Inside every electronics product is a Printed Circuit Board, or PCB. In the early days of printed circuit board design the demands on the PCB were simple, the board provided mechanical mounting for the components and connected the appropriate pins together. Today, the components have shrunken so much they are measured in fractions of a millimetre rather than centimetres, and track widths have shrunken from being sturdy fat lines well spaced across the board, to thin hair-like lines tightly packed together. Rising signal switching speeds has also seen the PCB interconnects become part of the circuit, requiring design techniques to cater for this. Combine these, and the modern PCB is a dense, multi-layered engineering design challenge.
As well as these more demanding electrical requirements, the mechanical requirements have also become much trickier. Compact, unusually shaped modern electronic products require compact, unusually shaped printed circuit boards - with curved edges, cutouts and carefully positioned components.
Another new challenge is the rise of the programmable component, the most common of these being the Field Programmable Gate Array, or FPGA. Delivering a veritable ocean of programmable silicon that is capable of being programmed into virtually any possible arrangement of digital components, the FPGA allows the designer to craft both software and hardware in a mutable, re-programmable space. Programmable components come with programmable pins too, giving the designer the ability to push some of the routing challenge off the board, inside the FPGA.
To simultaneously solve these design challenges you need a unified design environment that delivers not just the point-tool capabilities of each design domain, but also supports the designer as they explore and craft their design, allowing them to push design ideas from one implementation option to another. Altium Designer delivers this - its PCB editor supporting the tightly inter-linked demands of the electronic, mechanical and programmable design domains.
This area of the Altium Designer info space provides information on the following areas related to board implementation: