Altium Designer steps to ver. 15, adds high speed PCB design aids

October 09, 2014 // By Graham Prophet
Design and fabrication of high performance printed circuit boards will be faster and seamless in handoff to fabrication, says Altium, in previewing the upcoming release of its professional printed circuit board (PCB) and electronic system level design software, Altium Designer 15.

The release incorporates feedback and technical advice about high speed PCB design offered by beta users over the last 12 months, says Altium, adding that, “The PCB industry has also made it clear that fabricators need to move beyond 30+ year old file formats for design to fab hand-off. With IPC-2581 and Gerber X2 support, Altium Designer is ready for users who work with leading-edge fabricators who build complex PCB structures.”

Modern designs require signal propagation at rates up to 100 gigabits per second. Designing to these specifications in previous generation design software is challenging. This process traditionally required manual rework and careful signal planning outside of the design tool, typically in a spreadsheet program - causing additional steps and introducing lots of room for errors. With Altium Designer 15 a new Pin Pairs feature has been added to enable accurate length and phase tuning across termination components, and to enable length, phase and delay tuning traversing an entire signal path.

Designers will no longer require external software or have to maintain complex lists of signals and nets, but instead will be able to plan and route groups of high speed nets with much greater efficiency and accuracy.

As a Computer Aided Manufacturing format, traditional Gerber has its origins in standard RS-274D published almost 35 years ago; many consider “standard Gerber” to be out of date. Ucamco has recently updated RS-274X to Gerber X2 to incorporate critical fabrication data previously missing, and the International Printed Circuit association has developed an entirely new standard, IPC-2581. Both resolve issues of ambiguous or missing data encountered when using older formats such as Gerber RS-274X to hand off design to fabrication, completely describing a PCB according to its design:

- Copper layer images.

- Plated and unplated holes, slots, routes, grooves and microvias.

- PCB design outline and cutout regions.

- Complex layer stack regions.

- Rigid and flexible board areas.

- Material specifications.