Whats New in Altium Designer 6.0

Frozen Content
Summary

Altium Designer 6.0 brings a number of substantial improvements to the PCB and FPGA design process. Almost all areas of the software have been strengthened and enhanced.

Physical platform design has been upgraded to support the high board densities and high-speed signaling found in today's designs. Differential pair, smart interactive and BGA escape routing, backed up by pin/part swapping with dynamic net assignment brings a new level of power to the routing process.

Programmable design support has been extended, with increased programmable device and processor coverage, and higher levels of physical-level integration. Support for all boundary-scan devices on your board, combined with the enhanced real-time JTAG Device Viewer gives you pin state monitoring, right down on the running board. The new configurable 8 to 64-bit LAX, with its built in multiplexer and code disassembly capabilities greatly enhances the FPGA design process.

With this release it is also significantly easier to integrate Altium Designer with company engineering and business management systems commonly found in medium and large-scale organizations. Place components directly from your company database using the new database-driven Part Libraries, and include database information directly in the Bill of Materials.

These are just a few of the new features in what we believe is the most exciting release of Altium Designer yet. Read on to learn more about the new and improved electronic product development technology in Altium Designer 6.0.

Seeing is Believing - Read More and Watch Videos of the New Features

A commonly stated saying is that seeing is believing. Learning by watching and listening is something we do naturally, and is an ideal way to learn about computer software. If you'd like to read more about Altium Designer 6.0, as well as watch short videos about some of the exciting new features, then visit the What's New in Altium Designer 6 page on the website and enjoy the action. Click the link below to read more and watch the videos.

Stuff that will Blow You Away!

Board Insight™


A complex-multi layer board makes for a visually dense and often difficult to interpret workspace. The new Board Insight system makes it easier to view and understand the objects in your design. The Board Insight system is an integrated set of features developed to meet your view management needs. For this release Board Insight includes an Insight Lens, heads-up cursor information, floating graphical views, simplified net highlighting, and enhanced net labeling on objects.

Insight Lens

The new Insight Lens makes light work of performing a detailed examination of your board. While the workspace remains at a low level of zoom you can closely inspect the smallest detail on the board, magnifying it in the Insight Lens. With its own zoom and single layer shortcuts, working with the Insight Lens will soon become second nature. Turn the Lens on and off in the View menu, and configure it in the PCB - Board Insight Lens page of the Preferences dialog.

Heads-Up Display Data

The Heads-Up display gives you real-time feedback about objects currently under the cursor in the PCB workspace. The Heads-Up display is configurable, and can include cursor location, delta information (from the last mouse click), current layer and current-snap grid. As well as the information content, the display font and colors can also be configured.

The heads-up display can be parked anywhere on the screen using the SHIFT + G shortcut, and picked up again using the same shortcut. This allows you to have it move with the cursor, or position it anywhere on the screen in a fixed location.

Heads-Up Hover Mode

If you pause for a moment as you are moving the cursor, the Heads-Up display will switch to Hover mode. In Hover mode extra information is displayed, this can include a summary, available shortcuts, rule violations, net, component and primitive details.
Configure the Heads-Up display feature in the PCB - Board Insight Modes page of the Preferences dialog.

Popup Mode


The new Board Insight system's Popup view is an excellent tool for interrogating objects under the cursor. A click on the mouse wheel presents the Popup view, which includes list of all components, nets and violations under the cursor, and a graphical display of the object currently chosen in the list. From the list you can Edit, Select or Zoom on any of the objects.
The Board Insight list can include primitive objects, such as pads and tracks that belong to the components, nets and violations. The list is hierarchical, allowing you, for example, to drill down for complete detail on the objects causing a violation.

Use the SHIFT + V shortcut the load the Popup with information about any violations under the cursor. SHIFT + X loads the Pop-up with information about any nets and components under the cursor. Click the Mouse wheel to open the Pop-up with components, nets and violations currently under the cursor.

Panel Mode

The Board Insight Panel provides the same information as the popup view, in a panel, with no keystrokes required to update the contents. When you hover over component, net or violation objects they will be loaded into the panel, where you can edit them, change their selection state and navigate to them. The lower region of the panel includes the Board Insight Lens, giving you a close up view of the area currently under the cursor.
The Board Insight panel works like any other panel - it can be resized, docked or floated over the workspace. The information in the panel is updated after briefly pausing the cursor. Once the information is in the panel it will remain until the cursor is paused in a new location.
You can edit the objects, change their selection state and navigate to them from this mode.

Enhanced Visual PickList

A multi-layer PCB design makes for a dense and visually crowded workspace, with many objects on top of one another. The enhanced Visual PickList makes object selection simple. When the cursor is clicked (or double-clicked) and there are multiple objects under the cursor the Visual PickList will appear, as you move the mouse through the list the current object will select on the board, as well as being displayed in the floating view port, allowing for easy identification. The objects in the PickList are also sorted by layer.

Figure 6. The Visual PickList makes it easy to choose the correct object in a crowded workspace.

Dynamic Net Highlighting

Net highlighting is one of those essential PCB editing features that you use constantly. CTRL + Click on a net and everything in the workspace that is not part of the net you clicked on is faded, making the routing stand out, across all signal layers.
Making sense of complex PCB designs has been made even easier with the new dynamic net highlighting feature. Simply hold CTRL + ALT as you move the mouse, as soon as it is over a net, that net will be highlighted.

Displaying Net Names on Tracks


Have you ever wanted to be able to easily 'read' your design? Sure you can tell which component is which, but until now the routing gives you no feedback, appearing as a dense collection of unlabelled tracks. As part of the new Board Insight system each track now displays its net name, another handy Insight into your PCB design.

Enhanced Single-layer Display with Gray-scale

A popular feature with Altium Designer's PCB editor is the single layer display mode. A press on the SHIFT + S shortcut hides all display layers except the current layer, instantly de-cluttering your view to only show the objects on the layer you are working on.
Single layer mode has been enhanced by the addition of two new options, allowing you to retain other layer data in your view, except displaying it without color. Converting all other layer colors to gray-scale or monochrome lets you retain the spatial relationship information about the location of other objects in the design, without distracting you from the layer of interest.
Control these new options using the Background intensity slider under the Mask Level button in the PCB workspace.
Single layer mode behavior is configured in the PCB - Board Insight Display page of the Preferences dialog By default, all 3 single layer display modes are enabled, meaning that you will cycle through them as you press Shift+S . Use the check boxes in the Preferences dialog to turn off any options you do not want included when you press Shift+S .
Single layer mode also supports blind and buried vias, ensuring that the display accurately represents the via copper on the active layer.

User-configurable Pad and Via Details


Altium Designer now gives much greater control over the display of net and number detail on pads and vias. Configure the font, the color and the transparency color to work with your workspace colors in the PCB - Board Insight Display page of the Preferences dialog.
Strings are automatically presented as right-reading, aligned in the direction that maximizes the area available to display them.

Flip and Edit the Board

You can now work on the bottom of the board as easily as you work on the top. Use the new View » Flip Board command to turn over the entire workspace, just as if you were turning over the board in your hand. All standard actions and editing commands are supported, including routing, positioning components, and positioning text. Simply select the command again to flip the board back.


Figure 10. View the bottom from below by selecting View » Flip Board.
The coordinate space remains logically the same, so the workspace origin moves from the bottom left to the bottom right, and the current grid position increases in the X direction as you move the mouse from right to left, instead of the normal left to right. Any output generated while the view is flipped will maintain the correct viewed-from-top coordinate information.
The layer drawing order is also changed, using a logical-pair swapping process. This means that TopOverlay will swap positions in the current layer drawing order with BottomOverlay, TopLayer with BottomLayer, Mid Layer1 with Mid Layer30, Internal Plane1 with Internal Plane16, and so on. The drawing order of mechanical layers is not changed.
The view state is automatically restored to standard top-side viewing if the file is closed and reopened.

