Just in time for the new year, Altium LLC has announced the newest release of the company’s flagship PCB design software—Altium Designer 18.

What differentiates this release from its predecessors are several improvements in performance, user interface, and design tools to make the process of creating, managing, and manufacturing complex PCB designs as seamless as possible. To identify areas of improvement, the company used feedback from the Altium user community as well as its own research and development efforts.

Here is a feature overview of Altium Designer 18.


Ability to Handle Larger Designs

Altium Designer 18, unlike its predecessors, now takes advantage of 64-bit architecture with improved code for multi-threaded execution. This gives Altium Designer greater access to computer memory to handle large designs and better algorithm execution to make common tasks faster and more efficient. Things like generating Gerber files, design rule checking, and switching from 2D to 3D should feel quicker and more efficient as a result. This also helps those designing multiboard projects, which can eat up a lot of memory.

Between Altium Designer 16 and Altium Designer 18, the following performance benchmarks were provided on a 4-layered project with 39.6k tracks, 1925 components, 1267 nets, and 369 polygons:

  • Polygon Repour - 5.0x faster (12:56 mins vs 2:36 mins)
  • Gerber File Generation - 155.6x faster (2:33 hours vs 0:59 minutes)
  • Online DRC - 5.6x faster (32:30 mins vs 5:46 mins)
  • File Opening with Scene Building - 6.7x faster (9:36 mins vs 1:26 mins)
  • Project Compilation Time - 3.38x faster (0:54 mins vs 0:16 secs)

Speeding up common tasks in Altium Designer 18 makes PCB designing a smoother experience, and can help get designs to manufacturers or clients faster. 


Usability Changes for Menus

A demo of Altium Designer 18 featuring a new UI. Image courtesy of Altium LLC.


Menus in Altium Designer have been reconfigured to make the workflow smoother. Commands and menus deemed “low usage” were removed, though there isn't much information available to suggest how they specifically defined what that term entailed.

Added menus and commands were: 

  • New properties panel combines the Inspector Panel and properties dialog displays important information about the PCB design in one place. 
  • Global search function for quick access to commands, information, or design objects (such as component libraries). 
  • New layer and control panel also gives more control over layers and masks, as well as provides filtering options to make focusing on layers of interest easier. 
  • New active bar will provide a place where most frequently used commands can be quickly accessed or customized to the users needs.


Interconnected Multi-board Assembly, ActiveRoute, and PDN Analyzer

Altium Designer 18 also has a new project type: multi-board design project. Previously a feature only available in the most high-end tools, multi-board project management is now available to Altium users for high-density, multi-board projects. Designers can work on multiple boards in one environment, manage connections, synchronize pin swaps across connections, and flag errors in connections or dissimilar net names. Multi-board projects also provide designers the opportunity to mechanically model their designs, and check for component alignment and collisions. The outcome is more accurate prototyping, fewer iterations, and better design accuracy. 


A 6-sided PCB multi-board project with collision detection. Image courtesy of Altium LLC


PCB routing can be a long and arduous task even for the most seasoned PCB designer--high-speed auto-routing can lessen the burden and help guide the user. With a new and improved ActiveRoute feature, automated routing can be fine-tuned and adjusted using rules-driven length and phase tuning, as well as features meander controls, glossing, and pin-swapping.


Length tuning in ActiveRoute. Image courtesy of Altium LLC


Altium Designer 18 also features PDN Analyzer 2.0 (Power Distribution Network), with a more intuitive and appealing user interface, more powerful features, and improved accuracy. The PDN Analyzer 2.0 can analyze multiple power nets concurrently, provide current and voltage limit checks, and provides detailed reports. 


Streamlining the Bill of Materials

Finally, in one of the last steps of PCB design is the creation of the bill of materials. The ActiveBOM feature in Altium Designer 18 connects to information from vendors to provide real-time information on component availability and price so that information can be accessed throughout the design process before final decision making at the end.

Several user requests have also been implemented to make creating the BOM better—among those improvements are persistent Item/Line numbering, and aliasing for parameters/column names.


ActiveBOM screenshot. Image courtesy of Altium LLC.
(Click to enlarge)



Altium Designer 18 is available as a free upgrade to already existing Altium subscribers. Otherwise, a free trial is available through the website to give you a taste before buying it. 

If you've had a chance to work with Altium Designer 18, please share your experiences in the comments below.


Featured image courtesy of Altium LLC