Friday, April 27, 2012

Announcement: Texas Instruments Content Release

The Altium Content Team is pleased to announce a new release in the Altium Vault and Content Store. Texas Instruments has now been officially added, joining the existing TI / National content. Our first release contains a selection of Interface devices from TI’s extensive catalogue. Families released today include the following:

  1. Texas Instruments Interface 1394
  2. Texas Instruments Interface Ethernet
  3. Texas Instruments Interface RS-232

These components can be found in the Unified Components section of the Content Store. You can also use these components directly from within Altium Designer via the Vault Explorer - where you will also find supplier links and pricing information. For integrated libraries, look for the ‘Download Library’ button on the Content Store pages.

A total of 1855 new components have been released this week across these three Interface families. For details on TI’s Interface device offering you can find more at their website here.

This is just the tip of the iceberg with much more Texas Instruments content due in the coming weeks and months - stay tuned!

Announcement: Update 18 for Altium Designer

The Altium Development team are pleased to announce the 18th update for Altium Designer.

This update is a milestone event as it represents over 12 months of development and content delivered to our Subscription customers.

And it is also the first step into Altium Designer 12, visible through new branding that you will see displayed in this update. All users with a valid subscription have immediate access to this new release and can update to it through the Plug-ins and Update page of Altium Designer.

A significant number of enhancements and BugCrunch items are included with this update. Here's a sample of some that we hope will interest you:

STEP model preview:

A visual preview is now available when selecting a 3D STEP model in the PCB or library editors dialog box, which helps browsing through options when embedding a 3D body.

New track selection mode:

A new Select Track command has been added that provides the option of selecting connected track segments on the current layer – in effect, to select connected copper until the layers change or a component pad is encountered. In addition, the Select Physical Connection option has been changed so that tracks covered by a component pad are included in the selection.

Show contents while moving large selections:

Pasting and moving of large schematic selections has been improved so that once rendered, the contents remains visible while placement is made.

These new features were requested through BugCrunch. In total, 21 BugCrunch items have been included in this latest update, along with various other enhancements. Some worth mentioning include:

  1. Revised net violation handling with repeated sheets
  2. Improved junction handling and rendering
  3. Output jobs no longer modify the absolute path when set to use relative path
  4. Output path and log folder path now update with the project name
  5. Numerous FPGA/Embedded enhancements including support for the ST Microelectronics M25P (SPI) family of serial flash devices in embedded designs
  6. Updated localizations for various languages

Full details can be found in the release notes.

Accessing the Update

To update your Altium Designer installation, first ensure you are using a license with valid subscription. Proceed to the Plug-in page (DXP >> Plug-ins and Updates) and select “Update All”. If you don’t see the update, use the “Refresh” link in the top right hand corner of the Plugins page.

When you update, you will now experience the improvements that were made to the patching system in Update 17. In particular, you will see the option to select whether you want to update using patches or a full download. This is relevant with this release, as development includes changes to our Run Time Libraries, which requires the majority of modules to be updated. For those users who experience a lengthy update process due to anti-virus programs, using the full download option becomes a much faster process. For more info, see Wiki.

Installation of the updated modules will bring their revision up to 10.1051.23878. The Platform Build number will also update to 10.1051.23878 as the Altium Designer Base module is updated.

Note: If you are using a Private Server license or Standalone license and you have renewed your subscription since activation, you will be required to reactivate your license to obtain this and future updates.

For those who installed directly from DVD, you can access the updates by changing a setting in preferences: System >> Installation Manager, change the Remote Repository Location to

If you are wanting to install a new build containing this update, we have also released a new version of the Altium Installer and Uninstaller. These can be downloaded from the Software page in AltiumLive - download the latest Installer/Uninstaller.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Be open to your ideas with OpenBus

One of the greatest challenges – and opportunities – that engineers and developers face is the blind-alley – testing out that great idea to see whether or not it cuts it, and is used or abandoned. Chasing down blind-alleys is not something to be avoided. In fact, it’s something to be embraced, as part of the excitement and challenge of design. It’s more about finding those blind-alleys that really are blind quickly, and then moving on to evaluate alternate solutions.

