What's New in Altium Designer

Altium Designer 16.0

Released: 10 November 2015
Version: 16.0.5 (build 271)

This new Altium Designer release continues to deliver new features as well as enhancements to the software's core technologies, while also addressing many issues raised by customers through the AltiumLive Community's BugCrunch system. Along with delivering a range of new and exciting features that develop and mature the existing technologies – it also incorporates a large number of fixes and enhancements across the software as a whole, helping designers continue to create cutting-edge electronics technology.

It is not possible to update to Altium Designer 16 from an earlier version, a new installation is required. You have the choice to continue with your current version, or to install Altium Designer 16.0 to access the latest features. Alternatively, have both installed side-by-side, and use the version that best suits your needs.

Strengthened Support for High-Speed Design

Designs with high speed signals are becoming more and more common, driven by both improvements in device technology and the ongoing demand for better product performance. Acknowledging the growing need for strong support for high speed design, Altium Designer 16 brings a number of important improvements to the definition and routing of high speed signals.

In Altium Designer, a signal path that includes multiple nets and series components can be defined as an extended Signal, called an xSignal, which can then be targeted by high speed design rules. The signal delay created by the devices themselves, often referred to as the pin/package delay, can now be accounted for in the overall xSignal length. The intelligent xSignals wizard, which can quickly detect and define a large number of xSignals under user-guidance, sees the introduction of heuristics to support xSignal creation for the DDR3/DDR4 interface standard, with support for other interface types in the pipeline. Improvements to differential pair length tuning also allows faster and more accurate between-pair and within-pair length matching.

Technology Aware xSignals Wizard

The enhanced xSignals Wizard guides you though the process of creating xSignals for Interface, Memory and Custom Circuits. As well as the original Custom Multi-Component Interconnect mode the Wizard now supports DDR3/DDR4 memory, with support for other interface standards planned for future updates.

Managing Pin-Package Delays

An important element in routing a high-speed design is matching lengths. Altium Designer introduces support for including the pin-package delay in the length calculations, when xSignals are used.

Change Target Lengths During Length Tuning

To create an easier, more streamlined workflow, target length functionality has been revamped. Updates to target length tuning allow users to see all applicable rules, with the added ability to select the one to be used. If no rule is selected by a user, the rule with the longer max length will be used by default. Alternately, if the target lengths for two rules are equal, then the rule with higher priority will be used.

Differential Pair Routing Improvements

With more and more designs using technologies like high-speed serial interfaces, differential pair routing becomes more prevalent. Appreciating this, Altium Designer has a number of enhancements and fixes in this area, including: pair gap rule obeyance and within-pair length checking, amongst others.

Simplified Design Specification and Verification

Design rules are the backbone of the board design process. Altium Designer is well regarded for its powerful and highly configurable rule scoping system. Acknowledging that the bulk of the rules that the designer needs to define follow consistent requirements - such as applying to this net class, on that layer - the rule scoping system has been greatly simplified. While the powerful, keyword-driven scoping system remains available, Altium Designer 16 sees the introduction of a carefully selected range of dropdown options for each rule type. And at the other end of the design process, rule checking has also been simplified with a number of improvements to the PCB Rules and Violations panel, bringing it to the center of the rule violation analysis and resolution process.

Design Rules Enhancements

In Altium Designer, design rules are used to define the requirements of the design and cover every aspect of the design, including routing widths, clearances, plane connection styles, routing via styles, etc. This offers incredible power and flexibility for your designs.   

In this release of Altium Designer 16, the new Design Rules Editor adds a Test Queries function that enables you to see that your filters or query language expressions actually have an effect and drop downs make it easier to select your desired filters. Many of the Design Rules have also been made more comprehensive and easier to define.  

Enhanced Violation Reporting

DRC violation feedback is now condensed into the PCB Rules and Violations Panel to make it more accessible. The PCB Rules and Violations panel also now automatically launches and becomes active when the DRC batch process completes. Information has been added to Rule Type Violation descriptions to ensure that feedback includes all critical information.

Additionally, when a user activates the Select checkbox on the PCB Rules And Violations panel and then selects a DRC Violation in the lower window, the system graphically selects the primitives involved in the Violation.