Smart Paste

As an engineer you know there are a large number of objects to be placed and connected as you build up your design. A common technique to accelerate this process is to copy similar objects that you have already used, paste them to where you are currently working, and modify them as required.
The schematic editor's new Smart Paste feature takes this approach to an entirely new level - using Smart Paste you can actually transform the copy of the selected objects into other objects as you paste them. For example the selected Net Labels can become Ports when pasted, or the selected Sheet Entries can become Ports+Wires+Net Labels, all in a single paste action.

Figure 11. Sheet Entries being transformed into Wires+Ports+Net Labels as they are Smart Pasted.
You also have complete control over which of the objects in the selection set you want to paste - no more carefully avoiding those wires as you select the Ports, simply clear the checkbox to ignore wires when you Smart Paste your selection.
Another handy feature is the ability to paste the selected circuitry as a graphic. Using this you can easily include a graphic of section of circuit on another sheet, and size it as required. Select Edit » Smart Paste to transform the clipboard objects as you paste them.

Parametric Hierarchical Design

Hierarchical design is one of the outstanding strengths of Altium Designer, allowing you to structure your design in a logical and meaningful fashion. Altium Designer's hierarchical design capabilities are not just for structuring the design though, they are also the backbone of the multi-channel design capabilities, and also makes it very easy to reuse a section of circuitry in different electronic product designs.
The challenge with reusing a section of design, for example pointing from a sheet symbol on your current project to your company's preferred power supply schematic, is that the values of the components are not always fixed from one design to the next. The new support for parametric hierarchical design solves this - it allows you to move the specification of the component values from the schematic sheet, into the sheet symbol that references that sheet. This capability also works in perfectly with multi-channel design (designs where the same section of circuitry is repeated), allowing you to have different component values in each channel.
Parametric components are defined by declaring their value as a parameter of the sheet symbol above, and then referencing that parameter on the target component.


Figure 12. A graphic equalizer with different capacitor values in each channel.
For example, a graphic equalizer can have the same circuit repeated many times, with the only difference between each channel being the component values. So a capacitor might take the values 0.12μF, 0.056μF, and 0.033μF in the different channels. Implementing this in Altium Designer is now simple since you can specify these values in the sheet symbol referencing each channel, eliminating the need to have many similar schematics with only component values being different.
Parametric hierarchy is not limited to component values; you can parametrically reference any component parameter or any text label on the schematic sheet. Another powerful feature of the system is that you can refer to parameters from a symbol that is many sheets up in the hierarchy; the system will search the hierarchy until it finds the matching parameter.

Smart Interactive Routing

Smart Interactive Routing is the name of Altium Designer's new intelligent interactive routing mode. Smart Interactive Routing works with you in an intuitive way, attempting to completely route the chosen connection along the shortest path, using horizontal, vertical and diagonal segments, while automatically walking around any obstacle along the path. Smart Interactive Routing will automatically complete the entire connection if both the start and end nodes are on the same layer, while maintaining any applicable design rules.
Select Place » Smart Interactive Routing from the menus to start smart routing, or select the command from the right-click menu.


Figure 13. A set of connections being Smart Interactive routed, hold Ctrl and click to completely route the current connection.
Since Smart Routing is an interactive routing tool you control the behavior using the cursor and the built-in shortcuts. It has 2 basic modes of operation, an auto complete mode where it will attempt to find a path for the entire connection, and auto-complete off, where it will attempt to route up to the current cursor location.
With auto complete on the segments up to the cursor are shown as solid and will place when you click, while the segments beyond the cursor are proposed, and are shown as dashed outlines. If you like the proposed path then simply hold CTRL as you click, and the entire connection is routed!
If you prefer to use it in a route-to-cursor type mode, simply press 5 to toggle auto complete off and the Smart Interactive Router will seek out a path from the connection start point up to the cursor, walking around obstacles along the way.
As well as walking around obstacles to avoid conflicting with them, you can instruct it to stop at the first conflict, or ignore conflicts - press SHIFT + R to cycle through the modes. To select another connection leaving the pad you are routing from press the 7 shortcut. Press the SPACEBAR to change the corner mode.
Press ~ (tilde) key while Smart Interactive Routing to display the available shortcuts.

Figure 14. Press the ~ (tilde) key while Smart Routing to display the shortcuts.

Scan any JTAG Device in Real Time

Boundary scan, or JTAG, as it is more commonly known, was developed as a system for testing digital integrated circuits mounted on the assembled printed circuit board, and for testing the interconnects provided by that board. Altium Designer 6.0 brings this level of JTAG testing to your development environment - right on your own project board.
Altium Designer has a complete JTAG communications system, and with the release of Altium Designer 6.0 this has been extended to support all JTAG compliant devices. By including the standard BSDL file supplied with each JTAG compliant device you have access to the pins on every JTAG device in your design, through the enhanced real-time JTAG viewer.

Enhanced Generic JTAG Device Support

Altium Designer's JTAG communications system has been enhanced to support all JTAG compliant devices. By including the standard BSDL file supplied with each JTAG device you have access to the pins on every JTAG device in your design.


Figure 15. Specify the BSDL file and the libraries to use for any JTAG based component.

The system even supports the situation where a BSDL file is not available for a device - simply set the instruction length for this device to zero and the JTAG system will continue to communicate to other devices in the chain.

Enhanced Real-Time JTAG Device Viewer

High density surface mount component packaging systems, such as Ball Grid Arrays (BGAs), mean that physically probing device pins is no longer possible - presenting you with a real challenge when it comes to debugging your design. Enter Altium Designer's enhanced Real-Time JTAG Device Viewer - suddenly physical design debugging has moved to a new level.


Figure 16. Examine the state of pins for any JTAG compliant device in your design.
The JTAG Device Viewer uses the JTAG communications standard to interrogate the state of the pins in any JTAG compliant device in your design, not just the FPGAs. It presents the state of each pin, and includes a image of both the schematic symbol and the footprint, helping you to analyze and debug your design.

View the Action on the PCB

Design debugging support also extends back to the design documents. Previously Altium Designer supported displaying the pin states back on the schematic, with the release of Altium Designer 6.0 you can also display the pin states on the PCB design - ideal for analyzing your design's performance.

Figure 17. Monitoring the state of device pins on the PCB.

Build Bigger, Better Boards

Designing with Differential Pairs

Differential signaling is fast becoming the preferred signaling interface method, driven by the ever increasing signal speeds in electronic products. By their very nature FPGAs are ideally suited to high-speed designs, and in support of this FPGA vendors are including differential signaling capabilities (LVDS), from their lower-cost devices right through to their high-end 1500+ pin mega-gate devices.
Altium Designer 6.0 has excellent support for differential signaling - from defining pairs on the schematic, through to interactive differential pair routing on the PCB. PCB routing is backed up by full support for pair swapping using Altium Designer's new dynamic net assignment capabilities, an exciting concept that can swap not only unrouted net pairs, but also partially routed net pairs, allowing you to harness the full benefits of the FPGA's reconfigurable design capabilities throughout the routing process.

