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Posts from — August 2009

Alibre’s $99 Deal Is Good for PCB Design

I’ve blogged recently about Alibre’s crippling of Design Xpress.  Well, for a limited time, Alibre is now offering Alibre Design Standard for $99; I like this deal and have already paid for a license.

I am using MCAD software to model the PCBs I design because I can catch several types of design errors, including incorrect footprints and mechanical interference.

My requirements are pretty simple; what I want is an affordable system that can:

  • import STEP and IGES files, since I want to use the manufacturer’s models if at all possible
  • import and extrude DXF files, so I can easily create a model of the printed circuit board itself
  • create assemblies using a fair number of parts (>50 should  be enough most of the time)
  • export to STEP file (required) and 3D PDF, so I can share my work with others who aren’t using the same CAD software
  • be fairly easy to learn and use — I’m primarily a software guy, occasionally designing PCBs, but I’m definitely not a mechanical designer.
  • cost under $250

None of currently available free commercial MCAD programs meets all these requirements.  For example, I am fond of CoCreate PE, but it does not export to STEP or 3D PDF, and is limited to 60 parts per assembly.

At $99, however, Alibre Design Standard meets all these requirements, so I will be using it now for all my PCB modeling.  I still want to experiment with and blog about other possibilities, but I don’t expect to get around to that anytime soon.

Some commentators feel this is a desperation move by Alibre.  I think it is a good deal, because:

  1. Alibre is getting a lot of publicity
  2. They are getting cash flow from Design Xpress users they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise (I’ll call these people, including myself, the non-serious users).  In my case, Design Standard currently isn’t worth $999 (or even $500) to me, so Alibre received $99 from me that they wouldn’t have earned otherwise.
  3. Since Alibre has not cut their other pricing, and support and maintenance is not included (Design Standard + 1 year support and upgrades is $398), their support costs are not going to skyrocket, and they probably won’t be devaluing their products.
  4. They will still be getting more money from the “serious users” (who would be willing to pay >$500) because these users will be paying annual maintenance.
  5. They have increased their chances of upselling in the future.  Once I am used to modelling with Design Standard, I am more likely to pay for maintenance or upgrades in the future.

Go here for my latest MCAD news posts.

August 17, 2009   5 Comments

Alibre Design Xpress 11 won’t import STEP files

Alibre continues to restrict Alibre Design Xpress’ functionality; in Xpress 11 after the 30 day evaluation runs out, you can only import AutoCAD (DWG, DXF) files, and export STL files.

I’ve used Xpress occasionally since it was introduced in 2005, and I’ve never had problems importing STEP  (or IGES) files until recently.  Since I mainly use mechanical CAD to model PCBs populated with manufacturer provided part models (typically in STEP or IGES formats), this means Xpress is no longer useful.  As far as I’m concerned, Xpress is now basically just a trial version — great if you want to evaluate Alibre Design before buying, but not useful on its own.

Since I’m not making any money from the PCBs, my budget for MCAD software is basically $0 (OK, I might go up to $250 for software that did a really great job).  If I were primarily doing mechanical design, especially for money, then my budget would be different.

I’m still thinking about what I want to do; my default option is to model in CoCreate PE, which only exports STL and VRML files, but at least it imports DWG, DXF, STP, and IGES files, so it’s still easy to model PCBs in CoCreate and check that all the pieces fit together.

Go here for my latest MCAD news posts.

August 7, 2009   5 Comments