Improvements to Same Net Clearance Rule

Improvements have been made to the Same-Net Clearance Rule so that violations are produced only for significant cases, i.e., cases that are not as significant are ignored. When using the Same-Net Clearance Rule, now only truly valid violations are recognized. 

Better Feedback During Interactive Design

Printed circuit design is a complex, highly detailed, and iterative process. Component placement options must be continually evaluated and adjusted, and this may need to continue throughout the routing process. All of this happens within the boundaries of the design rules. Helping the designer understand their options during this process, Altium Designer 16 sees the introduction of dynamic display features that give immediate visual feedback about the space available for the component or route that is currently being worked on.

Dynamic Display of Clearance Boundaries During Routing

Ever wondered just how much space is available for that route during interactive routing? Now you can see exactly how much clearance is required around each object in the workspace, dynamically as you route.

Smart Component Placement

Component pushing and avoiding is now supported and can be enabled in preferences or during placement. Dynamic alignment snapping for component is also available.

Easily Create Accurate 3D Models and then Show Off your Completed Design in 3D, in a PDF

Offering what is considered by many to be the best-in-class 3 dimensional PCB design platform available today, Altium Designer 16 builds on its outstanding 3D design capabilities. As well as realistic 3D visualization for presentation and image generation, the PCB editor also supports importing a mechanical enclosure so you can perform accurate 3D interference checking – all before a single board is made. To achieve these, you need an accurate 3D model for every component on the board, and to help with that, Altium Designer 16 sees the introduction of automatic 3D STEP model generation in its IPC Component Wizard. Now you can not only quickly and easily build component footprints that comply with the IPC standards, you can also create an accurate 3D STEP model of that component too. In Altium Designer 16 you can also include a 3D rendering of the loaded board in a PDF file, now anyone using the free Acrobat Reader can easily rotate and turn, as they examine your carefully crafted masterpiece.

3D STEP Model Generation in IPC Wizard

A new and exciting feature of Altium Designer 16 enables you to generate 3D STEP models when using the IPC® Compliant Footprint Wizard that are realistic and dynamic. Whether configuring or creating Footprints, you can now elect to produce a 3D STEP model(s) and even preview the model before generation.

Enhancements to PDF 3D Export

Altium Designer's PDF 3D exporter has been enhanced through a range of refinements and additional capabilities that significantly improve the information and 3D viewing experience available in Adobe® PDF Reader. The new enhancements include predefined 3D views, expanded setup options, embedded design metadata and improved object handling.

Multiple Variations of Your Multi-Channel Product

It is not uncommon for a design to include repeated sections of circuitry, it might be 2 channels or it might be 200 channels. Support for this has been a long-standing strength of Altium Designer, referred to as multi-channel design. For you as the designer you simply reference the repeated section of circuitry the required number of times, and the software includes a number of features to help you repeat-out the placement and routing of those channels on the board. The design never needs to be flattened out though, so you are free to modify and update it throughout the design process. Another popular feature of Altium Designer is its support for variants, where a single design can be populated in different ways, allowing you to create multiple, finished products. In Altium Designer 16 these powerful features come together, with the introduction of support for variations of your multi-channel designs.

Multi-Channel Support for Variants

Altium Designer's support for Variants allows the designer to create a single, base design, and then populate it in different ways, to create different products.

Altium Designer 16 supports defining variants for a multi-channel design. Now, a variant can have components varied across the multiple channels, including: being Fitted/Not Fitted, specific parameters varied, or Alternate Parts chosen. There is also some support for variations within a specific channel.

Stronger Output Generation

Designs are becoming both smaller and more complex, placing higher demands on the fabrication and assembly processes. To help with this, new output standards are being developed, and existing ones improved. Keeping pace with this, recent releases of Altium Designer have seen the introduction of new output standards, such as IPC-2581 and Gerber X2. Altium Designer 16 continues to improve its output generation capabilities with features to improve the accuracy and flexibility of its outputs,  such as + and – hole tolerances, designer-selected alternative components in the BOM, simplified board panelization, and more.