Background

A differential signaling system is one where a signal is transmitted down a pair of tightly coupled carriers, one of these carrying the signal, the other carrying an equal but opposite image of the signal. Differential signaling was developed to cater for situations where the logic reference ground of the signal source could not be well connected to the logic reference ground of the load. Differential signaling is inherently immune to common mode electrical noise, the most common interference artifact present in an electronic product. Another major advantage of differential signaling is that it minimizes electromagnetic interference (EMI) generated from the signal pair.
Differential pair routing is a design technique employed to create a balanced transmission system able to carry differential (equal and opposite) signals across a printed circuit board. Typically this differential routing will interface to an external differential transmission system, such as a connector and cable.
It is important to note that while the coupling ratio achieved in a twisted pair differential cable may be better than 99%, the coupling achieved in differential pair routing will typically be less than 50%. Current expert opinion is that the PCB routing task is not to try to ensure a specific differential impedance is achieved, rather the objective is to maintain the properties required to ensure the differential signal arrives in good condition at the target component as it travels from the external cabling.
According to Lee Ritchey, a noted industry high-speed PCB design expert, successful differential signaling does not require working to a specific differential impedance. What it does require is:

  • To set each of the routing signal impedances to half the incoming differential cable impedance.
  • That each of the two signal lines is properly terminated in its own characteristic impedance at the receiver end.
  • That the two lines should be of equal length, to within tolerances of the logic family. Typically a length difference of up to 500mils is acceptable.
  • Use the benefit of routing the two signals side-by-side to help achieve good quality routing of matched lengths, where required it is acceptable to separate to route around obstacles.
  • Layer changes are acceptable, as long as the signal impedances are maintained.
    For more information, refer to the article Differential Signaling Doesn't Require Differential Impedance, by Lee W. Ritchey, available from http://www.speedingedge.com/RelatedArticles.htm.

Defining the Differential Pairs on the Schematic

Pairs can be defined on the schematic by placing a Differential Pair directive (Place » Directive). The net pair must be named with the suffixes of _N and _P. Differential pair definitions are then transferred to the PCB during design synchronization.


Figure 18. Place Directives on the schematic to define differential pairs.

Defining the Differential Pairs on the PCB


Figure 19. Differential pairs can be viewed and managed in the Differential Pair Editor. |

For those special circumstances where pairs cannot be defined on the schematic, differential Pair objects can also be defined in the PCB editor. To create a Differential Pair object in the PCB editor and assign two nets to it you can either select the two nets in the graphical space using the Place » Differential Pair command, or click the Create From Nets button in the PCB editor panel, set to the new Differential Pair Editor mode.

Viewing and Managing the Pairs

Differential pair definitions are viewed and managed in the PCB editor panel, set to Differential Pairs Editor. Figure 19 shows the pairs that belong to the All Differential Pairs class. Pair D_V_TX1 is highlighted, the nets in this pair are V_TX1N and V_TX1P. The and displayed next to each member net name is a system flag, indicating if it is the positive or negative member of the pair.

Applicable Design Rules

There are three design rules you will need to configure to route a differential pair. These are:

  • Routing Width - defines the routing width required for both nets in the pair. Set the scope of this rule to target objects that are members of a differential pair, eg. InDifferentialPair .
  • Differential Pairs Routing - defines the separation between the nets in the pair, the gap allowed, and the overall uncoupled length (the pair is uncoupled when the gap is wider than the Max Gap setting). Set the scope of this rule to target objects that are a differential pair, eg. IsDifferentialPair .
  • Match Net Length - define how much the overall routing lengths can differ for the two nets in the pair. Note that the rule is also used to configure the routing shape to be used if you run the Equalize Net Length command. Set the scope of this rule to target objects that are a differential pair, eg. IsDifferentialPair .

Setting the Scope of the Design Rules

The scope of the design rule defines the set of objects that you want the rule to applied to. Since a differential pair is an object, you can use queries like the following examples to scope the rule to target differential pairs:

  • InDifferentialPairClass('All Differential Pairs') - targets all nets in all pairs belonging to the differential pair class called All Differential Pairs.
  • InDifferentialPair('D_V_TX1') - targets both nets in the differential pair named D_V_TX1.
  • InAnyDifferentialPair - targets any object that is in a differential pair.
  • (IsDifferentialPair And (Name Like 'D'))* - targets all differential pair objects whose name starts with the letter D.

Using the Differential Pair Wizard to Define the Rules


Figure 20. The differential pair rule wizard

Clicking the Rule Wizard button in the Differential Pairs Editor (PCB panel) will walk you through the process of setting the required design rules. Note that the scope used for the created rules will depend on what was selected when the Rule Wizard button was clicked - if one pair was selected the rules will target that pair and its nets, but if a differential pair class was selected then the rules will target all the nets and pairs in that class.

Routing a Differential Pair

Differential pairs are routed as a pair - that is you route two nets simultaneously. To route a differential pair select Place » Differential Pair Routing from the menus. You will be prompted to select one of the nets in the pair, click on either to start routing. Figure 21 shows a differential pair being routed. To make the connection lines for the pair easier to see, click on the pair in the Differential Pair Editor. This will mask all other nets in the design.

Figure 21. Both nets in the differential pair are routed simultaneously, press
~ (tilde) to see the shortcuts.

Differential pairs are routed using Altium Designer's new Smart Interactive Routing mode, which is described earlier in this document. Standard routing shortcuts remain, such as pressing the *** key on the numeric keypad to switch to the next routing layer. For a list of all shortcuts available during differential pair routing, press the ~ (tilde) key.

Full Differential Pair Support for FPGA Designs, Including Pin-pair Swapping

Modern FPGAs, even those with very low cost, have a large number of I/O pins that can be configured as differential pairs. To make it easy to harness the power of these Altium Designer 6.0 includes full support for integration of FPGA-based differential pairs, in both the FPGA design and the PCB design.
In your FPGA design you can assign a single net to a differential I/O standard, such as LVDS, and this will be mapped to a pair of physical nets at the PCB design level. This process is under your control using the FPGA Signal Manager.
The design compiler can also determine if the pins used as differential pairs at the PCB design level map correctly to the allowable pairs on an FPGA device.

Figure 22. Differential support flows from FPGA design through to PCB design.

Signal Integrity Support for Differential Pairs

Altium Designer's Signal Integrity analyzer provides full support for the simulation of differential pairs. This uses the correct signal integrity model for pins when using the LVDS standard with FPGAs.

Pin / Part Swapping with Dynamic Net Assignment

Working in harmony with the new differential pair routing and BGA escape routing capabilities is the new pin swapping capabilities. This feature provides all the benefits of traditional pin-swapping systems, but takes advantage of Altium Designer's intimate understanding of the net assignments in the design to lift pin swapping to a new level. During a pin swap operation Altium designer analyses the net assigned to the chosen pin, and dynamically reassigns the net on any connected routing.


Figure 23. The 2-stage automatic pin/net optimizer minimizes connection length and crossovers.

This level of functionality means that partially routed nets and pre-routed multilayer escapes from complex BGA devices can now be swapped. Differential pairs can now also be swapped, taking advantage of the knowledge about differential pin-pairs on FPGAs.
At the PCB level the system includes a powerful automatic optimizer that uses this information to dynamically re-assign nets to improve routability. For example, the system can perform a reconnect on multiple devices that have been escape routed on multiple layers. It will assign these based on matching escape route layers, shortest Manhattan routing distance, and minimum number of crossovers on each layer.
The addition of partial routed net swapping, along with the automatic optimizer gives you the ability to adopt a hierarchical and iterative routing strategy, escape routing devices first, then routing to the edge of a given area, and then finally connecting these sections together. At any time, the automatic swapper can be re-run to re-optimize, based on the updated information provided by the partially routed nets.

