Evaluation Type: Independent Products
Did you receive all parts the manufacturer stated would be included in the package?: True
What other parts do you consider comparable to this product?: Cadence OrCAD, KiCAD
What were the biggest problems encountered?: Bugs and missing tutorials on a workflow
Making PCBs has come a long way from designs that were drawn by hand and took long hours to debug. Computer Aided Design or CAD has to be one of the best things that happened to engineers and makers alike. PCB fabrication services like OSHPark and SeeedStudios Fusion have been a game changer and has raised the bar on DIY. PCB design tools need to become simpler and smarter to allow beginners to get involved and more so to allow experienced professionals get the job done without jumping through a lot of hoops.
Eagle PCB was one of those tools that got people making PCBs and their free version was the most used tool for Open Source Hardware enthusiasts. Limitations of 2 layers and 80 sq-cm rarely were a problem for basic projects and the full version added a few more features for the professionals. Everyone using Eagle were happy.
When Autodesk acquired Eagle and offered a subscription model, the online forums were on fire with mixed feelings. In this review I go through the features that Autodesk brought to the table and briefly touch on the issue of subscription model and how it affects the maker community.
KiCAD is gaining popularity and the maker community is accepting it as the de facto standard for a number of reasons. I will not be debating the merits of KiCAD or Eagle or do a comparison here but would like to say just this.
KiCAD and Autodesk Eagle are two different animals. KiCAD is open source and comes with no support or warranty. It is evolving and if you mess up a project or if it misbehaves all you can do is get support from online forums. This works for experienced professionals and DIY projects but not for professional environments where deadlines and results matter. Autodesk Eagle comes with support for dedicated staff that get paid to answer your questions. This matters if you get stuck doing something or hit a bug or glitch.
I have compared Eagle and OrCAD in the past (google it!) and both can be compared to Altium as well. I am going to focus on Autodesk’s offering in this writing and list out some points that I found good and bad and it is up to you to figure out if makes a difference to you or not.
Cadsoft Eagle has been used by so many pro makers and DIY people including the great people at Sparkfun electronics as well as Adafruit Industries. They still use Eagle to design their products and have supplied everything from footprints to schematics to layouts for their OSHW projects online. This matters because someone with a company and years of experience is making CAD drawings and libraries and giving it to you for free. Wurth Electronics provides extensive libraries in Eagle for their parts that can be used in your PCBs.
This is important because it takes the guesswork out of your design flow and reduces the iterations in your design. You can lay out a PCB and have fewer errors due to footprint mismatches and missing components. With the new features in Eagle such as Modular Design Blocks, reuse of existing designs becomes easy and we will take a look at that in a proceeding section. That itself is something worth your time.
I already had an account with Autodesk so when I got a license for this roadtest, I just got an email saying that a license had been added to my account. All I had to do was download the free trail and after installing it on my Macbook, I simply logged in and the welcome screen was indicative of the premium license.
Easy License activation experience
You have to login every time you reboot your computer(Well mostly)
The Control Panel is where you start off and most users will be familiar with this screen. The exciting thing is the third item titled Design Blocks.
As you can see, it comes prebuilt with a few blocks and a dedicated folder named Adafruit. Lady Ada seems to be busy helping out and it is wonderful to know.
The design blocks range from simple jumpers and indicator LEDs, all the way up to the complete schematic and layout of modules such as the Bluetooth LE boards. These can be dragged and dropped into your new design without having to worry about the layout or the footprints. More on this later.
Makes reuse of blocks easy
Once the basic exploration is complete, I start by setting up the tool itself. This includes pointing eagle to the directories where my libraries, scripts and projects reside. The menu options are simple and easy to use.
I want to start of this review with a small tutorial on creating libraries and components. In some cases it becomes essential to make your own library and components and to understand how this works, I have prepared a small video.
As you can see creating new components does not take too long nor is it too complicated. Once the steps are followed correctly, the end result is precision with satisfaction as a byproduct. There are a number of workflows and I won’t go into those here since this is a review.
The point is that creating your own components has gotten easier and there is a lot of support on the internet which applies to the paid as well as the free version of the software.
