For many years, I was looking for a new PCB layout package. And from time to time I would try one based on somone else's recommendation. Invariably I was unimpressed and fell back on my old standby TraxMaker that I purchased back in the 90s. That too was a recommendation, but its chief advantage was that you could start using it right away import virtually any format netlist and start laying out. Its user interface was simple and followed most other conventions, and push a button at the end and get a set of gerber files ready to fab.

Well among all the others tried, was KiCAD, but did not really have a good occasion to use it. But recently for one of our consulting clients we were asked to do a reference design of a high pin count TFBGA ARM processor with SDRAM and Nor-Flash, both also in BGA packages. So it was a fairly simple schematic and I first captured it in OrCAD, that the customer uses, and I have a license for as well.

So I thought, well maybe now would be a good time to give KiCAD a try again. I did try it back in the early days, and my impression was that it wasn't really ready for prime time, or at least I was more productive using TraxMaker. So I basically duplicated the schematic and threw it at the PCBnew. Of course footprints for the parts did not exist, but at least other similar footprints could be used as a base. That went surprisingly well and the 2 TFBGA and 1 BGA were on the screen in a couple minutes.

The intention all along was to send the layout out to one of our contract layout people. But there was some time over the weekend to keep evaluating how far the design could go. After a couple noobie mistakes, I got it thrown into the autorouter, which itself is pretty impressive. It was able to route all but 15 of the nets (out of some 240). As it was running overnight, a couple different placements were tried and also autorouted. Getting up the next morning, the original placement did the best so that was the starting point. Running the auto-router overnight is somewhat of another noobie mistake, it seems like at around 20 passes (less than an hour) at least in this case, got about as far as it could get.

It took most of Saturday to route those 15 nets, but the learning curve was climbed quickly. The push and shove routing is great, something lacking in TM. Even modified the schematic and generated a new netlist and that went smoothly (also easy in TM). So for new design layouts KiCAD looks to be the way to go. Its schematic entry is still a little primitive and the GUI could be improved. For instance repeating labels or wires took a while to find. Who would have guessed the INSERT key ??? And doesn't look to me like it handles rubber banding of wires something even the DOS version of OrCAD did. Maybe I just need to do some more searching. It did handle changes to part symbols something OrCAD is notoriously bad at.

Just FYI over the years I have purchased OrCAD, Altium. and long ago TraxMaker/CircuitMaker. Tools I have tried include early KiCAD versions, DIPtrace, Eagle, PCB123, ExpressPCB and others long forgotten.

So why do native French and German speakers pronounce it kī-kad and not kē-kad ???

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