Configuring Pin and Part Swapping

Pin and part swap-ability settings are stored in the schematic component, while the option to allow pin or part swapping on a specific component is enabled in the PCB editor, and stored in the PCB component.
Pin swap settings can be configured in the schematic and schematic library editors, or the PCB editor, look for a Configure Pin Swapping command in the Tools menu of each editor. Selecting this will open the Swap Manager, Figure 24 shows the PCB editor Swap Manager. The Swap Manager lists all components used in the design (or library), with their current swap settings. The PCB editor Swap Manager includes additional columns for enabling/disabling swapping on each component on the board.
The Swap Manager includes a powerful right-click menu, making it very easy to quickly copy the settings from one component to another, or enable/disable multiple components in a single click.

Figure 24. Use the Swap Manager to configure and manage pin swapping for all components in the design.

Double-clicking on a component will open the Configure Pin Swapping dialog, as shown in Figure 25 and Figure 26. Here you can set up both the pin and part swapping specifications for that device.


Figure 25. Configure the pin and part swapping for an individual component, in this case an FPGA.

The basic rule of swap-ability is that if they share the same swap value, then they can be swapped. Consider the simple examples shown below, the pin swapping configuration for a quad OR gate, and a quad op-amp.

Pin/part swap settings for a quad OR gate

Pin/part swap settings for a quad op-amp


Figure 26. Use alpha and numerical swap values to define swap-ability.

From the previous figure the following can be observed:

  • Within each of the 4 gates in the quad OR gate, the 2 input pins can be swapped with each other, but the output pin has no pin with a matching swap value within that part. On the other hand, the quad op-amp has no swappable pins.
  • The Part Group column defines the swap-ability of the part that that pin belongs to. Note that it does not define which part the pin belongs to, that is defined by the way the component was created in the schematic library. All 4 parts in both quad devices are swappable with any other part in that device.
  • Pins with no Pin Group swap value are not swappable, as shown for the quad op-amp.
  • Pins with no Part Group swap value means that the part they belong to is not swappable.
  • The Part-Sequence defines the pin correspondence between parts. This information is required so that the part swapper knows how to re-allocate the nets to each pin in the part when a swap is performed. Note that for the quad OR gate either input pin can map to either input pin when a part swap occurs. Note that for the quad op-amp the net on a negative input pin must go to another negative input pin when a part swap occurs.

Swapping Pins and Parts

Pin/part swapping is enabled/disabled for a component once it is placed on the PCB. You can enable it selectively for any component in the PCB Inspector panel (click once on the component to select it, then press F11 to display the Inspector). Alternatively, you can enable pin and/or part swapping for any component on the board in the Swap Manager, as shown in Figure 24. Use the right-click menu in this dialog to quickly set the swap options for multiple components.
Once pin/part swapping has been enabled, use the commands in the PCB editor's Tools » Pin/Part Swapping sub-menu to perform a pin or part swap.
The process is essentially the same for both pin and part swapping, after selecting the command everything in the PCB workspace is masked (faded), except those pins that are swappable. The Status line will prompt you for the next action, to choose a sub-net (for a pin swap) or sub-part (for a part swap). After clicking on a pin, you will be prompted to select the target net or sub-part to swap with. Figure 27 shows this for a quad resistor array, for a pin-swap the target net is the resistor's other pin, for a part-swap the target sub-part is one of the other 3 resistors in the array.

Figure 27. Swappable pins are highlighted (first image). After clicking the first pin during a pin swap, possible target pins are highlighted (centre image. ) After clicking a pin in the part during a part swap, the target parts are highlighted (last image).

BGA Escape Routing


Figure 28. Note how the escape route feature presents each connected pad as an accessible route outside the edge of the BGA.

Altium Designer has excellent surface mount component fanout tools. These have been enhanced by the addition of support for BGA Escape routing. The escape routing engine will attempt to route each pad out to just beyond the edge of the device - making the remaining routing challenge much easier.
Figure 28 shows the escape routing from a 1mm pad pitch BGA. Used inner pads are first fanned out using the traditional dog-bone (a short route with a via on the end) to access another layer, and then from the via they are escape routed out just beyond the edge of the device, working through the available routing layers until all pads have been escape routed.
Right-click on a BGA and select Component Actions » Fanout Component from the context menu. The routing will be done in accordance with the applicable design rules. A report of all pads that could not be escape routed will be generated and opened, click on an entry in the report to cross probe to the PCB and examine that object.

TrueType Font Support


Figure 29. Use the new TrueType font support to display text
in your preferred font face.

The PCB editor now has full support for TrueType® fonts. This gives you access to all the TrueType fonts available on your PC, including Unicode-character sets, such as Japanese. Place your company or product name in your preferred font and give your board the high-quality look it deserves.
All PCB text strings can be set to one of the PCB editor's 3 built-in fonts, or to a TrueType font available on the PC. As well as Bold and Italic, TrueType strings can also be inverted, ideal when you need a string in the copper.
Fonts can be embedded in the PCB file by enabling the Embed TrueType fonts option in the Preferences dialog. If a TrueType font is not embedded and the font is not available when the file is reopened on a different PC, the specified alternate system font will be used in its place.
TrueType characters are rendered as region objects when Gerber or ODB++ output is generated, giving full support through to board fabrication.

Improved Interactive Routing

One of the most focused and intense phases of board design is routing. Altium Designer is known for its excellent interactive routing capabilities, intuitively giving you the right track width on that layer, easing the path finding process with the look-ahead feature, and instantly removing any redundant track segments when you re-route a section as you explore possible route path options.
Interactive routing draws its information from the design rules, when you select Interactive Routing and click on a pad to start routing the rules system supplies the correct track width to use on that layer, and ensures that the required clearances are maintained. While this fulfills your routing needs most of the time, as a designer you know that there are times when you need finer control over the routing process.


Figure 30. Select from the list of favorite routing widths by pressing SHIFT
+ W during routing. |

Altium Designer 6.0 brings a new level of control to interactive routing. While still giving you the confidence and security of the boundaries defined by the design rules, there are new options that give added flexibility in operating within them. To change the width during interactive routing you can:

  1. Pick from a list of favorite widths while you route, press SHIFT + W to display the Choose Routing Width list, click a new value, and continue routing. Edit the entries in the list via the Interactive Routing page of the Preferences dialog.
  2. Alternatively, define your preferred widths for a net in the Edit Net dialog. Right-click on any object in a net, and choose Properties from the Net Actions sub menu to open the Edit Net dialog. Or double click on the net name in the PCB panel to open the dialog. These user-choice values are stored with the net.
  3. For the ultimate level of control, you can enter a specific width while you are routing. Using Altium Designer's generic edit on-the-fly feature that is available during schematic or PCB object placement, pressing TAB will open the Interactive Routing for Net dialog, simply type in the new value and press ENTER to apply the value to the connection being routed.
    You still have the full protection of the rules system, if the number you choose is outside the min-max rule setting then the width you get will be clipped back to the minimum or maximum, whichever is appropriate.
    An intuitive extension to the interactive router's behavior is its ability to pick up the width from existing routes. When you start routing this feature will automatically assign the new route the same width as the existing routing. To temporarily inhibit the pickup behavior hold the SHIFT key as you start to route. Or to pickup a width from some other existing track under the cursor, press the INSERT key. Current layer objects have higher priority.
    Interactive routing options are configured in the PCB Editor - Interactive Routing page of the Preferences dialog.

Figure 31. Edit the net attributes, including the current interactive routing settings, in the Edit Net dialog.

