Questions to Ask Your EDA Layout Software Vendor

When you are looking for EDA layout software, you need to know what you're getting before you decide to make a purchase. So, don't be afraid to ask your vendor the following questions.  Probe until you get the answers. 

Customer References – Who uses the software? Go to the vendor's web site and look for a customer listing. Better yet, ask the vendors for specific referrals, preferably recent customers using the tool with an environment similar to yours. If the vendor can't provide you with the names of customers, chances are the vendor doesn't have customers in your industry or doesn't maintain good relationships with its customers.

  • CDS provides a list of current major customer’s in its company backgrounder. A more detailed list of references is also available for any interested party. Due to legal restrictions, some customer names cannot be released in CDS promotional material. Chances are, your competition may already be realizing tremendous improvements by using CDS!

Technical Support And Training – No one looks forward to using it, but technical support is part of the investment. All vendors offer it, but you need know what kind of support is available, the cost, availability, and who will be providing it. The best way to put the company's support to the test is to download the software and test it. Is the vendor responsive? How knowledgeable is the support staff? Training is also important. What standard training does the vendor provide, what additional training can be provided, and at what cost?

  • CDS provides various models for technical support. Customers may access technical support by telephone during normal business hours, and anytime through email and a dedicated user forum. Although the official goal is to answer all inquiries and questions within 24 hours, most are actually answered within a few hours. CDS technical staff members average over 10 years of experience using the system, and as PCB designers.

Software Origins - Who wrote the existing software, and when? How long has the company been in business? Some vendors sell software systems that were designed for 10-20 year old technology. Others may have purchased another vendor and its technology. This can result in poor support, or in a system that can no longer be upgraded. This can hinder the designer, especially when it comes to new technologies.

  • CDS has been under continuous ownership since its inception in the mid 1980’s. All software has been developed in house from scratch, and it is being constantly written and updated to support new technologies. CDS uses the most modern and advanced software architecture, meaning new technologies are always supported, and new features are always added.

System Capability - What is the accuracy and resolution of the geometry engine? This is extremely important if you are doing layouts that require small features, free angle routing (i.e., not constrained to 45 or 90 angles), true arcs, custom RF shapes, etc. Make sure you know the capability, so you will know where all the limits are, and if you are willing to live with those limits.

  • The positional and rotational resolution of CDS’ graphics engine is unlimited. For practical purposes, the user can choose to display from 0 to 8 significant digits, relative to any unit being used. CDS allows creation of snaps and grids with unlimited resolution and accuracy. In addition, all CDS routing systems feature any-angle, online DRC capability, with special radial and circumferential options for radial based designs.

Documentation - How well does the system support documentation requirements? Does the system adhere to ANSI standards? Documentation is a big part of any design. How well the system incorporates a system for documentation can have a big impact on how well information is tracked and recorded, and how different members of your organization can collaborate on projects. Insist on a system that tightly integrates the database with the documentation, and gives all users of the organization access to the software.

  • CDS incorporates the world's standard method of electronic documentation, AutoCAD. All documentation can be referenced in from standard or custom templates and drawings, or it can be included in the unlimited, multiple sheet Layout system.

Part Flexibility - How flexible and powerful is part generation? The ideal system should allow for fast and easy creation of any geometry. Don’t settle for a system in which cumbersome workarounds are needed to make the software do what you intend. Ask specifically for parametrically controlled features; this is ideal for editing your design.

  • CDS provides parametric based libraries, visual slide libraries, and a powerful suite of utilities to construct any imaginable component with full intelligence. The block hierarchy in the system allows referencing and placement of any component while using object based snaps and tracking functions.

Design Reuse - Can you easily reuse existing routing and component patterns to speed up the design? In many cases, routing patterns can be repetitive. Examples of helpful utilities include commands to create offsets, copies, polar arrays, etc. This can have a big impact on the overall time spent creating geometries and routing. A critical feature is dynamic net assignments. For example, a trace should never be hard-coded with net information; the trace should always adopt the pin’s intelligence.

  • CDS fully supports offsets, arrays, and copying of existing data and circuits. Special functions keep track of used designators and pin numbers, and allow automatic incrementing if desired. Accuracy of these functions is unlimited, just like the base system.

Netlist-Free Routing - Can you route your design without a netlist? What if you want to make up your netlist as you go? For many designs, an important part of the process is not being constrained to using a netlist. The system should support netlist-free routing natively. This can greatly reduce design times if the designer can decide the routing assignments for all or part of the design.

  • All CDS routing systems feature three modes. The first mode is netlist-driven, in which the system ensures compliance with a given netlist or schematic. The second mode is netlist-free routing, which allows completely free routing. A third mode is a hybrid method, whereby a netlist can be automatically generated and optimized. This method allows fast, accurate routing by following the new netlist, while at the same time allowing pin swaps and pin reassignments at any time.

True 3D Modeling – What options exist for working in 3d? This is increasingly one of the most essential features of an EDA system. What features does the program offer? Is the system limited to only 2D? Is the vendor’s idea of 3D a viewer? What kinds of outputs can the system provide to facilitate the analysis of electrical, thermal and characteristics?

  • CDS incorporates a true 3D solid modeling engine based on the ACIS kernel. This allows unparalleled capability to visualize and manipulate a 3D model together with the electrical PCB. Also, the 3D models are created in industry standard 3D formats, compatible with popular systems. Finally, intelligent links exist to numerous analytical EDA software packages.

Design Collaboration – What kinds of features does the system offer to help you work and communicate with your colleagues more easily? Can you easily provide your customers and partners with industry standard databases, so that they can review your design easily, without special software? How does the system work with other EDA systems, with analysis systems, and with manufacturing equipment?

  • The CDS system provides numerous features to help make your job easier. First, the standard database format is the worldwide CAD standard format, DWG. Anybody with access to any version of AutoCAD can review and markup your design easily, without need for clumsy translators and viewers. A number of options are available to read and write data intelligently to and from CDS. Also, a number of communication applications are available that allow managers to track and plan projects, schedules, resources, and the progress of individuals involved in the project.