CircuitMaker from Altium

Altium recently announced CircuitMaker, their entry into the free/low-cost PCB design tool market. They’re entering a big industry, with the likes of Eagle, KiCad, gEDA, and a host of other tool suites. We had a few minutes to talk with Max in the Altium booth at World Maker Faire, and even got a bit of time with the tool itself.

Hands on, it definitely has the look and feel of Altium Designer, right down to the familiar yellow and green boxes for schematic and sheet parts. Center stage was the 3D view, a feature which Altium has had in their software since the late 90’s.

CircuitMaker’s website is pushing the collaboration aspect of the software. Design choices can be reviewed and commented on in real-time. This also suggests that the data files will live in Altium’s own cloud storage system.

CircuitMaker is still in the pre-beta phase, but they’re looking for beta testers now, so head over to the site and sign up!

84 thoughts on “CircuitMaker from Altium

    1. It is, I don’t expect it works under Wine either, unlike Diptrace which works almost perfectly under Wine. But then, if it’s good enough, people can always fire up a virtual machine with Windows on it.

      The main issue however that people have is that you will not be able to save files locally, only “to the cloud”. Yep. No local files.

      1. Yeah – I noticed that. It seems like some companies (imp, I’m talking about you too) are under the impression that if they catalog every use of their software on their “cloud”, that it will do something for them.

        I think this practice is really sleazy. It’s similar to giving away your design efforts for free. Unfortunately, I don’t work for free, so this is a non starter.

        Those of you who are going to say “but the EULA says you retain all rights to your own design” need to think for a moment about what happens when an idea is out there for others to see. People act like people – not like computers. It’s sufficiently easy enough to change the design slightly and then claim it’s original. Being the small maker that I may be, I don’t want to spend all of my time with legal issues. It’s just easier to keep the designs in house and not deal with it.

        1. I understand your concern, but i think for people like me that are home diy/hobbyist that want to build a circuit for some function and not looking to patent or sell my design, sounds like a good program for me. if you are designing for fun and profit then you probably want to look for something you can install locally and is not web based. and if you happen to find something like that for 50 bucks or less then please let me know. I’m living off my retirement and have to watch my spending.

      1. For people who are worried that all of their data is going to magically disappear, remember that all of your files are obviously checked out locally for editing. Just keep your AppData\Roaming\Altium\CircuitMaker\Projects folder backed up, and you won’t have to worry.

    1. That original software was crippled by copy protection.
      I don’t like not having a copy of my work on my computer. I like to choose what I share and when I share it. And wouldn’t it be better to work on making KiCAD better than.always looking for something better somewhere else?

      1. There’s no Circuitmaker in there. That code base is dead and buried. This was a name that made sense considering what the intended audience is. This is pure Altium Designer code base.

    1. The first low-fee tier for the paid version gives you the ability to make your design private. In other words, your designs are open source unless you pay a small subscription fee. Other features will be unlocked at different tiers- for example, more layers, larger board surface area, etc.

      Also, it’s worth pointing out that while you are initially working on new design files, other users cannot see them until they are “committed”.

        1. They’ll be no MAC or Linux version. 3D PCB is built on Direct X and it’s no small feet to try and port that to anything other than what’s there. This will be a windows tool. Get ready to run virtualbox and install windows (par for the course in the pro ECAD space).

      1. What you really need is to build up a hacker community. There’s no problem finding STEP models on the internet because they are shared by different packages, but you find precious little in the way of Altium components because a company spends real money paying people to make them so why share them.

        If CircuitMaker takes off I for one hope the parts library is compatible with real Altium. Then the entire Altium ecosystem may start getting databases of useful parts.

        1. sorry can’t agree here.
          nobody shares altium libraries because it takes so little time to create a working part that it would take longer to track down a download for it. with tools like smart grid insert for schematic libs and footprint generator for PCB, there’s like zero reason to look for (potentially buggy) lib from someone else.

  1. I wonder how long it will take someone or a dedicated hackadayian to find a way to ‘turn off the cloud’ feature and save locally, or find a way to create a ‘local’ cloud.

          1. @Zuul

            In all fairness Altium doesn’t seem to have much for Wacom either. I bought a Surface Pro 2 (wacom internals) and trialed the latest version of Altium for 14 days, somehow the mouse and stylus cursors are decoupled, or Altium uses some weird-ass routines to poll the cursor position.

            Eg: You can use the Wacom stylus to drag vertices of existing tracks, or move existing components, but you can’t draw or place anything with the stylus. The crosshairs just hang at the location you initiated the command, waiting for mouse input.

            Also – Unless you’re 100% comitted to buying Altium for $10K+ AUD, for the love of god don’t contact their sales team for a trial of their software! They won’t leave you alone and are extremely pushy, and God forbid you should mention that you want to trial other solutions before making a choice.