Preserve Track Angles While Dragging

During board design you will often want to move existing routing. This process has been greatly simplified in Altium Designer 6.0. When you drag a track segment the angle to adjoining track segments is preserved, maintaining the routing quality. This capability is enabled by turning on the Preserve Angle When Dragging option in the PCB General page of the Preferences dialog. A track segment is dragged (remains attached to the segments at either end) if it is selected before you Click
+ Drag. You can also use the new CTRL + Click
+ Drag shortcuts to drag without first selecting.
With this option enabled you can also create new segments by dragging the end handle on a track segment - a new track segment is added, maintaining the horizontal/45/vertical behavior. To inhibit the add-segment behavior, hold the ALT key before performing the drag operation. The new dragging method obeys the Ignore Obstacle and Avoid Obstacle routing modes (use the SHIFT
+ R shortcuts to cycle through the modes).

Figure 32. Preserve angles as you drag a track segment.

Fully Integrated with your Company's Database

Full Database-driven Part Libraries

Component libraries can now be constructed with all symbol reference, model linking and parameter information stored in an ODBC or ADO based database, or an Excel spreadsheet. Each record in the database represents a component, storing all of the parameters, along with links to the models. The record can include links to inventory or other corporate component data.
With this approach the schematic component is only used as a symbol, with the models (footprint, 3D Model and simulation model) stored in standard schematic library files, PCB library files, and so on.
Components are placed from the database by installing a new DBLib document in the Libraries panel, with the DBLib document being configured to reference the component database.
Placing Components Directly from a Database
Figure 33. When you place from a DBLib all the component information comes directly from your database.
A popular request has been to allow placing components directly from a database. This is now possible with the new Database Library feature. The new Database Library, or DBLib, is added to and presents like any other library in the Altium Designer Libraries panel - you can browse the list of components, examine the component symbol and its models, and place the component.
Behind the DBLib that you are browsing in the Libraries panel is your database, each component in the panel corresponding to a record in the database. As well as company type data, such as cost or stock number, the database will also specify the Altium Designer schematic symbol, the footprint, and other models that are part of the component. When you click the Place button in the Libraries panel the symbol is extracted from the specified Schematic library, and component properties, such as the footprint and component parameters, are added as you place it on the sheet.

The DBLib is a document that you edit in Altium Designer. You can think of the DBLib as a set of mapping instructions, where you specify what data in each record is to be mapped to the component's parameters and models. The link to the database can be established in a variety of ways, from simply browsing and selecting the Access database or Excel spreadsheet, right through to using a Data Link File (*.UDL).


Figure 34. Specify the component database, and the fields to be linked to parameters.

Integrated Library to Database Library Translation Wizard

Altium Designer 6.0 includes a new Library Translation Wizard , ideal for converting your company Integrated Libraries into the new Database Library structure. With a DBLib document open, launch the Wizard by selecting Tools » Import from Integrated Libraries from the menus. The wizard will decompile the integrated libraries and build database tables, complete with parameter and model information extracted from the components. You can then remove all parameter and model information from the symbols, and configure the DBLib document to reference the appropriate database columns.

Direct OrCAD® CIS Support

Built on the foundation of the new database library system, Altium Designer now provides full support for connection to and use of existing OrCAD Component Information Systems.

Include Database Data Directly into your Bill of Materials

If you have placed your components from a Database Library, then you will appreciate an extra capability that it brings. For components that have been placed from a Database Library the BOM generator is able to directly extract any other component record information and include it in the BOM. For example, if you did not want to include the preferred supplier information in the schematic but require it in the BOM - you can do this with the new Database Library capabilities. Refer to the Enhanced Excel BOM Interface section later in this document for more information.

Design Complex Products with Ease

Import Wizard - Simplified Importing from other Design Tools

One task that has always been a difficult challenge is being able to move electronic product designs from one design environment to another. Whether you have changed design tools or acquired designs from another company, at some stage you will need to import a schematic or PCB design into Altium Designer.

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Figure 35. Choose the type of files to import.

Altium Designer 6.0 unifies the import process for importing designs from a variety of different design tools. The new Importer Wizard walks you through the import process, handling both the Schematic and PCB parts of the project, as well as managing the relationship between them.
The architecture of the new Importing Wizard is designed to allow the easy addition of new importers, without additional complexity for the designer using the system.
From the Wizard you can then select to import the following types of design projects:

  • Protel 99 SE design databases
  • CircuitMaker 2000 schematics and libraries
  • P-CAD schematic and PCB designs and libraries
  • OrCAD schematic and PCB designs and libraries
  • PADS PCB designs and libraries

Design Snippets - Easy Reuse of Existing Designs


Figure 36. Right-click in the Snippets panel to add a snippet.

If your designs often include sections of circuitry used in other designs then you will make good use of the new design Snippets feature. A simple and easy to use feature, the Snippets system lets you save any selection of circuitry on a single schematic sheet, or any selection of a PCB design, including the components and the routing.
Schematic and PCB selections are saved as snippets in the new Snippets panel, right-click in the panel to add the current selection as a snippet.
Snippets can be organized into standard Windows folders on your network, click the Snippets Folders button to add an existing folder to the list of available folders in the Snippets panel. Each snippet is stored in a standard schematic or PCB file.

Object Unions


Figure 37. Right-click in the workspace to access the Unions menu.

Often you will want to work on a section of a design in a block-like fashion, for example during a design restructure. The enhanced Union feature is ideal for this, using it you can easily group any objects together as a Union.
Unions are created automatically for the objects in a design Snippet, and you can select any schematic or PCB design objects and define them as a Union. When you click and hold to move an object in a union you will move all the objects in that union.
Use the commands in the right-click Unions sub menu to create or reconfigure a Union.

Pasting External Information into Schematic Sheets

Altium Designer 6.0 brings full graphical clipboard support to the Schematic Editor. This support means you can perform a copy in virtually any Windows application, such as PowerPoint, Excel, Visio, or your preferred technical or graphical application, and paste the results onto your schematic.

Figure 38. Paste graphical information directly from the clipboard onto a schematic, either from another application, or from an Altium Designer grid control, including any panel or dialog with a table-like design.
All layout and formatting applied in the original application is retained, greatly improving the quality of documentation you can generate from the system.
The data in the Windows clipboard can be either in Metafile format (to keep graphical information, such as Excel data), or plain text, ready to paste into a note or text-frame, or even paste as a set of ports or net labels, using the new Smart Paste feature.

Copying Reports into Schematic Sheets

All Altium Designer grid controls have also been upgraded to support a Windows metafile-type copy to the clipboard. This allows the content of any grid control to be copied and then pasted directly into another application, such as Excel, or onto a schematic sheet. This allows you to easily add information to schematic sheets from almost anywhere in the software, including the BOM, or the Design Rules for example.
Use the Windows standard shortcuts to select and copy content from the grid controls (CTRL + A to select all, CTRL + C to copy, CTRL + Click to cumulatively select).

Figure 39. Copy and paste any grid information directly into a schematic sheet.

Footprint Manager - Manage Footprints across the Entire Design

Altium Designer's schematic editor now includes a powerful Footprint Manager. Launched from the Tools menu, the Footprint Manager lets you review all the footprints associated with every component in the entire project. The Footprint Manager makes it easy to review and detect problems with footprint assignments across the entire design, particularly useful when you are working on a legacy design or one from another organization.
Multi-select support makes it easy to edit the footprint assignment for multiple components, change how the footprint is linked, or change the current footprint assignment for components that have multiple footprints assigned. Design changes are applied through Altium Designer's standard ECO system, updating both the schematic and the PCB if required.


Figure 40. Manage footprint assignments across the entire project with the new Footprint Manager.

