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Hello all,

I bet I already know the answer to this question, but is there a free or dirt-cheap alternative to EAGLE for larger boards?

I'm using the freeware version to design a PCB that's right at the 8x10cm limit, and it's getting rather crowded to the point where I don't know if I can get things to fit in a way that makes sense. While on the one hand I see this as a fun challenge, it would be sooooo nice to have an extra cm of board length!

Paying for the "pro" version is out of the question; I don't see myself designing boards this large very often.
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There is a fairly simple "free" program called PCBExpress that allows larger boards. Are you etching the board yourself?  

There is also "DipTrace" - not sure about the limits on that program.

Ken
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Sending to a board house.

I'll check out those two programs, thanks.

I should mention - bonus points if the program will import an EAGLE project. I'd really hate to start from scratch at this point. smiley-grin The design is more or less finished within the EAGLE limits, but some of the parts are reeeeeally close together and I'm not looking forward to assembly.
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Pretty much the only program that will import Eagle files is Eagle.

Are you aware of the non-profit version of Eagle? It has all three modules and board area of 160x100mm (instead of 100x80mm in the freeware version). You can use it as an individual for non-profit projects. It only costs $125: http://www.cadsoft.de/nonprofit.htm
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This won't help your issue, I'm afraid, but something to keep an eye on in the future (I wish the community on this would explode like it has for the Arduino):

http://fritzing.org/

It has its own problems, but it has "big plans" - Eagle import is one of them (not quite there yet). Its drawbacks are mainly lack of parts (which could be fixed relatively quickly if the community was there to do it), auto-routing isn't the greatest (though I've heard similar for eagle), and the inability to export Eagle (but it does Gerber; not sure how well, though).

The whole thing is open-source, parts are editable (to an extent) within the program itself (completely new parts need custom SVG and image files created; not the easiest task from what I have gathered to create new parts), and I just love the breadboard mode (it allows you to "design" on a breadboard, just like you would in real life, the design keeps the net of wires thru the schematic and pcb layout steps).

I hope to try out my hand at using Fritzing for something more than playing this summer; I have a design I would like to try out from the breadboard level thru the PCB layout level. My plan is to take my motor controller I have breadboarded and create a PCB from it - to do this in Fritzing will require me to create at least one part that can't be replicated or substituted from the main list of Fritzing parts (a TO-3 case transistor); I haven't been able to find a user-designed version yet (maybe by the time I get around to it it will exist?) - I might be the first to do this (it will be one heck of a learning experience).

If the PCB layout works good (I will probably to a hand-etched board to try my hand at that, too), I might try sending the Gerber to a board house for a low-volume run of 5-10 PCBs.

Good luck and I hope you find a solution (this is another reason why I hate closed source; but at least Eagle has released on more than just Windows and Mac, so I can let it somewhat slide).

 smiley
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I use gEDA/PCB. The file formats are open an ASCII. The open file
formats make a wide variety of EDA automation tasks possible. The
ASCII format makes them easy.

I have switched from Eagle to gEDA/PCB. I have found gEDA to be a more
productive tool. The schematic capture is better but the PCB layout
seems more difficult. The scriptability is what has made the
difference. There are also tools for simulation.

Be careful of choosing a free version of an EDA tool that is crippled
or a tool that locks you in to a specific PCB vendor. There is a
learning curve associated with any EDA tool or other complex piece of
software. It will be very time consuming to switch tools.

The footprint library that I use is available at
http://www.luciani.org Also I have a variety of EDA automation scripts
on my site.

(* jcl *)

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www: http://www.wiblocks.com
twitter: http://twitter.com/wiblocks
blog: http://luciani.org
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(* jcl *),

I'm not trying to be mean or sound rude or anything, but could I suggest that when you are suggesting software that you specify that it is for Linux? Not everyone uses Linux yet and if they are looking for Windows software your suggestion is a waste of time in looking at sites that won't help.   smiley-wink
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At one point I played around with (I think it was called) gschem; it was fairly easy to create a schematic with it. I was thinking about going with gEDA/PCB at one point, and depending on what I find with Fritzing, I still may. What sold me on Fritzing, though, is that it is open source just like gEDA/PCB (and others), but that it has the nifty breadboard designer, in addition to the schematic and PCB editors, and they are all tied together with the same wire net - so when you change one, you see the change in the others (for certain changes, of course). Fritzing seems the closest in ease of use like Eagle, but that breadboard view just puts it over the top.

Where it fails, as I mentioned, is in the lack of certain parts - things like most thru-hole ICs, LEDs, etc - the standard stuff - is all there (there's even an Arduino and a Nano); but certain niche parts (like TO-3 transistors, and SMT components - extreme ends of scale) just don't exist. If my h-bridge was more modest, it would have everything I need, but since I am going for a higher-power design (and I might even change over to TO-3 case MOSFETs, who knows), it doesn't have those parts.

