The Altium Designer Environment
Altium Designer provides a unified electronic product development environment, catering for all aspects of the electronic development process, including:
- Front-end design and capture
- Physical PCB design
- FPGA hardware design
- FPGA system implementation and debugging (when working with a suitable FPGA development board, such as an Altium NanoBoard)
- Embedded software development
- Mixed-signal circuit simulation
- Signal integrity analysis
- PCB manufacturing
Altium Designer includes all the editors and software engines needed to perform all aspects of the electronic product development process. All document editing, compiling and processing is performed within the Altium Designer environment. Altium Designer also interfaces seamlessly to supporting tools, such as FPGA vendor place and route software, or 3rd party HDL simulation and synthesis software. Underlying Altium Designer is The Design Explorer (DXP) Integration Platform, which brings together Altium Designer's various editors and software engines and provides a consistent user-interface across all the tools and editors. The exact set of features and functionality that is available will depend on the specific license that has been purchased. The Altium Designer environment is fully customizable, allowing you to set up the workspace to suit the way you work. A consistent selection and editing paradigm across different editors allows you to easily and smoothly switch between various design tasks within the Altium Designer environment.
Starting up Altium Designer - Licensing
There are a number of licensing options available for Altium Designer, including On-Demand, Standalone and Private Server modes. For detailed information about the licensing options and initial activation of your license, refer to understanding the licensing options.
Learn as you work - getting help
The best way to learn is through doing, Altium and Altium Designer provide a number of ways to help you do that:
- F1 over any object, editor, panel, menu entry or button to open a brief description in the Knowledge Center panel.
- Shift+F1 while running a command for a list of shortcuts you can use in that command.
- Search the Altium Wiki, either in the Knowledge Center panel or on the Altium Wiki Website.
- Visit the TRAININGcenter where you can watch over 100 short training videos, each detailing the exact steps needed to completing a task.
- Join a discussion forum and share your thoughts with your industry peers.
Elements of the environment
Altium Designer is unique in its ability to support all aspects of electronic design - from capture to generation of PCB manufacturing output; from embedded software development to processing and download of an FPGA design into a physical FPGA device. It does this in a single software application, through the support of the underlying DXP integration platform. The platform supports all of the standard user-interface elements, such as menus and toolbars (also called resources), each editor plugging in its own specific set of resources and commands.
- Multiple documents can be opened for editing, each presenting with a separate Document Tab at the top of the workspace.
- As you switch from one document kind to another, for example from a schematic sheet to a PCB design, the menus and toolbars automatically change.
- The only menu that remains, regardless of the document kind, is the DXP system menu at the left hand end of the menu bar. This menu gives access to environment-specific settings, such as environment preferences, licensing and customization.
- Other workspace controls, such as toolbars and panels, can be docked along any edge of the workspace, or float on top of or beside the application.
- All environment-level preferences for all editors are configured by selecting the DXP » Preferences command.
Projects and documents
All project-related data is stored in documents, which are also referred to as files. Documents, projects and design workspaces can be opened using the relevant commands available from the main File menu. Alternatively, you can drag-and-drop a document, project file, or design workspace file, directly into Altium Designer to open it. As well as storing links to each document in the project, the project file also stores project-specific options, such as error check settings, compiler settings, and so on.
When you open a document, it becomes the active document in Altium Designer's main design window. Multiple documents can be opened simultaneously. Each open document has its own tab at the top of the design window. Documents can occupy the entire workspace, or the workspace can be shared between multiple open documents via the Split commands in the Window menu. Documents can then be dragged from one split region to another.
Working with panels
Main article: Altium Designer Panels Reference
Documents store objects and entities, and are edited in the main workspace. Panels are used to give an alternate view of data in the current document, for example the PCB panel can be used to browse by Components or Nets. Panels are also used to work across the environment, for example the Projects panel is used to open any document in the project, as well as display the project hierarchy. Document-specific panels can only be displayed when that document-type is the active document. All panels are accessible via the shortcut buttons down the bottom right of the workspace.
- Panels can float in the workspace, they can be docked along the edge of the Altium Designer environment, or they can be set to pop out from an edge.
- Right-click on the panel name to configure the dock behavior.
- When panels are set to pop out they obey the animation and delay settings configured in the System - View page of the Preferences dialog.
- Click and drag on the panel name to move just that panel, click and drag elsewhere on the panel caption bar to move a set of stacked panels.
Working with multiple monitors
Altium Designer natively supports multiple monitors. To move a document to another monitor, simply drag the document tab from its current location, onto the other monitor. Alternatively, right click on the document tab and select Open in New Window to open a second Altium Designer application frame with that document open in it.
Localization for Foreign Languages
Altium Designer supports several non-English language modes. All menu items and most dialog text will be presented in the language chosen in Windows for the actual computer. Localization is configured on the System - General page of the Preferences dialog (DXP » Preferences). After changing these settings you will need to re-start Altium Designer.
Customizing the environment
As well as having complete freedom to arrange the panels, toolbars and documents being edited anywhere on your multiple monitors, you can also customize the menus, toolbar and shortcuts in Altium Designer as well. To access the customization dialog for the current document:
- right-click on a menu bar or toolbar and choose Customize from the pop-up menu that appears
- double-click on a blank area of a menu bar or toolbar
- select DXP » Customize
Altium Designer also supports a number of scripting languages, allowing you to develop your own custom commands, tailored to your company's needs.