The traditional approach to assembling a design, to test that great idea, usually means weeks or even months of hard work. That’s time that most design teams simply do not have. Consequently, they must carefully evaluate their ideas on the whiteboard and around the coffee machine, forced to take a more cautious and conservative path toward a working solution. What’s needed is an easier way to quickly assemble and test ideas, a way of reducing those weeks and months down to days.

Now more often than not, idea evaluation requires a complete system – one that includes a processor, some working code, connected IO, perhaps some signal conditioning hardware, and even some programmable logic. With this many pieces in the puzzle it’s no surprise that most engineers and designers are still stuck around the whiteboard, thinking, considering and evaluating, evaluating the risks as much as the design idea. If you’re interested in a better way of assembling and testing your ideas, well, read on.

Developing the idea

As I mentioned, more often than not, before you can even start evaluating an idea, you need a complete system. Altium Designer, coupled to a NanoBoard, lets you build that complete system, with access to soft and hard processors with matching software development tool chains, programmable logic, all sorts of IO, and a bunch of cool test instruments that can be embedded in the design.

Rather than trying to unravel all of those pieces in this article I’ll focus on just one of them, the one that lets you assemble the processor based hardware system with alarming ease, called OpenBus. It’s so easy in fact that you’re probably not going to believe it – until you’ve tried it for yourself, that is.

Out with the old, in with the new

The traditional approach to assembling a processor based system is to create a schematic, or for a design that is destined for an FPGA, you might even code it in HDL. Tried and proven, the schematic, or circuit diagram, completely details how the entire system connects. It also spatially shows the relationships between the various elements of the system, invaluable for interpreting and understanding a complex design.

As good as it is, there is a major catch to using the schematic approach, namely, the level of detail required. Nothing is inferred in a schematic, it is a completely detailed specification of every component, pin, net and bus in the entire design. Great for a design that is destined for PCB layout, where that level of detail is essential, not so great for a design that is destined to be implemented in an FPGA, where a lot of that information can be inferred.

By working with a standard signal bus architecture, such as Wishbone, it is possible to abstract away the detailed connection information in an FPGA design. Now it’s not that the information has been forgotten, and it’s all still there. Rather, the system is automatically managing all of the lower level net and bus level connections. Altium call this capture mode OpenBus.

The image below shows before and after. In the original schematic shown at the top of the image, each component has some 20 to 50 pins that must be wired, requiring over 100 wire and bus lines in this design. Moving to OpenBus, the entire set of orange-colored FPGA components in the schematic are replaced in the OpenBus sheet shown on the lower left, by 8 simple components connected by 8 lines.

A complex schematic with a large number of interconnects is reduced to a simple OpenBus sheet, plus a top schematic sheet to connect the design to the device pins.

Building up the design

Like schematic capture, OpenBus design is a graphical place and connect process. Components are placed into an OpenBus document from the OpenBus Palette. Interconnect style components are placed to allow multiple components to be connected to the processor’s IO or memory bus, and the various component ports are then linked together. Each link connects the full Wishbone bus between the components, including resets, clocks and interrupts.

Components, including embedded processors, are placed from the OpenBus Palette

To connect signals from the OpenBus sheet, such as the peripheral IO and the memory buses, out to the FPGA device pins, you’ll need a top level schematic. Once a new schematic sheet has been added to the FPGA project, the Create Sheet Symbol from Sheet or HDL file command is used to create a sheet symbol referencing the OpenBus sheet, complete with the requisite sheet entries. From there the nets can be connected out to device pins in the usual way, via ports or port plug-in components and suitable constraint files.

If the OpenBus Palette does not include all the elements you need, custom design is supported on a number of levels. For example, if you’re using Altium Designer’s C-to-Hardware capabilities to compile a processor-intensive function down into FPGA logic, then you’ll place and link in an ASP (Application Specific Processor) on the OpenBus sheet. On the other hand, if you need to craft a stand-alone C module, such as a state machine, then you can wire it in (along with other extra hardware destined for FPGA logic) via the top-level schematic.

So where are the tricks?

Seeming almost too good to be true, you’re first reaction is probably disbelief. Sure, you say, that deals with the wiring, what about mapping the devices in the memory space, and what about configuring their clocks, resets and interrupts? That’s all easily managed too; non-graphical information like that is configured in dialogs, as shown in the image below.

Non graphical detail, including mapping peripherals in the memory space and configuring interrupts, are configured in dialogs.

