Mark Ross is a long-time Altium Beta user and our guest in this podcast episode to share his insights and the value he gets from being a Beta user. He also chimes in on a long list of questions about what he thinks of Altium Designer 20. He gets into the details on this latest release of Altium Designer and what sets it apart from other eCAD packages, the most significant new feature, and - are there any designs the tool can’t handle? Listen in, read the notes, or watch the video below to find out.

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Show Highlights:

  • At age seven Mark took apart his first CB radio, setting the tone for what would become a lucrative career. He has now been designing circuit boards for 32 years. Beginning with Protel Easytrax, he progressed and moved on to other tools. When Altium acquired Accel in 2000, Mark moved over to Altium Designer®, which he has been using ever since.
  • Mark has been designing power products for Progressive Dynamics, the market leader in RV Power conversion, for almost five years. Before joining their team, their products were exclusively through-hole technology, and he was in charge of converting everything to surface mount.
  • Some of their challenges were directly related to 3D capability, and Altium was extremely helpful with component collisions and UL spacing. 
    With the help of Altium Designer, Mark designs a new circuit board every two weeks and does a product revision once a week.
  • Q: “How long have you been a Beta User for Altium?”
    A: “Since 2015, and I am a firm believer in it. I believe there is a big disconnect with CAD software users in general, but Altium gives me the opportunity to provide feedback.”
  • Q: “How has that experience been for you and what benefits do you see in keeping at it through almost five releases?”
    A: “Firstly, employability—things change so rapidly, you have to stay updated. Also, when our company starts using the latest update, I can help my colleagues, which is very beneficial.”
  • Q: “You’ve worked with Altium Designer well in advance of its release, what is your honest opinion of the significance of Altium Designer 20 compared to some of our previous releases?”
    A: “Well I was one of the vocal guys stuck with Altium Designer 17. I did Beta on AD18 and 19 but just couldn’t afford to take the time to learn the new tools fully while also doing my work. When I started using AD20, coming from 17 to 20, 97% of the time, I don’t notice it anymore, the user interface is much smoother and the ease of use is back.”
  • Q: “What are your top three favorite new features of AD20?” 
    A: “The interactive router is absolutely’s really helping us to make last-minute changes about 40% faster, plus the user interface, and there’s much more. Also, the 3D rendering engine is phenomenal compared to what it was.”
  • Q: “What’s your opinion on the stability of AD20 and what is the impact on your day-to-day?” 
    A: Even on the Beta I’ve noticed that it’s pretty stable, overall I have not had the system crashes that I’ve seen in the past.” 
  • Q: “How would you compare the interactive routing and any dramatic changes in AD20 to AD17?”
    A:  “The router is amazing, I highly recommend that everyone go to this section of the presentation; the way the router works now is absolutely amazing especially or me typically dealing with 40 to 60 rules—I can get a lot more packed in because of the way the router can now hug around a pad, once you see it, you’ll be blown away.”
  • Q: “If you could pick only one thing that has improved your daily design flow, what is the #1 new thing?”
    A: “Other than the router, we’re seriously starting to look at ACTIVEBOM® because that gives us a pulse on the way the industry is going.”
  • Q: “Not to be redundant—specific to time savings—you just went from 32-bit to 64-bit, which is a huge time saving, but besides that, what is your biggest time saver?”
    A: “Again, for us, it’s the router.”
  • Q: “What do you feel may not have been addressed in Altium 20?”
    A: “I haven’t seen anything in our industry, for the way we use the tool—speaking with other people at AltiumLive though, it seems they are very happy with the differential pair routing improvement.” 
  • Q: “Have you played around with the creepage, it sounds like you’re dealing with a lot of high voltage?”
    A: “Yes, thank you very much for that. That was one of the things that was tricky, with worrying about UL spacing, there’s creepage and clearance and we have to address both; having the tool do that for us—that’s going to save us a lot on board spins!”
  • Q: “Have you used any other CAD tools during your career, Mike?”
    A: “I have used other tools, that we won’t mention, but it’s always been your tool, and honestly, everyone I’ve worked for, wanted Altium. Most of the jobs I see posted require Altium Designer experience.” 
  • Q: “From what you’ve seen in AD20 regarding high-speed digital, do you think there are any designs that the tool can’t handle?”
    A: “No, I have worked with high-speed digital before, and I don’t see anything that the tool can’t handle.”
  • Q: “Which three capabilities of Altium Designer as a CAD tool, sets it apart from other CAD packages?” 
    A: “The router, again—I think that router is absolutely fantastic. The capabilities it has, with the 3D, is far better than anything I’ve seen on any other package, and the ACTIVEBOM is another thing where Altium always seems to be one or two steps ahead of everybody else. The other thing that is going to help with collaboration is Altium 365. It removes the disconnect between the designer and everyone else in the process.” 
  • Q: “What made you decide to make the switch from AD17, where you’d been hanging for a while, and move onto AD20?”
    A: “When I got into the AD20 Beta program, I was able to start using it immediately, there’s one modal dialogue box that’s not there, but I’m not noticing any difference in the usability. I have switched over completely now.” 
  • Q: “What has made you stay with Altium over the years?” 
    A: “Obviously the price point, you guys don’t nickel and dime us. The ability to go on and off maintenance while your software stays intact is very helpful, and you guys are very stable. Also, the fact that you continue to improve the tool.”    


Links and Resources:

Interactive router (video of any angle routing on Linkedin)
See What’s Coming in Altium Designer 20


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