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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.

5 comments

1 Petar { 08.17.09 at 11:35 pm }

Can I ask a question: What PCB Software do you use. Most of this things that you need to do with MCAD can be done with Altium Designer: Importing STEP models on footprints, Importing Board shape from STEP and DXF, Importing shape of the case and checking it’s interference with components and board…

2 Tony { 08.18.09 at 11:34 am }

I’m using the free version of Eagle PCB; it’s a good match for what I do. For a full time PCB designer, Altium could be nice, especially after its recent price cut, but at about $4,000 it’s way too much for my personal use (or for my job). I’m not interested in using illegal hacks.

Sometime I’d like to look into Altium’s 3D capabilities more (along with some other mid-range PCB software), although I doubt it’s anywhere close to a real MCAD program. Also, Altium is very FPGA-oriented and is pushing their unified design process (do your whole design in Altium). I’m a skeptic — to put it briefly, just like with NI & LabView, there is a lot more innovation going on outside their unified systems than inside.

3 Tony { 08.18.09 at 4:02 pm }

Yet another special offer: VX is offering VX Innovator for $195 (North America, India, Africa only) until August 31. Innovator is also worth a look; for example, it looks like it has better surfacing abilities than Alibre.

4 Alex { 01.05.10 at 10:50 pm }

I ended up going with the ‘Standard’ edition. I really wanted SolidWorks or Inventor of course, but it was too expensive for my employer. Sometimes I wish I’d got the Pro for motion simulation, but it’s not critical to any designs I’ve done with it yet… motion would be more for eye candy for showing off a mechanism to people.

5 Tony { 01.06.10 at 9:52 pm }

For PCB modeling work, I think I like the direct modeling approach best (e.g. CoCreate, VX, KeyCreator, SpaceClaim) instead of the classic parametric approach (e.g. Alibre, SW, SE, Inventor). But I need more experience before I can say that with conviction. I also hope to take a deeper look at 3D in PCB EDA programs; I suspect it’s not even close to what you can do with 3D MCAD, but, again, I have to spend the time to find out, so don’t hold your breath waiting for a post on this.

And, sometime I’d like to play with motion simulation. I’m curious to see how much work it is to set up. And, if I ever get my desktop CNC mill put together, then I’ll need some kind of affordable CAM software (for solid modeling to gcode; I’ll probably use the Linux EMC project to interpret gcode and control the mill).

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