Component Management

Lucky 13: latest design tools & PCB Design Software

9th January 2017
Enaie Azambuja


Electronics design engineers from award winning consultancy ByteSnap looked at some of the most useful free electronic design software tools available today. If you are looking to predict PCB characteristics or manipulate screens and icons, here is the useful list.

Findchips and Octopart - component search and price checker

Both allow you to get pricing from a number of suppliers quickly and to see stock levels. They are equally great for quickly seeing the rough cost of a component and the general availability. However, the prices need to be taken with some caution though, as do the stock levels reported, which often aren’t reflected in reality when you go to the supplier.

Octopart also has a really nice BOM load tool that allows an entire BOM to be costed. It isn’t perfect, there are sure to be gaps, but again in terms of speed and convenience, it’s great.

Microstrip Impedance - predicting PCB characteristics

For predicting PCB characteristics to work out stack-ups and track thicknesses, we rate Microstrip Impedance which has a good set of PCB track models - more so than some of the other similar tools.

The graphics also make it clear what it is talking about in terms of things such as “embedded microstrip” and “asymmetric stripline” (this latter one is one that some other tools don’t support).”

Notepad++ - source code editor

This free source code editor and Notepad replacement is packed full of features that will mean you’ll never want to use Notepad again.

For example, you can make comparisons between two or more files. The macro editing allows you to perform repetitive operations on a file. It can also perform ASCII to HEX and HEX to ASCII conversions.

If you’ve got a file in HEX characters you can convert to ASCII to decipher any letters or messages that may be in there. It has tabbed file browsing and probably most important of all, syntax colouring for many languages.

Running in the MS Windows environment, its use is governed by GPL License.

Paint.NET – image/photo editing

It’s straightforward UI, pacey performance and powerful tools make Paint.NET a staple in our software development toolkit.

It’s packed with features – special effects, recolour and gradient tools to name a few. Some even say the layers function on Paint.NET allows it to square up to more expensive programs such as Photoshop. And the generous keyboard shortcuts and endless undo and redo function make it a popular option in our office for manipulating screens and icons.

Audacity - audio editing

Audacity is a comprehensive software kit for editing audio files and adding sound effects. It works with several file types, including OGG, WMA, MP3, and WAV for import and export.

It’s impressive list of features make it desirable for recording and mixing too. If the steep learning curve doesn’t put you off, you’ll be rewarded with a pro-level digital audio editor, with cross-platform support for Windows, Mac, GNU/Linux and other operating systems.

HXD - Binary image editing

HxD is a carefully designed and fast hex editor which, additionally to raw disk editing and modifying of main memory (RAM), handles files of any size.

The easy to use interface offers features such as searching and replacing, exporting, checksums/digests, insertion of byte patterns, a file shredder, concatenation or splitting of files, statistics and much more.

Tera Term - Serial terminal

Tera Term is a terminal emulator that we principally use for monitoring debug streams from boards under test. It has a macro function allowing you some level of automation that can even be used for basic factory tests. Tera Term can save debug logs to a file and you can use it alongside a CLI on the host processor to manipulate the target.

HDD Copy Tool – hard disk duplication and image creation

HDD Copy Tool is a utility for low-level, sector-by-sector hard disk duplication and image creation. HDD Raw Copy tool makes an exact duplicate of a SATA, IDE, SAS, SCSI or SSD hard disk drive. Will also work with any USB and FIREWIRE external drive enclosures as well as SD, MMC, MemoryStick and CompactFlash media.

GSpot - codec identification

This is a Windows-based freeware program designed to identify the codecs used in video files. In addition, the application checks if the required DirectShow filters or Video for Windows codecs are installed and configured for proper playback.

While originally created to support AVI, it was expanded to include full support for OGG and limited support for other commercial container formats, including versions of MPEG, QuickTime, and Windows Media Video. It is still used and is listed on as one of the few FOURCC identifiers.

USBView – USB device browser

The Windows GUI (Graphical User Interface) application lets you to browse all USB controllers and connected USB devices on your computer. USBView allows you to look at a lot of the information about the USB devices connected to your PC, such as the descriptors and the VID (Vendor ID) and PID (Product ID – allocated by the vendor).

This is great for improving workflow efficiency, as USBView helps you determine which drivers should be loaded, based upon the VID and PID information. Windows only.

Wireshark - network protocol analyser

This freeware acts pretty much as a debugging network tool, allowing you to see what's happening on your network at a microscopic level. We’re Wireshark fans for a number of reasons;
• It exposes the ability to see the whole network protocol (ports, IP addresses, MAC addresses, checksums, retries etc.) not just the data the payload.
• When debugging the application it doesn’t need to be run on the target device. It will work as long as the computer is on the same network.
• You can filter the packets that are received to more easily track down issues.
• When creating bespoke protocols Wireshark can be used to identify what has been sent is what was put in the individual network packets.
• When dealing with new protocols this tool has a way of capturing and analysing what has been received for validation of what has been processed.

Don’t forget to always check usage policies/terms and conditions for these tools before use. ByteSnap Design offers electronic design services across a range of sectors.

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