some pcbs so I looked at what software was available these days. My colleague uses Eagle but he's had it for years and so has a license that is not the subscription model. He loves Eagle and it does look very good but I didn't want to pay that much, or anything!

I looked at both Diptrace and KiCad and I picked KiCad. It is ok. I haven't done anything yet that needs auto-routing so all my boards were hand routed. In the main I've been able to use the included libraries for the common stuff and for the parts I've had to add, symbols and footprints editing was not too tricky.

I will take a look at LibrePCB though, especially if it can import Eagle libraries.
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#4 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by simon »

I installed LibrePCB t'other day and had the briefest of play. It seems very simple compared to Eagle, more like Diptrace, which is probably a positive. But you can't import Eagle schematics which is a bit of a drawback for me.

KiCad can apparently import/open Eagle files and I might look at that next.
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#5 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by jack »

simon wrote: Sun Sep 03, 2023 7:00 pm I installed LibrePCB t'other day and had the briefest of play. It seems very simple compared to Eagle, more like Diptrace, which is probably a positive. But you can't import Eagle schematics which is a bit of a drawback for me.

KiCad can apparently import/open Eagle files and I might look at that next.
Did you look at the release candidate mentioned in the top post?
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#6 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by simon »

That's a new one, never heard of a release candidate before. I can guess what it is, I guess.

I looked at both links, couldn't see any reference to Eagle apart from libraries. What am I missing?
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#7 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by jack »

simon wrote: Sun Sep 03, 2023 11:03 pm That's a new one, never heard of a release candidate before. I can guess what it is, I guess.

I looked at both links, couldn't see any reference to Eagle apart from libraries. What am I missing?
I don't know! I'm away this week but will report back what I find.

Just FYI, a "release candidate" is just what it says; normally you'll do an "alpha" release to a small group, than maybe a "beta" release to a wider group and finally, when you're actually pretty happy with what you have, a "release candidate" to a much wider group, though if things don't go too well, there maybe an RC2 & RC3 etc. before the actual production-ready release.
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#8 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by simon »

Ah, I see! No, I didn't see any mention of support for other file formats. LibreOffice opens most things, maybe LibrePCB will do so down the line some time.
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#9 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

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#10 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by jack »

simon wrote: Fri Oct 06, 2023 9:18 am A review of LibrePCB 1.0

https://hackaday.com/2023/10/03/review- ... rsion-1-0/
Interesting, though as the comments noted, shame that it didn't compare with Kicad.

Still, it's early days and there have been a huge number of additions in 1.0. I find it quite friendly and 1.0 makes it pretty usable.
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#11 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by simon »

Yeah, the comments took more reading than the article.
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#12 KiCad thoughts

Post by Thermionic Idler »

I've just recently completed setting up KiCad on my latest Linux desktop - it's true to say that the library file management is somewhat... arcane, and has caused me many headaches in the past. The reason I carry on with it is because the latest versions have Spice integration, which is brilliant. No more manually copying the circuit from one app to another (plus LTSpice isn't available for Linux).

It's taken setup on a few systems for me to work out my ideal file structure, which is below:

Code: Select all

KiCad
├── git
│   ├── kicad-footprints  -- 
│   ├── kicad-packages3D    |__ official KiCad repos (Gitlab)
│   ├── kicad-symbols       |
│   ├── kicad-templates   --
│   └── kicad-user   ---------- user repo on Github
│       ├── lib.footprints   -- user-specific component footprints   
│       ├── lib.spice        -- spice models
│       ├── lib.symbols      -- user-specific schematic symbols
│       ├── lib.tables       -- location for fp-lib-table and sym-lib-table files       
│       ├── lib.templates    -- location for user templates                             
│       ├── projects         -- current project folder  
│       └── README.md        -- this README file
│       
└── static
    ├── libraries         -- libraries that won't be updated e.g. DigiKey
    │   └── 3rdparty      
    └── project-archive   -- move completed projects here
For some reason on this Arch Linux / Xfce system it didn't want to auto-install the official libraries, so I had to grab them from Kicad's GitLab repo. I decided then to go full Git - both for the official libraries and also to store my own in-flight projects and custom symbols etc on GitHub (everything under kicad-user). This gives me a way to work on projects across multiple machines, as long as local changes are synced to Git before swapping over, and I can pull down updates that KiCad make to their official libraries easily with a git pull command.

I also had to make sure that fp-lib-table and sym-lib-table were located under kicad-user and create soft links to them in ~/.config/kicad/7.0/ - they are the index files that Kicad builds for itself to keep track of all the various symbols and footprints so they need to be in sync with the library files. KiCad insists on storing them locally, hence the need for soft links to the GitHub location.
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#13 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by Nick »

Ltspice will run under wine though.
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#14 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by jack »

simon wrote: Fri Oct 06, 2023 10:14 am Yeah, the comments took more reading than the article.
I'd still like to see an export/import capability in the board editor so that you can use a drop in autorouter.
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#15 Re: Free schematic/board tools...

Post by jack »

LibrePCB 1.1.0 was released on 3rd April and is looking like a HUGE improvement. Massive improvements, including Eagle whole project import and many other goodies.

https://librepcb.org/blog/2024-04-03_release_1.1.0/

https://librepcb.org/download/

The beta 64-bit version uses Qt6 and is definitely the way forward.
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