There’s much more to learn about OpenBus than can be covered in this short article, if you’re interested you can delve deeper in the Altium wiki (

Still not convinced? Well, you wouldn’t be a great engineer if you didn’t take a lot of convincing. Take a look at the interview with Peter Stephens, the Technical Director of Gryphon Systems Engineering ( in this issue of Envision.

A multi-storage format, multi-image format media player, designed using OpenBus.

But wait, there’s more

OpenBus delivers a neat and efficient way to quickly assemble the processor and IO system hardware for a design destined for FPGA implementation. The NanoBoard then provides a physical hardware platform where you can rapidly implement the design, and get on with testing and debugging.

But the heart of any smart electronics product today is the embedded software, so being able to quickly build the application is also an essential part of efficiently testing that great idea. Meshing beautifully with OpenBus is Altium Designer’s Software Platform Builder. Delivering an equally elegant and simple solution that OpenBus brings to building the hardware system, the Software Platform Builder allows the designer to visually assemble all of the low-level driver code needed for the various peripherals used in the design, automatically bringing together driver code supplied with Altium Designer.

But that’s another story in itself, so stay tuned to hear more about it.

The entire I/O subsystem for a complex, multi-storage, multi-format media player is implemented through the Software Platform Builder, freeing the developer to focus on the high-level application code


Announcement: Atmel Content Update

The Altium Content Team is pleased to announce an update to the Atmel Touch Solutions and RF/Wireless board-level components in the Altium Vault and Content Store.

A total of 104 new and updated components have been released from 4 categories:

  1. Atmel - Touch Solutions - 26 new, 9 revised components
  2. Atmel - RF Identification - 14 new , 9 revised
  3. Atmel - Smart RF - 12 new, 21 revised (formerly Communication ICs)
  4. Atmel - MCU Wireless - 6 new, 7 revised (formerly Communication ICs)

Additions to Touch Solutions include QTouch sensor ICs (AT42QT1070, AT42QT1085, AT42QT2100 & AT42QT2120) plus new QMatrix touch sensors QT60326 & QT60486.

New components across the RF families include the ATA6285N embedded AVR micro with LF-receiver and UHF-transmitter, the AT86RF232 2.4 GHz transceiver, and the ATA5746 UHF ASK/FSK 315 MHz receiver.

These components can be found in the Unified Components section of the Content Store. You can also use these components directly from within Altium Designer via the Vault Explorer - where you will also find excellent supplier links and pricing information. For integrated libraries, look for the ‘Download Library’ button on the Content Store pages.


Monday, April 9, 2012

Design Tip: Using the PCB Release View to Automate Output Job File Processing

Design Tip: Using the PCB Release View to Automate Output Job File Processing

Using Output Job files to define and store the necessary documentation needs for any Altium Designer project is an extremely efficient and powerful feature. As more output types are supported by Output Job files (footprint comparison report, STEP file export, and 3D Movie creation have been added for AD10), or your company’s documentation requirements increase, the number of Output Containers needed can get quite large. There is currently no method within the Output Job file editor itself for generating the content for more than one Output Container at a time. Therefore, it may take many mouse clicks to generate your entire documentation package.

AD10 introduced a new Design Data Management process for releasing designs to production. The aim of this process is to make use of Altium’s revision control integration and the new Vault technology to provide an automated, high-integrity design release system. However, customers not using revision control or Vaults can still make use of some of the automation provided. This automation can be used to batch-process one or more Output Job files and is outlined below.

Editing the Output Job files

The first step in this process is to set the Output Containers so that the Release Process will detect that Container. This is done by first clicking the Change link in a Container’s setup:

If the Base Path is not set to [Release Managed], click the name of the current base output folder.

This will drop down a small window showing [Release Managed] and [Manually Managed] choices. Select the [Release Managed] option. Now, instead of the outputs being written to the location specified by the [Manually Managed] folder name, the main output location will be determined by the Release Process.

If the Base Path is currently set to [Release Managed] then it can be left as-is. The sub-folder names can be edited, if desired.

Repeat this process for each of the Containers. If there are multiple Output Job files, edit those as well.

Creating a Configuration

The next step is to use a new area in AD10 called the Configuration Manager. This is accessed by right-clicking the .PrjPCB file name in the Projects panel, and selecting “Configuration Manager.” Additionally, if any file in the Project is currently opened, the Configuration Manager can be accessed via the Project menu.

