Moving to Altium Designer From P-CAD

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Translating complete P-CAD designs, including schematics, PCB layout, and library files can all be directly handled by Altium Designer's Import Wizard without converting to ASCII first - thus avoiding the need for having P-CAD installed. The Import Wizard removes much of the headache normally found with design translation by analyzing your files and offering many defaults and suggested settings for project structure, layer mapping, PCB pattern (footprint) naming, and more. Complete flexibility is found in all pages of the wizard, giving you as little or as much control as you would like over the translation settings before committing to the actual translation process.

File Translation

P-CAD design files in the Import Wizard translate as follows:

  • P-CAD PCB (*.PCB) files translate into Altium Designer PCB files (*.PcbDoc).
  • P-CAD schematic (*.SCH) files translate into Altium Designer schematic files (*.SchDoc). Each sheet within a P-CAD schematic file is imported as a single Altium Designer schematic file (*.SchDoc). Design hierarchy is maintained, including complex hierarchy.
  • These files will be grouped into an Altium Designer PCB project (*.PrjPCB) that is automatically created.
  • P-CAD PCB files generate an output job document (*.OutJob) if necessary. This document will contain all the print settings from the P-CAD PCB.
    P-CAD library (*.LIB and *.LIA) files translate as follows:
  • Libraries that contain solely pattern information translate into Altium Designer PCB library files (*.PcbLib).
  • Libraries that contain both pattern and symbol information translate into both Altium Designer PCB library files (*.PcbLib), and schematic library files (*.SchLib) respectively.
  • Libraries that contain both component and symbol information translate into Altium Designer schematic library files (*.SchLib). Libraries which contain solely symbol information do not import as Altium Designer does not have the same concept of a symbol as P-CAD (described later).
    Translated P-CAD libraries are automatically grouped in an integrated library package (*.LibPkg).

Translation Overview

The steps for translating your P-CAD designs and libraries using the Import Wizard look like this:

Using the Import Wizard for P-CAD Files

The Import Wizard can be launched from the Altium Designer File menu. Click on this menu command to launch the wizard as shown below in Figure 1. Right-mouse command menus are available for further control over the translation process through each page of the wizard.

Figure 1: Import Wizard as started from the File Menu.

Working with Documents

In P-CAD, all design work begins on the sheet, the logical working area of the design. There can be multiple schematic sheets within a single P-CAD schematic design file (*.SCH file).
In Altium Designer, the logical design area begins with a document, and for each document there is a file stored on the hard drive. This means that for each Altium Designer schematic document (sheet) there is a file, an important conceptual difference to remember.
There can also be multiple design documents of varying types depending on the nature of the design you'll be working on. Getting started, most P-CAD users will be interested in the schematic and PCB document types as these are the files that their designs will be translated to.
New schematic and PCB document types can easily be created via the File » New menu, or by right-clicking on the project in the Projects panel.

The Schematic Symbol Is the Component...

As an expert P-CAD user, you'll know that components form the basic building blocks of design in P-CAD, and the symbol is merely a graphical representation of that component in the schematic. But in Altium Designer the symbol is effectively the component for all phases of design, and not just the schematic capture portion of it. A little comparison will help show the differences of how the two are modeled between the respective systems for a better understanding.

P-CAD Components and Altium Designer Components

Figure 2. P-CAD components have a single symbol graphic and one or more pattern graphics for each pattern
In P-CAD, all of the logical and electrical data that is held in the component can be seen in Library Executive in the Pins View dialog. Pin and gate swapping component pin to symbol pin, and pattern pad mapping, along with the pin's electrical and logical data is the only component information available. Because this information relates primarily to the pins and is somewhat limited, there are inherent restrictions to the number of ways that P-CAD components can be represented throughout the design process. An Altium Designer component, on the other hand, contains more information and is more flexible in terms of how it can be represented.

In Altium Designer, the logical symbol is assumed to be the essential starting point of a component. It can be initially defined at minimum as a name in a schematic library to which pins and any graphical symbols or alternative display options needed for implementation may be added. This flexibility allows a component to be represented in different ways during the design and capture process. This may not only be as a logical symbol on the schematic, but also be a footprint on the PCB or even as a SPICE definition for simulation.

See Also

Below are references to other articles and tutorials in the Altium Designer Documentation Library that talk more about the conceptual information as well as walking you through specific tasks. Remember, you can also browse through the Help contents, and use F1 and What's This at any time in a dialog for more details.

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