Adding Tolerance to Holes

Setting Hole Tolerance attributes make the PCB manufacturing process run more smoothly. Hole tolerance attributes can now be set in the Pads and Vias Properties dialogs. Additionally, when holes are shown in the drill table, hole tolerance can be used as one of the grouping attributes.

Alternative Components in the BOM

Altium Designer 16 sees the introduction of support for Alternative Parts in the BOM. Building on the existing support for nominating your preferred choice of alternative manufacturer/supplier using the ActiveBOM rank feature, you can now select an alternative, functionally equivalent component. You can also break a BOM item into groups, and assign alternatives to a group.

Panelization - Embedded Board Array Enhancements

Embedded board array options have been optimized so that compatibility between child and parent design layer stacks is verified. Edge to edge spacing options have been added as well.

PCB Printout Improvements

With Altium Designer 16, PCB Printout options have been streamlined and made more intuitive. The PCB Printout Properties dialog has enjoyed a few minor changes to its column headers, but provides the same comprehensive options as before. Additionally, when generating Assembly Drawings using the default settings, the opposite layer component's multi-layer component primitives are not included. This ensures that multi-layer pads are included in your print out.

Support for Zipping ODB++ Output in TGZ format

When generating your board fabrication data in ODB++ format, Altium Designer now creates a TGZ archive file of that data as well. A TGZ file is GZIP compressed TAR Archive file. Because TGZ files are favored by many CAM software options, such as Frontline Genesis, a TGZ file can make it easier to facilitate the fabrication process.

PADS Logic Exporter Extension

Altium Designer now includes an extension that allows users to export projects to PADS Logic 5.0. The PADS Logic Exporter extension makes outputs compatible with PADS Logic 5.0 using a text file format which should also be supported by future versions of PADS.

A Better Design Space

As a designer who spends a lot of time driving Altium Designer, no one knows better than you how important it is to have an efficient design flow. With ease-of-use as one of its most recommended capabilities, Altium Designer 16 builds on this with a range of improvements. Applying color to schematic nets enhances the read-ability of the design, these assignments are now applied to the net across the all sheets in the design. Performing a SPICE simulation has become a lot easier, with the introduction of easy-to-use simulation probes. Altium Designer has access to a range of online services, such as online licensing and supplier component data, in Altium Designer 16 the configuration of the various network-related features has been simplified. Read on to learn more about the other improvements that help build a better design space in Altium Designer.

Net Color Synchronization

Altium Designer now includes additional net highlighting color options for easy viewing and review of your schematic and PCB design. Users can now highlight multiple nets, differentiate different nets with different colors, and push highlighting from schematic to PCB. The highlighting feature now assigns color to the entire net in the schematic instead of only coloring the selected wire.

These highlighting colors are also included in the ECO process when transferring the schematic to PCB. When the schematic is Compiled and an ECO is generated, the report will show the nets that have colors assigned to them and acceptance of the change(s) will cause the colors in the PCB to be changed as well.

Single 'Master' Control to Work Offline

Altium Designer uses the Internet and third party servers to connect to Altium Cloud, Altium Vault, suppliers, search for updates, etc. It may be desired or necessary to work offline in some situations or environments. 

In this release, a feature has been added that gives you full control over network connectivity and allows you to disable all or partial network connectivity. 

Static Simulation Probes

To help verify your circuit designs, Altium Designer 16 now includes static simulation probes. Placing probes allows you to test voltage, power, and current, providing valuable feedback for your design and helping to predict the behavior of your circuit.

Product Improvement Program

Our new Product Improvement Program has been instituted in order to improve Altium Designer by collecting data while our software is being used. The collected data will be analyzed in order to make Altium Designer even more closely match your needs. 

Excel Compatible Tabulation Option for Constraint Files

FPGA constraint files can now be saved in a tabulated format which is compatible with Excel spreadsheets, making it easy to view and manage pin assignments.

Additional Enhancements and Improvements

Each update to Altium Designer also includes a broad range of small features to help improve the overall design experience.

To highlight a few of these improvements:

  • Schematic ECO processing time has been substantially reduced,
  • Stacked vias and a via-over-a-pad can now be moved as single entity, and
  • Mutliple PCB special strings can now be defined within a single string, by enclosing each within single quotes.


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