          2. Sounds like a specific bug for you. I’ve been using Altium with a Wacom tablet for a good 10 years now. Maybe it’s something to do with newer tablets??? The only real problem I have with the tablet is in the 3D view or using the zooming functions. Everything else works just fine and I get around it by simply using page up / page down to zoom.

          1. Pure BS. It all depends on what projects you work with and how used you are with the tool. If you’ve only ever used altium – no wonder kicad is alien or you. For most of my projects kicad’s a win, and file/schematic/pcb format is great if you know sed/awk and friends – it saves a LOT of time. When working in a team with a project under git we even made merges to a single schematic sheet (Although, I was very sceptical about it at first, and was very surprised when it worked).
            But for me the most win – is it being opensource: I hacked wacom support to at least some point. (e.g. use stylus pressure to specify the track width, and some other hacks for wacom-oriented routing).

            Kicad will only suck if you need to lay out a board with DDR2/DDR3 memories, impedance control and modelling, etc. Or if you have to do put a lot of instances of smaller subcircuits on a sheet. The latter is solved by using klonor: http://code.google.com/p/klonor-kicad/ but I hope that will be a native feature some day.

    1. All project files are stored in AppData\Roaming\Altium\CircuitMaker\Projects, and CircuitMaker will gladly open those files directly without going through the cloud interface.

  2. Hey guys, this is Max from Altium, and I just wanted to clear up something about CircuitMaker that may not have totally come through here. While the free version will only allow you to keep your in-progress project private, part of the upgrade model will let you purchase more private projects if you need them. They will still be stored online, but will not be visible to any other CircuitMaker users.

      1. @rasz_pl Would you insist on doing professional designs without kicking a little cash Altium’s way for the tools you used to make that money? He’s not saying you have to save things in the cloud…you have the option to pay to *not* do it. A’la github. @Max, you need to get the model up on the site so folks aren’t confused. The hole’s getting deeper here mate and a matrix that describes the details would go a loooooong way.

        1. It’s not about being professional. It’s about not trusting a 3rd party with my files. I frankly don’t care if my projects are shared with the world. I care about 5 years from now not having access to them because some company produced an online only program with an online only storage system and it wasn’t making them the money they thought so they decide to end support.

          This is a non-starter for me.

          1. Sorry for the repost but it placed this in the wrong thread:

            @Garbz – Fair enough and I agree with that. The only counter to that I would say is we put trust in these guys every time we use their tools expecting that the SW will be around (nevermind the cloud…i.e. the tools) in perpetuity. This is the argument for Open Source and it’s a valid one. So though I agree with your argument (and would completely prefer something like git as a backend so at least I know it’s not *their* cloud), I guess you could say the same for the tools themselves.

            It’s not uncommon that for big software tools, that the buyers ask the SW source code be placed in escrow when a company like HP or IBM or NASA adopts it as a standard. THis ensures that if the company goes out of business, the buyer has a chance to snatch it up and maintain it. And though the consumers of this are vastly different, the point I’m making is what would you do – god forbid – orcad went out of business and you had all of your schematics in the tool. The only way you ever truly overcome lock-in is by going OpenSource and that would mean KiCAD at this point.

  3. ‘ While the free version will only allow you to keep your in-progress project private, part of the upgrade model will let you purchase more private projects if you need them’
    I’m sorry but this sounds, too, much like a marketing gimmick to me…
    What excatly do you mean by ‘private project’ and about purchasing more of them, this isn’t sounding like a free version to me anymore.

    1. Hi William,

      When I refer to “private projects”, I’m talking about CircuitMaker projects that are only visible to you and not shared publicly. As a couple other people on this thread have pointed out, the free version of CircuitMaker will allow you to keep one project private (so you don’t have to share a half-finished design), and the rest are visible to everyone else in the community. The limitations in the free version of CircuitMaker will still let you design fairly sizable projects.

      The purchased upgrades in CircuitMaker will let you buy only the features you need (such as more private projects), without forcing you to spend money on parts of the tool you may not need right at the moment. This means that upgrades are cheap and give you only the functionality you need, when you need it.

      1. @Max — Sounds like a pretty complex pricing model mate. Can I suggest that rather than try and explain it here, get the pricing model online and point people to it? If it’s not clear, I would fall back on “it’s not clear yet, but here’s what we’re thinking…” Otherwise there’s a huge risk you lose folks before it’s off the ground. Clarity, consistency, and transparency are super important if you’re going to get this off the ground.

        Likewise, mentioning that features can be added if / when they’re needed without mentioning what comes standard creates more questions than it answers. Again…I would get the matrix together and get it up on the CM site where you can point folks to. Anything else just helps to dig the hole deeper.

    2. My personal projects can be open for all I care, in fact I like to share them, when I do a job for someone obviously that’s a different matter but then I’m getting paid so if I can “buy” privacy for that job at a reasonable cost that’s OK.

      Same with other options like maybe board size, etc IF the pricing structure is reasonable, and by reasonable I mean bloody cheap.

