A lot has changed after I initially created this post. Therefore I am updating this article so you have more accurate information. – Robert
Many people ask if they should go for Altium or OrCAD. My answer is … it depends.
1) My personal opinion
Personally I love Altium Designer more than OrCAD from Cadence. Altium is a complete package – you have everything in one place from schematic, libraries, pcb, output documents. It is also very intuitive and user friendly. Altium is the software what I have and use in my company (I also have OrCAD Professional, but I have not had the right project for it yet). HOWEVER, if I had a bigger team e.g. 3 and more HW engineers, I would seriously consider to go for OrCAD, see the next point.
2) Price point of view
Altium Designer is getting more and more expensive (I think it is around 10 000 USD or even more, correct me if I am wrong) and OrCAD can be interesting from price point of view. Based on the information I have, OrCAD Professional starts at $2K (for a standalone license) and includes advanced features. The OrCAD Professional has everything what you need for designing any board (you can use OrCAD Professional to design complex and advanced boards).
So, if your budget is limited, the 2k OrCAD Professional is perfect choice. Or, if your team is bigger, OrCAD can make sense. You only buy a few expensive licenses and a lot of work can be done with cheap $443 license (I think that is current price for OrCAD Standard). Disadvantage of OrCAD is, that you may need some time to get used to it and they still need to improve some stuff. But I know they are working on it …
Still, if you have for example 3 engineers, that would be like 6k vs 30k for buying the software … big difference, and I would go for Cadence, even it is not as nice and easy to use as Altium (Altium has some cheaper options like CircuitStudio, but I would not go that way).
3) Big board design & Simulations
If your designs are based on big boards (e.g. server boards) or if you require simulations, definitely go for Cadence. This will cost you more money, but everything works together e.g. you can add info into schematic or into PCB and this info can be transferred and used in simulation. Cadence simulations are really good, Altium is not good in simulation. Also, a lot of big boards have reference designs in Cadence, this can save you a lot of time and money.
4) Your boards are used in mechanical complex design
In this case, consider Altium. I talked to some engineers who use Altium, because it helps them to work closely with mechanical guys.
5) Learning for future
If you are planning to be a hardware design engineer, learn both softwares
I am not sure if these points will help you, or they will confuse you even more 😀
PS: Non of these companies is paying me, nor Altium nor Cadence, but I do have some free licenses from them.
Original post 2013-06-19
Some people ask for my opinion about Orcad PCB Designer Professional as an Altium Designer alternative.
I have to admit, I have never tried the new Orcad PCB Designer software (Added a note: I have used the previous combination: Orcad + Allegro L/XL for 5 years), but I spoke to a Cadence guy in February at Embedded world exhibition about it. I was initially impressed with the 3000 EUR (or it was something similar) for the Orcad. The Orcad Professional price was comparable with Altium Designer.
… when we went into more details, the Orcad PCB Designer Professional started looking to me more like a trap. Don’t forget, once you start using it, it’s very difficult to move to a different software. And if your company grows and you do more and more complex boards, you may very easily find the limits of Orcad Professional. That day, when I was leaving the Cadence stand, the conclusion was: I would need to pay at least 25000 EUR for the configuration which can be used for professional HW design + around 20% fees every year.
You can easily compare Orcad PCB Designer Standard / Professional and Allegro Designer by yourself in this document (or see the original here). As you can see, Orcad Standard doesn’t even include Differential pair routing (essential for any board), and Orcad Professional doesn’t have Propagation delay rules (essential for memory layout).
So, if you want to use the Orcad PCB Designer for all your future designs and you are sure you are not going to design any boards with differential pairs or memories – go for it. If you are planning to do layout professionally and you are planning to grow and design more and more complex boards, be sure you have considered all the option and made the right decision.
Note: This is not an advert for Altium. Even I use Altium a lot, it’s because it’s still a good software for a good price. Of course, this may change soon – if it does, be sure I will write and article about it. To make it even – for example I don’t like all the new Online Altium stuff. I am very suspicious, that the company wants us to become depended on their online services and later pay high subscriptions for using them (this is my personal opinion – and hopefully I am wrong :). Once you become depended, they can do with the price anything – it will be very hard and costly to move to a different software / system / solution. That’s the reason why I don’t use Vaults and any other Altium online service.