Compare and Update PCB Components from Libraries

Altium Designer 6 introduces a new Update from PCB Libraries feature that will give you complete confidence that the footprints on the board exactly match those in the source libraries. It performs a full analysis and comparison of all objects in both the board and library version of each footprint, and details every difference. For any footprints that do not match you can individually select if that footprint is to be updated or not.


Figure 41. The new Update from PCB Libraries feature does a full comparison of every footprint used on the board and updates them from all source libraries, from a single location.

PCB Reports in XML or HTML


Figure 42. An HTML based report showing board information.

PCB reports can now be generated in a variety of formats, including the original text format, HTML and XML. Open the Reports page of the Preferences dialog to configure the reports. All reports are actually generated in XML, and then an appropriate XSL (Extensible Stylesheet Language) transformation is applied to create the output in the required format. From the Preferences dialog you can select you own XSL transformation file, use this capability to present the report in your company's preferred format.

Harnessing Programmable Devices

Configurable 8 to 64 bit Logic Analyzer (LAX)


Figure 43. Feed the required signals into the LAX in sets,
then monitor and trigger off any set during runtime.

The FPGA Logic Analyzer is a powerful tool in your design verification and debugging arsenal. Using it you can monitor the state of multiple nodes inside the FPGA design. Altium Designer 6.0 sports a new, configurable logic analyzer, that gives you run-time control over which bus or nets are being monitored, and which are being used to trigger off.
The new LAX is a configurable component, supporting 8, 16, 32 or 64 bit capture. It also incorporates an internal multiplexer, using this you can configure the LAX to monitor any number of nets and buses, and then select which set of signals is to be captured while the circuit is under test.
You can also trigger off the external trigger, or define any trigger pattern on any of the available sets of signals.
Right-click and select Configure to define the number of nets and buses to be monitored, to name them, and to group them into logical sets.

Disassemble the LAX Data


If you have used a logic analyzer with a processor then you have probably wished you could easily interpret the data being captured as the code under execution.
Altium Designer 6.0 delivers this ability - simply select the processor being monitored in the LAX Data panel and a disassembly column will be displayed, giving you immediate feedback on the state of your code. You can also display disassembled instructions in the waveform viewer.

Intelligent Instrument Probes

LiveDesign is the name given to Altium Designer's unique real time testing and debugging capabilities - where you can implement the design in a target FPGA and then interact with it using the virtual instruments and embedded processor debuggers. Your LiveDesign capabilities have been enhanced with the addition of Instrument Probes.
Instrument Probes simplify the task of connecting the net of interest up to the instrument, for example the logic analyzer. You no longer need to wire that net up through the design hierarchy to the sheet with the instrument on it, the instrument probe instructs the system to connect the net being probed directly to the instrument. The Instrument Probe can be placed on any schematic that is lower in the design hierarchy than the sheet the instrument is on.

Enhanced 32-bit Processor Support

The system has been radically enhanced in the 32-bit processor system area.
It is now possible to seamlessly move an embedded software design between soft-core processors, hybrid hard-core processors and discrete processors with an FPGA 'wrapper'.
All processors are wrapped by a Wishbone OpenBUS wrapper which allows peripherals defined in the FPGA to be used transparently with any type of processor.
An FPGA OpenBUS wrapper around discrete, hard-wired peripherals also allows them to be moved seamlessly between processors.
This combination of device and processor software systems, together with normalized FPGA-based wrappers, makes the processor-based system look the same to the application code. There is still full access to processor and peripherals features, including the hardware or software vectored interrupt systems.
With this release the range of 32-bit processors that are supported includes: the Xilinx MicroBlaze processor, the TSK3000 32-bit FPGA-based processor, the Virtex-II Pro-based PowerPC 405 hard-core, the discrete AMCC 405 processor range and the Sharp BlueStreak ARM7 range of discrete processors.
Each processor is fully supported with Altium's highly optimizing TASKING Viper C-Compilers, along with full source-level JTAG-based debugging.
Plug-in NanoBoard Daughter Boards will be available for these discrete processors, as well as new daughter boards with SDRAM, SRAM and Flash memory to provide a complete and fully retargetable FPGA-MCU development system.

Wishbone OpenBUS Processor Wrappers

To normalize access to hardware and peripherals each discrete processor has a wishbone OpenBUS-based FPGA core that 'wraps' around the processor.
The OpenBUS wrappers can be implemented in any FPGA and allow the designer to implement FPGA-based portable cores, taking advantage of the device driver system in Altium Designer for both FPGA-based soft-core peripherals as well as connections to off-chip discrete peripherals and memory devices.
In addition to this, the new configurable memory controller can be used to connect to off-chip memories of various types.

Processor Abstraction System

This new system provides a plug-in processor abstraction system that normalizes the interface to interrupt systems and other hardware specific elements.
The system provides an identical interface to the processor's interrupt system, whether soft or hard-vectored. This allows different processors to be used transparently with identical source code bases.

Support for ARM Discrete Processors

Altium Designer now includes a complete Viper tool-chain for ARM-based processors. This includes Viper C-Compiler, CrossView debugger, instruction set simulator and profiling tools. The initial release includes support for the following ARM instruction set versions:

  • ARMv4
  • ARMv4T
  • ARMv5
  • ARMv5T
  • ARMv5TE
  • XScale
    This includes the following ARM core families:
  • ARM7 Family
    - ARM720T, ARM7EJ-S, ARM7TDMI and ARM7TDMI-S
  • ARM9 Family
    - ARM920T and ARM922T
  • ARM9E Family
    - ARM926EJ-S , ARM946E-S, ARM966E-S and ARM968E-S
  • ARM10E Family
    - ARM1020E, ARM1022E and ARM1026EJ-S
    Altium Designer 6.0 also includes wishbone wrapper support for Sharp BlueStreak LH79520 (ARM720T) discrete processors.


Figure 46. Both hardware and embedded software support is available for discrete ARM processors.

Support for the AMCC PowerPC Discrete Processor

Altium Designer now includes a complete Viper tool-chain for PowerPC-based processors. This includes Viper C-Compiler, CrossView debugger, instruction set simulator and profiling tools.
The initial release includes support for the 405 PowerPC cores which includes:

  • Xilinx Virtex-2 Pro based PPC405
  • AMCC PowerPC 405 discrete processor family (NPe405H, NPe405L, PPC405CR, PPC405EP, PPC405GP, PPC405GPr)
    This release includes wishbone wrapper support for the AMCC 405CR and the Xilinx Virtex-2 Pro based PPC405.


Figure 47. Both hardware and embedded software support is available for discrete Power PC processors.

Support for MicroBlaze Softcore Processor

The Xilinx MicroBlaze processor has been integrated with Altium Designer. This allows designs to be completed that take advantage of this highly optimized FPGA-based processor.
The MicroBlaze support includes a highly optimizing C-Compiler that provides significant improvements over the free GNU based open source compiler provide with the Xilinx tools.
The MicroBlaze processor can only be used with Xilinx FPGA devices. To use it within Altium Designer the Xilinx EDK is required along with a valid MicroBlaze license.


Figure 48. Full embedded toolchain support is included for MicroBlaze processors, as well as FPGA hardware design.

Updated Memory Controller

The Wishbone OpenBUS memory controller has been updated to support SDRAM and flash memory.

Upgraded TSK165 soft-core RISC Processor

A new configurable TSK165 8-bit processor has been added that can be dynamically configured with the addition of ports and memory. This eliminates the need to manually add internal memory, or to manually split up ports for this device. The new ports can be configured as buses or as individual wire ports. The speed at which the processor can run has also been enhanced.