      Personally I find the idea very promising, BUT…

      The “cloud only” part is a deal breaker for me. Apart from the issues mentioned by many a lot of people have dicky internet connections and cloud-based computing is just not on. I dropped Adobe for this very reason, at least with Photoshop the product worked as it always did, it just needed to phone home every month, that’s OK in itself until the day when you have no connection and your are dead in the water, despite having paid a year in advance.

      Guys, the whole world doesn’t live in a US city with a gigibit ADSL link and a limitless data plan.

    3. I’m surprised that no one has drawn the parallel with GitHub here – everything you put on it is public unless you pay the monthly fee to get a certain number of private repositories.

      Although with GitHub you always have a local copy of your repos to work on…

        1. +1 …And I think Altium needs to enumerate what the model is in much more detail. I would get a matrix online that explains this and any additional cost. That’s a short and sweet way of saying “look here…it’s all in there”. Sans that, you risk confusing folks. And if it turns out to be the case that I have pay for “each project” I choose to make private…

  4. Still using orcas layout. Easy to use, gets the job done. We dropped cadence after they dropped layout for PCB editor. Wish I could find a license crack for it so I could run at home. I have the USB dongle and the license files, just never figured out how to get them to work with laptop.

  5. Not being a US company Altium suffers from the typical desease which accounts for the 100:1 success ratio in the world business ideology. However this may be a wake up call. Let’s see how this initiative shakes up.

  6. I can kind of see what they are trying to achieve. This could be useful for hobbyists who want to build something that they will never go back to again and don’t mind sharing it.
    However, cloud only will be a killer for anything else which means I would need to use two different programs for different types of boards/designs. So that means no for me.

    Cloud only also will be a killer for lots of small businesses who can’t afford Altium license. Private or not on the cloud, businesses want local copies of their files and not to be at mercy of some manager at Altuim cutting the whole project. But I suppose Altium want businesses to buy the full version.

  7. There seems to be a large number of people who think the complaints about the cloud are that others may see projects and privacy. No it’s not.

    I’m happy to share projects with a community. I’m happy to help others in a collaborative environment. I’m also happy to have everything I make up in the cloud, because it’s a hobby not my work.

    I am NOT happy that my project exists ONLY in the cloud. What happens if Altium decides they don’t want to support this anymore? What happens if in 10 years I want to revisit this project? Will Altium sign a guarantee that I will be able to access my own creation in 10 years? No? Didn’t think so.

    Happy to make everything cloudish, but allow local saves too.

    1. Fair enough and I agree with that. The only counter to that I would say is we put trust in these guys every time we use their tools expecting that the SW will be around (nevermind the cloud…i.e. the tools) in perpetuity. This is the argument for Open Source and it’s a valid one. So though I agree with your argument (and would completely prefer something like git as a backend so at least I know it’s not *their* cloud), I guess you could say the same for the tools themselves.

      It’s not uncommon that for big software tools, that the buyers ask the SW source code be placed in escrow when a company like HP or IBM or NASA adopts it as a standard. THis ensures that if the company goes out of business, the buyer has a chance to snatch it up and maintain it. And though the consumers of this are vastly different, the point I’m making is what would you do – god forbid – orcad went out of business and you had all of your schematics in the tool. The only way you ever truly overcome lock-in is by going OpenSource and that would mean KiCAD at this point.

  8. I think this is a good analogy that, pretty much, sums up not have a local copy of the data.
    You download a tool from the internet, maybe its freeware, maybe you paid for it,
    and the tool does exactly what you need–no more–you are fine with it.

    You have been using it since moses parted the red-sea, but today you were forced to upgrade the OS.
    The tool is incompatible with the new OS and you need an updated version of the tool.
    You go back to the company for support, only to find that tool has been discontinued — if the
    company is still even in business.

    You do have the original installer for the application, so you could resintall if needed.
    You decide to setup a VM or use another system with old OS installed, and you are backup and
    running with the tool — like nothing happened.

    PS: This maybe a good suggestion for the local vs remote project thing.
    whynot tie projects to github, git repositor, or even an svn repo or another like service.
    That way you could share project with the community or literally use you own local git/svn repo.

  9. I bought circuit maker a while back. When altium bought it that was the end of it. was a really well made simulator that they just discarded, I will never buy anything from this company. I still use the program and if I need components I make.my own. Mr Altium why don’t you give circuit maker 2000 to the people at Linux they treat there clients well and will make it circuitmaker3000 and beyond

  10. As an Altium user the real question is
    Are they going to take the original concept of being a good tool that was affordable and then price it to the point that only serious companies can afford it?

    Along with this is the various reliability and buggy features, which Altium , cheerfully blame on windows, hardware or whatever else. Is circuit maker going to suffer the same issues. As a beta these are expected but once I commit $$$ to the product a reasonable expectation is that if a subscription is paid that support for these issues would be treated on a one on one not by some bug system that requires getting votes for the issue.

    Altium is not good at fixing, rather seem to change direction at a whim

    Will projects be able to be moved between the two system? What about libraries

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