Mentor tries the low end, again, with PADS Maker
For the second time in recent years, Mentor is taking a stab at entry-level PCB CAD.
In late 2014, EDN reported on a Mentor-DigiKey collaboration called Designer that was to bring lower-midrange capabilities to users for $600. It’s unclear how long this software remained active, but I can’t find any trace of it today.
Mentor has again teamed with DigiKey to release the $499 PADS MakerPro and the free PADS Maker. And good news for the abandoned Designer folks: these PADS systems will import your files.
Contrast and compare
Not surprisingly, the free version is fairly limited, though not as much as some other free CAD software. The largest board supported is 25 in2, 1,500 connections are allowed (unclear if that means nets or pins), and 6 layers (4 single layers max). What’s a “single layer” you ask? Could it be a “signal” layer? I’m already unimpressed by the documentation.
In true big-company fashion, a license key is still required, and it only lasts a year. I find that troubling. If Mentor drops support, your software will soon die. Unlike some other free ECAD software, designs remain private and local as opposed to being shared in the cloud.
The MakerPro version has no connection limit, a maximum PCB size of 50 in2, and handles up to 8 layers (6 single [sic]).
Unexpectedly, the Pro license is perpetual. However, both licenses are node-locked, a solution I’ve never much cared for. Perhaps running such software in a VM is the way to future-proof it.
Neither version includes an auto-router, supports hierarchical schematics, or does 3d rendering of assembled boards.
Both versions provide access to PADS AMS Cloud for simulation, and PartQuest, an interface to DigiKey’s full catalog.