Mostly free engineering software

e’re living in a golden age of software, where many useful programs are available – for free!
Let’s survey some of what’s out there that just might interest an engineering crowd like the EDN  community.
I can’t offer personal opinions on most of these packages, but I expect to hear back from you after you’ve test driven a few.
Instrument control
I recently learned  about PyVISA, a Python library for talking to instrumentation. I quite like Python. It’s easy to learn, has good aesthetics (my main criterion), and has accreted a huge ecosystem of libraries to enhance its power. I’ve used one of them, NumPy, to actually write DSP code in the language, though I wouldn’t really recommend it – using Python for DSP that is, not NumPy, which is a great math and array package. And, you’ll never expect the Spanish Inquisition.

There are some very expensive and powerful CAD systems out there. If you have to ask “how much,” you can’t even begin to think about affording them. If you have some room in your budget, I can say that I’ve heard nothing but good things about Altium, which integrates many tools into one, from PCB and schematic, to HDL, to EM simulation, to I-don’t-know.
If your budget is more like mine, there are some fairly mature open-source systems on offer:

  • KiCad seems the best known open-source EDA system.
  • gEDA looks very similar. Let us know if you’ve tried both.
  • EAGLE is a commercial package with a free version that will handle small double-sided boards.
  • DesignSpark PCB is not open-source, but looks very capable given the cost ($0). It is adware (I don’t know how annoying this is), but it sounds like the ads just appear during startup.

There are a number of proprietary e CAD systems promulgated by PCB fabricators, but they produce files understood only by that shop. Why bother, unless you need something really quick and dirty!
Of course, Wikipedia has a list of free EDA software.
If your bent is more mechanical:

  • SketchUp by Google comes in free and paid versions. I’ve seen some impressive projects drawn in the free version, and seen it drive laser cutters. Not too shabby.
  • FreeCAD looks pretty powerful.
  • Inkscape is something of an Adobe Illustrator clone. I’ve used Illustrator to design equipment panel art, so I expect Ink scape could do a reasonably good job too.
  • Speaking of clones, GIMP is the well-known Photoshop lookalike.

Circuit simulation

  • LTspice is perhaps the best known and loved free simulator out there, with optimizations for faster switching regulator simulation. They also offer Filter CAD, which, though aimed at their own filter chips, may be usable for your own designs with a bit of twiddling.
  • SIMetrix offers mildly limited versions of their professional SPICE-based and switcher-optimized simulators.
  • TINA-TI is TI’s SPICE offering, and works well in my experience.
  • Multisim Analog Devices Edition is another good looking entry in the field.

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