Memory Inference and Synthesis

The Altium synthesizer now supports inference and synthesis of FPGA block memories for all target FPGAs. Where the target architecture supports it, the synthesizer supports dual read ports, dual write ports and separate clocks for the two ports.

Verilog Output

Verilog support was enhanced in Altium Designer 2004 SP4, with the introduction of support for Verilog blocks in your design. This support has been further upgraded with the introduction of a new Verilog netlister, allowing you to use Verilog throughout the FPGA design process.

Altera Cyclone II support


Altium Designer now has full support for the Altera Cyclone II family of FPGA devices.

Actel ProASIC3 support


Altium Designer now has full support for the Actel ProASCI3 and 3E family of FPGA devices.

Back Annotation from Vendor Pin Files


Figure 49. Import pin allocation information directly from FPGA vendor pin files. |

FPGA schematic components can now be updated directly from the FPGA vendor pin file. Back-annotation data support includes pin name and electrical type. This feature does not require the FPGA to have been designed in Altium Designer, all popular vendor pin files can be read directly. Right-click on the schematic symbol for the FPGA and select Part Actions » Import FPGA Pin File from the floating context menu.

Keep Up-to-date with Altium Designer

The Knowledge Center - Help at your Fingertips


Figure 50. Use the Knowledge Center to learn about what you are doing, or use it to browse and search the extensive PDF-based documentation library.

The Altium Designer documentation has been reorganized and restructured to make it more accessible to you. The documentation is accessed through the new Knowledge Center panel.
The Knowledge Center panel presents help information while you work. It tracks the command, dialog, object, or panel that is currently under the cursor and loads help about it - hover for a second or so for the content to appear. Want to keep the current content that is displayed? Then click the Autoupdate button to disable auto-loading. You can still use F1 to load content with autoupdate disabled.
The Knowledge Center is a portal, from the concise help summary displayed in the top of the panel there are links to PDF based reference and applied documents.
The lower section in the panel has a navigation tree, use this to browse through the PDF-based documentation, and open a document of interest.
The Knowledge Center includes a powerful PDF searching feature, available at the bottom of the panel. Pages that include all words in the search string are returned (except common words such as and, or, etc). The search scope is determined by your current location in the navigation structure.

Easy Access to Keyboard Shortcuts


Figure 51. The keyboard shortcut panel and popup shortcut menu for Interactive Routing.

Perhaps the single thing you can do to become more productive in any software environment is to learn the shortcut keys. Keystrokes are more efficient than carefully positioning a mouse over a button or drilling through menus, and once learned become second nature. In a multi-editor environment like Altium Designer it can be hard to remember the shortcuts, particularly those special-purpose ones that are available when you are running a command. To help with this a new shortcut menu has been added, that can be used from within all interactive Schematic and PCB commands. When a command is running, for example Interactive Routing, simply press the tilda key (~) and a menu will appear, listing all of the valid shortcuts for that stage of the interactive command. Use the menu to read the shortcuts, or use it as a menu and select the required option with the mouse.
There is also a new Shortcuts panel that displays keyboard shortcuts that are available in Altium Designer. The panel is context aware, not only does it update as you move from one editor to another, it also updates when you select a command, showing the available in-process shortcuts. This is ideal for designers that move back and forth between design applications and find it difficult to remember that favorite shortcut. In-process shortcuts can also be accessed by pressing the ~ (tilde) key.

Web Update

A new web update feature has been implemented allowing you to easily keep your Altium Designer software, libraries and documentation up to date.
Keeping your Altium Designer installation up to date is easy with the new Web Update feature. As well as checking for available updates on the Altium Website, you can also configure it to check a network location - ideal if your company has multiple installations of Altium Designer.

Figure 52. Keep your installation of Altium Designer up to date with the new Web Update feature.

By Popular Demand

Schematic Editing and Productivity Enhancements

Automatic Sheet Entry Creation

Another handy addition to Altium Designer is the new Place Sheet Entries automatically option. With this option enabled a sheet entry is defined automatically when you wire up to the edge of a Sheet Symbol. The name will be taken from an existing net identifier on the net, and the IO direction set to suit any connected pins, ports or sheet entries.

Multi-wire / Multi-track Editing

Do you find that you often need to extend a group of wires? Then you'll appreciate the new multi-wire editing mode in the schematic editor. If multiple parallel wires share a coordinate for their end vertex, then when you click and drag to move the end of one wire vertex the end vertex of all other selected wires will also move, keeping the wire ends aligned.
The ability to extend multiple objects has also been added in the PCB editor. With multiple track segments selected, choose Move / Resize Tracks from the Move sub-menu and click to resize all selected segments.


Figure 53. Drag and release one vertex, and all aligned vertices will move to remain aligned.

Toggle Port Direction


Figure 54. Toggle Selected Ports flips all selected ports

Ports can now be flipped at the click of a button. You can select one or several ports and flip them using an option in the right-click menu.

Highlight your Schematic Design with Arrows
The Line object now supports a variety of arrow head and tail shapes, ideal for annotating your design to improve the presentation quality and make it more readable. Dashed and dotted like options are also available, for all line widths.

In Place Text Editing

Text presented in a Schematic Note or Text Frames can be edited directly on the schematic, speeding the editing process, and allowing you to see the layout of the text as you type.

Figure 56. Editing text directly in a Note or Text Frame gives you immediate feedback about the text layout.

Power Port Net Name

Power port net names can now be displayed or hidden for all power port styles, including Power Ground, Signal Ground and Earth style.

Stronger P-CAD Netlist Support

The P-CAD netlister has been updated, to give strong support for designers using Altium Designer for design capture, and P-CAD PCB for PCB design.

Net Identifier placement

Move through possible net labels using Ctrl+arrow keys.

PCB Editing and Productivity Enhancements

Protect Intentional Routing Loops

Altium Designer's PCB has excellent support for re-routing existing routes, simply select Place » Interactive Routing, and reroute the existing route along a new path - as soon as you terminate routing, any of the old track segments that are redundant are automatically removed. This feature is referred to as Loop Removal.
There are times when this behavior works against you though, for example when you are routing a power net. It is now possible to disable Loop Removal selectively for any net, simply double click on a net name in the panel and clear the Remove Loops checkbox in the Edit Nets dialog.

Accelerate your Interactive Routing

Interactive routing has long been a strength of Altium Designer. When you route interactively the 'look-ahead' segment allows you to accurately position the current segment, working in harmony with the 'slam-n-jam' or 'push-n-shove' routing modes.
Interactive routing has been enhanced by the addition of a completion detector, if your next click will finish the connection then both of the segments are placed, and then you are ready to route another connection. You can also operate in a 'place 2' mode, where you are placing both the look ahead and the previous segment. Press the
~ key during interactive routing to display a list of interactive routing shortcuts.

Improved Layer Navigation

Hold CTRL + SHIFT while rolling the mouse wheel to move through the currently enabled PCB layers.
Accelerator keys have also been added in the Board Layers and Colors dialog, so when the dialog is open you have single key toggling of the display state of signal, plane and overlay layers. The accelerator key is shown in brackets next to each layer, for example (T) toggles the Top Layer on and off. The Board Layers and Colors dialog can be opened by pressing the L shortcut key.


Figure 57. Define the X and Y offset amounts in the Move Selection dialog.

Improved Polygon Pour Performance

Polygon pouring speed has been substantially improved, making working with polygons faster and easier.
The drawing engine of PCB has been significantly enhanced using the Microsoft DirectX system. This will provide dramatic speed and smoothness enhancements on graphics cards with hardware acceleration capabilities.

Move by Offset

The current selection in both the schematic and PCB editors can be offset by a precise amount in both the X and Y directions using the new Edit » Move » Move Selection By X,Y command.