EDIT: Here are a few after shots for people looking to create new components:
1. rachaelp had a awesome video on her workflow for creating new parts at Creating a package in Autodesk EAGLE and the complete blog post at EAGLE Tutorial: Library Part Creation Part 1 - Creating Packages so check it out as well.
3. There is a hidden gem pointed out to by techsupport which is called "Make-symbol-device-package-bsdl.ulp". I will be adding a video for it next so stay tuned.
One of the latest features in Autodesk Eagle 8.x is design blocks. The concept is to be able to divide your design into predefined blocks that can be prepared separately. This makes it possible to not only reuse parts of the system but also enables something which was previously missing – disconnected flows.
Now multiple designers on the same team can design parts of the final design in blocks and then send them to their lead design to be merged into a singular design. A small video shows how to use this tool.
I present a feature request here that unlike OrCAD and KiCAD, Eagle accesses Schematic as well as layout simultaneously. In many cases the team is divided into people who take care of these two activities separately. I would love to see a design flow by Autodesk to allow for a disconnected design.
Design Blocks allow for distributed workflows and realtime sync is great for one man teams.
Realtime sync may not work for larger teams
This is something that is especially useful for someone like me who does rapid prototypes. Eagle now allows for an export of a PCB to ECAD.io where a 3D model is generated which includes components and headers alike. Then this model can be imported into Fusion 360 for creating enclosures and render previews of the final product. In the video below I take a look at the steps to successfully to just that.
Fusion 360 did not like me recording and encoding while rendering so the video is a bit short but I assure you that the design can be as elaborate as you would like.
The last thing I want to touch on is routing which is the bread and butter of a PCB ECAD tool. I found that the tools have matured and the semi autorouter has becomes very useful and makes the software worth using. I did find some bugs though so take a look at the video below for a demo.
The follow me router is brilliant. EDIT: The Obstacle Avoidance feature for the manual routing tool is brilliant! Thanks rachaelp. I seemed to have missed the follow me router and will be adding a video clip for the same.
I have just touched the surface of this great software and laid the groundwork for you to explore it for yourself. I found some great features and some bugs but all in all the software has evolved over the years. I am still using OrCAD, KiCAD and Eagle all at the same time because of various restrictions but with this new offering and features, I am persuaded to use Eagle a bit more.
I would like to see a disconnected workflow for the schematic and layout and also see a student version with lesser restrictions.(EDIT
: I am told that it is already available for students so yay!) and I am using Fusion 360 and my only incentive for using KiCAD is that I can make larger boards. If Autodesk can come up with a plan to give a more flexible free versions to makers in return for adding credit to Autodesk in their design, it could add a maker base to the software. Users could upload the designs to a gallery and Autodesk could show these off as a part of their portfolio.
I think I will be using Eagle till my license runs out and will pay if my budget allows. I use OrCAD for work and that is not my decision so no changes there. Full marks to Autodesk for taking a great software and making it better. I expect the futures is bright for the Eagle.
You also asked in your library video if anybody had a quicker way of drawing packages. I've created a LOT of packages so have got quite good at it now so I have some techniques which will speed things…
Great review! I have a couple of tools here if you're interested, these can speed up creation of specific parts.
The most useful one for me is the smd_tool, it creates any arbitrary SOIC…
I think ladyada has done a great job with the design blocks and if you want demonstrate the use of design blocks, I suggest using something like the DAC cape by shabaz sir. Have sub modules for the I2S dac, power regulators and add a few LEDs and expansion headers. We do that with arduino shield headers and booster pack headers but this will include a mix of schematic, layout or both.
I personally will be experimenting with a project which is a bench power supply that has multiple power rails, ADCs, DACs, a microcontroller and a buck boost pre regulator and a lead acid charger. A design block for everything!
Hope that helps.
I think both have their pros and cons. Eagle has a more robust feel as well as some really great features while KiCAD may be better for makers who want a free tool. KiCAD rules the open source, do anything, use for free, community tested software tool list.
Eagle is simpler, comes with better support, a solid following, great support thanks to Autodesk and professional features at a small cost.