But - I can design them! All the tools are available, they are all open - I just need to spend the time to do this; users already do this for Eagle parts, so why not Fritzing as well?

Finally - Fritzing doesn't have to be the "be-all-end-all" solution; I am more than open to all other solutions (provided I don't need to run Windows - I will entertain the thought of running under WINE, though). Sometimes, even pencil and paper work best...

 smiley
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Quote
I'm not trying to be mean or sound rude or anything, but could I suggest that when you are suggesting software that you specify that it is for Linux?

I should have mentioned that it runs best on Linux. Evil Mad Scientist uses the software
on MAC. There are some people using the software on Windows but I will admit
that it is more work.

Quote
Not everyone uses Linux yet and if they are looking for Windows software your suggestion is a waste of time in looking at sites that won't help.

I do not believe the original question stated an operating system so I gave my
standard answer. There is also a product called vmware that enables you to run
Linux on windows as a virtual machine. Maybe more effort than most people
will want but it is an option.

(* jcl *)
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Fritzing is not a practical PCB CAD compared to Eagle or any other PCB CAD program, the part library is only the tiniest problem to solve. I would feel more comfortable sketching a PCB layout with a permanent marker than using Fritzing at this point.

It's open source and shows promise, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's any good yet. By all means put in the 10,000 man-hours of software development necessary to make it an acceptable alternative to gEDA, Kicad, or Eagle, I will root for you.
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Fritzing is not a practical PCB CAD compared to Eagle or any other PCB CAD program, the part library is only the tiniest problem to solve. I would feel more comfortable sketching a PCB layout with a permanent marker than using Fritzing at this point.

Is the PCB layout engine the main failure? Are there other areas that are bad as well? I've only toyed with it, and have yet to try any serious development, but I do plan on doing so - I would like to lend my hand to a project that is open-source than closed, warts and all; unless there is something in it that absolutely prevents it from being used in any real manner. You seem to know something I don't, I would like your input.

Should I just install the free version of Eagle and be done with it, then pay for it later?

Should I use something else (like gEDA or Kicad)?

Like I said, the thing I really like about Fritzing is the breadboard layout view. It isn't something that I need (I can easily take a breadboarded design and create a schematic from it - I just don't like to do it), but it is a nice addition that I haven't found in any other tool so far.

 smiley
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Should I use something else (like gEDA or Kicad)?

Yes.

If you want to give gEDA a try you could go through one
of the tutorials and then take a look at my drawdio example
http://wiblocks.luciani.org/remix/index.html

It is a remix of the drawdio circuit done with open source tools. The circuit
has an PNP, NPN, and 555 symbols plus resistors and capacitors. You
could use that as a starting template and go from there.

(* jcl *)

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Like I said, the thing I really like about Fritzing is the breadboard layout view.

The breadboard view is unique to Fritzing. It is handy for communicating breadboard
circuits but may work against you for more complicated circuits. To create
a breadboard drawing you design your symbols to match the physical package
layout.

Other than simple schematics you usually draw your schematic symbols
using a logical layout. If you did a design with a 40, 44, 64, 100 pin IC
by physical layout your schematic will be very difficult to read.

(* jcl *)
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The only feature the layout module supports is drawing free-angle lines from one point to another. It's a lot easier to say that than to list the hundreds of absent features considered standard in any PCB CAD program.

If your experience with electronics progresses at a normal rate, there's a very limited amount of time you'll even care about a breadboard design tool. Breadboards (physically) are design tools already, no one spends any time doing CAD to figure out how they are going to wire up a breadboard. Most of my designs go straight from a schematic to a PCB. If I use a breadboard it's typically very temporary, to test a few concepts that I want to verify while designing a schematic, usually in the analog domain.

I've only been designing PCBs for 7 or 8 years, non-career, so I'm probably in the bottom 10% of PCB designers experience wise. However I've used quite a few different tools and eventually settled on Eagle having the mix of features and price I found acceptable. Started with freeware and eventually bought the pro version.

Doesn't really matter which one you choose, though, as long as it has the basic set of features and you spend time getting used to it. Some people do very well with gEDA. Other swear by Kicad. Some (shudder) like ExpressPCB or PCBArtist and lock into a single proto supplier.

I would say that if you spend a lot of time in Fritzing you will eventually realize, if you plan to design real PCBs in the future, your time would be better spent learning some other tool.
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If you only need an extra cm or so, you might benefit from knowing that in the freeware version of Eagle you CAN run traces (and even the edges of component pads) outside of the 8x10 limit.   For example, this was one of my first EAGLE projects, and the bright blue line is the 8x10 limit:
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