Separate Drill Files for Plated and Non-plated Holes

Separate ASCII format drill file are automatically generated for all plated holes, and non-plated holes, simplifying the preparation of the fileset for board fabrication.


Figure 58. A window showing the AutoCAD import options available.

Enhanced DXF/DWG Interface

DXF and DWG are popular file formats for transferring data between design tools. DXF/DWG export has been enhanced by new controls that allow exporting selected objects with zero line widths, ideal when the data is to become part of a dimensioned mechanical drawing. DXF/DWG import has also been enhanced, you can now apply scaling, define the default line width, and specify the insertion location.

Improved MCAD Data Exchange

Exporting of designs to IGES and IDF has been greatly improved. The exported files are now much smaller, making them easier to import into your MCAD environment.

Output Generation

Enhanced Excel BOM Interface

The BOM interface has been updated and a number of new Excel templates have been added, making it easier to use and deliver the output you need.


Figure 59. Include information directly from a database when the components are placed from a Database Library.

Include Document and Project Parameters in the BOM

Parameters are a universal feature of Altium Designer, you can add them to the project, a document, a component, almost any object in fact. Project and document parameters can now be extracted from the design and included in the Bill of Materials. Document parameters are included with each component that comes from that document, and project parameters can be mapped to pre-defined Fields in your Excel template, as shown below.

Figure 60. Include project parameters in your BOM by defining Fields in the Excel template.

Pick and Place Output Generation

Pick and place output is now available for multi-PCB boards created with the PCB Editor's Embedded Board Array feature.

Circuit Simulation

PSpice® Support - Models, Functions and Global Variables

The PSpice simulation model format is the format of choice for many device manufacturers. Altium Designer's circuit simulator now has strong support for PSpice models. PSpice models are used in exactly the same way as Spice 3f5 models, simply hook them up in the graphical symbol-to-model editor, and start simulating. There is also excellent support for PSpice functions.

Figure 61. Work with PSpice® models in exactly the same way you work with Spice3f5 models.

Support for Global Parameters and Equations

Global parameter and equation support has also been added to the circuit simulator. Use a global parameter in an equation, and use that equation in a component value on your schematic. Alternatively, define the equation as a global parameter, and then reference the global parameter from a component value.
Simply include the expression or parameter name within curly braces {}, when the simulator detects this it will attempt to evaluate it, checking the Global Parameters page of the simulator's Analyses Setup dialog for the definition of any part of the expression that cannot be immediately resolved. The new Global Parameters example has been added to the Circuit Simulation folder to demonstrate global parameter and equation support.

X-axis Equation Support

To-date it has not been possible to use the simulation waveform X-axis in the construction of a new equation-based waveform. Support for this has been added, simply right-click in a plot and select Add Wave to Plot, the current X axis is included in the list of Waveforms, ready to be used as part of an Expression.

Excluding Component Parts from a Simulation

One of the great strengths of Altium Designer's component modeling system is that it supports building one component that can be used in all design domains - including schematic capture, PCB layout, 3D modeling, signal integrity analysis, and SPICE mixed-signal circuit simulation.

Figure 62. Enabling the Exclude part from simulation checkbox instructs the simulator to ignore this part, but add its pins to all other parts.
SPICE mixed-signal circuit simulation support has been enhanced by the addition of the new Exclude part from simulation option - now you can set any part in a multi-part component to be excluded from the simulation, particularly useful if you design your components with the power pins on a separate part. Those power pins are still required in the Spice netlist of course, so when a part is set to be excluded its pins automatically appear in the schematic pin list for all other parts in the component, ready to be mapped to the pins defined in the model file.

Library Management

Synchronized Pin / Pad Selection

The process of ensuring that the symbol pins are correctly mapped to the component footprint pads has been simplified by the new automatic pin-to-pad cross selection - click to select a pin on the symbol in the library and the corresponding footprint pad is automatically selected in the footprint preview window at the bottom of the library editor workspace.
Pin/pad selection is also supported in the Libraries panel too, making it easy to quickly confirm the pin to pad mapping at any stage of the design process.

Figure 63. The Footprint pad is selected when the symbol pin is selected.

Schematic Library Autozoom page in the preferences

With the new autozoom controls you can control the zoom behavior as you move from one library component to another. As well as the default zoom level, you can specify if the previous zoom level should be remembered for each component, or if autozooming should be turned off.

Figure 64. Set the schematic library editor autozoom behaviour to suit your editing preferences.

Platform Enhancements

User-definable Mouse-wheel Behavior

Altium Designer supports the Microsoft Windows standard mouse wheel behavior, making it easy to move from Altium Designer to other Windows applications. Appreciating that every designer has their own preferences and style, Altium Designer now supports reconfiguring the mouse wheel, making it possible to remap the current wheel/key combinations to your user-preferred configuration.

Figure 65. Reconfigure the standard mouse wheel / key combinations.

Enhanced Favorites Panel


Figure 66. Favorites are an ideal way of jumping back to specific locations in a large design. |

Moving around a large or complex design can mean lots of switching documents and zooming in and out as you work. The Favorites panel will help you manage the task of moving around your design, in it you can store the current document view position and zoom level for later re-use. Double-clicking on a View in the Favorites panel will open the document, and restore the view and zoom level exactly as you defined it, making it an ideal way of jumping between different areas of the board design, or jumping back and forth from part of the schematic to that circuitry on the PCB.
Use the Favorites system to communicate design issues between your design team. For example, one designer can zoom on an area of the PCB and add this area as a favorite together with some comments. Another designer can then open the project and read the comments and click on the thumbnail to be taken to the specific view to see the issue.
Views can kept with the project, or they can be kept in the Favorites View folder, making them available regardless of the design that you have open.

Improved Version Control

Version Control Systems (VCS) are fast becoming the standard method of managing electronic design data. Not only do they provide a secure storage system, they also allow a design team to work on the same set of design files, confident that they will not overwrite or interfere with each others work. Extra tools have been added in Altium Designer 6.0 to help you more easily take advantage of the support for version control systems.
As well as the existing support for any version control system supporting the Source Code Compliant Interface (SCCI), and the popular Concurrent Versions System (CVS), Altium Designer now has strong support for Subversion (SVN), another popular version control system.
Version control functions, such as Commit and Update can be completed from the Projects panel, with more sophisticated functions, such as comparing different versions, being accessible from the Storage Manager panel.

Figure 67. Create repositories, add projects and perform standard check-in/check/out functions directly from Altium Designer.

Managing your Documents

Altium Designer 6.0 includes a number of small but useful productivity enhancements for working with your design documents. Enable these options in the View page of the System options in the DXP Preferences dialog.

Document Switching Enhancements

If you prefer to use the keyboard to move back and forth between open documents then you will be familiar with the CTRL + TAB shortcut, or the more sophisticated variant where CTRL + TAB switches to the last active document, which was introduced to Altium Designer 2004 in SP4. When this is enabled the order that you last worked on each document is remembered, so when you CTRL + TAB you switch back through the documents in that order, rather than the order the Document Tabs appear at the top of the workspace.
Working in harmony with this, the Close switches to the last active document option will also retain the edit order, and return you to the previous document under edit, regardless of where its Document Tab appears at the top of the workspace.

Middle-click Closes Document Tab

Simplify the process of closing any document by enabling the new Middle click closes document tab option. Then just click the mouse-wheel when the cursor is over the document tab to close any open document.

Close Other Documents

If you ever end up opening a large number of documents before you find the information you are looking for, then you will appreciate the new Close Other Documents command. Select it from the document tab right-click menu to close all documents in the group, except the active document.

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