I suggest newbies use Eagle now since things are really great and if you ever want to sell a product you designed, just buy a subscription license for the design, production and test phase and then pay or not pay depending on your design cycle needs.
KiCAD works for veterans who don't mind solving their own problems which may entail spending more time tweaking the software than actually getting things done. An example is that there are blogs on how to use KiCAD and setup a workflow and tutorials on the software change when the version is bumped up and menus, flows etc change drastically. That is true with Eagle as well BUT if something goes wrong, you can raise a ticket since you paid for it.
I am curious as to how Eagle stacks up against Altium though.
Very good review.
I like the basic comparison, but as you pointed out, this approach as certain limitations.
You ended with a very short comment on bugs, could you elaborate?
Also, I hope you are recording these bugs and reporting them to Eagle so that they can be fixed.
I have noticed that Eagle and KiCad are both blooming in size and capabilities.
Do you have an overall impression as to which would be easiest for a newbie to tackle?
I uploaded by full blog post on this topic last night which gives a lot of detail which isn't apparent from just the video. You can find that here: EAGLE Tutorial: Library Part Creation Part 1 - Creating Packages
Thank you for the fine video.
Yes indeed i make it nearly with the same method.
What i said before - the right grid is necessary.
I also know about this ulp as Ed Robledo mentioned but I mean creating components optical (seeing with your eyes) would a lot much easier.
I think this ulp is used for bsdl.
BSDL would be bit deeper into the component - into the way component testing, PCB testing.
Yes, if the developer have built an automatism creating components, a workaround then this ulp would help very fine.
I think the most Eagle user don't know about this fine tool.
Building manufacturing also testing automatism can be very expensive
Thanks Ed for this fine tip.
Glad to help, looking forward to your future videos tutorials. I'm currently working on a videos demo using a Design Blocks into and existing project. I would like to use one of the Adafruit Blocks. Do you have any ideas?
Thanks again for all the great stuff you have been posting, really liked your EAGLE/Fusion360 video.
Ah this is great!
First of thanks rachaelp for the video. I am linking to the page in the review. I yield to your superpowers.
techsupport thanks for the feedback.
1. I will get back to you on the obstacle avoidance bug cause i wrote down somewhere how I made it repeat. //TO-DO
2. I did not know that. I though it was only for Fusion360 which I am totally a fan of. Thanks for that!
3. Aa-ha! That is exactly what I was looking for. I will have to remake the video I just did but it will be worth it. //TO-DO
4. We can have some more Eagle related stuff put up in the respective section here on element14. e14phil and the projects team could come up with a project14 challenge in the future. Project on a PCB! Ideas?
5. I like the real-time annotation capability but like I said, I would like the flexibility. I think design blocks fill in that gap nicely since it kills two birds with one stone.
I had a wonderful time reviewing Eagle as well as making the videos. Thank you for the opportunity and I hope I can contribute more.
Great review, thank you for posting and sharing your ideas.
Regarding the Obstacle Avoidance bug, I wasn't able to reproduce it on my Windows PC, so I will ask Jorge to test on our test Mac.
EAGLE Student and Educator License
Students and Educators do have access to the premium version of EAGLE with no restrictions. They can register here for their free license: https://www.autodesk.com/education/free-software/eagle
Creating a package
There is a ULP called Make-symbol-device-package-bsdl.ulp, that has an easy to follow interface to build a package or an entire component.
I can assure you Autodesk is quite keen on making everything as collaborative as possible. Having the possibility of making your designs publicly available to the Autodesk EAGLE community will become a reality.
Layout and Schematic Disconnect
I don't share your sentiment here, Real-Time annotation is possibly one of the best feature EAGLE has. Please remember you can add the attribute _EXTERNAL_ to your devices if you wish to ignore the package on the schematic.
This is a great review, and I always look forward to your tutorial videos.
Have a Great Day!!
Here is the link to my video: Creating a package in Autodesk EAGLE
I'll try and get the full blog post that covers the package creation finished off over the weekend as this will have a lot of explanation of things you see in the video which might not be immediately clear how they are achieved.