As part of the official release process, a Configuration is a way to set up how a project is to be output in order to map it to a particular Item to be manufactured. More on this concept can be found here:

For the purposes of automating the Output Job execution, the only thing that needs to be done is to edit the existing default Configuration:

The name of the default Configuration should be changed. The reason that this is important is that this name is going to be used as the Base folder name when the outputs are generated. This folder will be created in the Project folder. For this example, the Configuration will be named “Outputs.”

The next step is to enable which Output Job file(s) are going to be run. Notice the names of two Output Job files from the Project are shown in the image below. Both will be run in this example.

Since no Vault is being used, the Target Vault can be left at [None] and the Target Item can be left empty. The resulting Configuration is as shown here:

If desired, multiple Configurations can be created to accommodate different combinations of *.Outjob files. For instance, if there are two documentation Output Job files (one each for two board manufacturers) plus a validation Output Job file that needs to be run regardless of which documentation Output Job file is used, then two Configurations can be created as below:

Click OK to dismiss the Configuration Manager. The information created here is stored in the .PrjPCB file, so save the Project at this point.

Releasing the Design

The last step is to create the outputs. Another new view for AD10 is the PCB Release View, accessed via the View menu. This view loads the Configuration(s) created in the Configuration Manager and allows the user to run all of the Output Job files in the Configuration at once. Notice that the name of the Configuration is shown. If multiple Configurations existed, they would be shown here in a tabbed view, allowing you to choose which one to run.

In the official release process (targeting a Vault item), you have the option of working in Design Mode or Release Mode. Release mode is only available when the design is checked in and current with revision control, and when a Release Vault is set up. Since neither of those is true here, only Design Mode will be available.

In Design Mode, only two steps of the release process are available – Validate Design and Generate Outputs.

Validate Design will be available if any of the Validation Outputs were added to the Output Job file. They include Design Rules Check, Differences Report, Electrical Rules Check, and Footprint Comparison Report. Three of these checks are present in the Validation.OutJob file used here.

Clicking the Validate Design button will run just those checks at this point. Any Errors or Warnings will get logged to the Messages panel. Once the Validate Design step has been completed, the status of those checks will updated in the list as shown in the image below:

It is important to note that because this is meant to support an official release flow, any validation checks that fail will cause the output generation process to stop. The failures must be addressed before continuing.

When all validation checks have been marked as Passed the rest of the outputs can now be generated by clicking Generate Outputs. Keep in mind that it is not necessary to first run the Validate step to run Generate Outputs. If any of the validation checks are not in the Passed state (i.e., Missing, Out Of Date, Failed), running Generate Outputs will automatically run Validate Design first. If all validation checks pass, the rest of the outputs will be generated and sent to the folder defined by the Configuration name. The full path to the folder is listed at the bottom of the Release View as shown below:


Once you have a good understanding of the process outlined above, it might be helpful to have a short checklist of the steps necessary to automate the Output Job file process. There are really just three main steps:

  1. Edit the Containers in the Output Job files to be [Release Managed] instead of [Manually Managed].
  2. Right-click the Project name to access the Configuration Manager. Set the Configuration name as the name of the main output folder name desired. Enable the necessary Output Job files.
  3. Go to View/PCB Release View, and click Generate Outputs to run the validation checks and generate the outputs.


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Announcement: Analog Devices Content Release

Announcement: Analog Devices Content Release


The Content Team is pleased to announce a new release (and new manufacturer) in the Altium Vault and Content Store. Analog Devices has now been added - and we are starting the board-level component roll out with their RF and IF category. Families released today include the following:

  1. Analog Devices RF IF Amplifiers
  2. Analog Devices RF IF Attenuators VGAs and Filters
  3. Analog Devices RF IF Detectors
  4. Analog Devices RF IF Direct Digital Synthesis
  5. Analog Devices RF IF Integrated Transceivers Transmitters and Receivers
  6. Analog Devices RF IF Mixers and Multipliers
  7. Analog Devices RF IF Modulators and Demodulators
  8. Analog Devices RF IF PLL Synthesizers and VCOs
  9. Analog Devices RF IF Prescalers (Microwave)
  10. Analog Devices RF IF Switches
  11. Analog Devices RF IF Timing ICs and Clocks

These components can be found in the Unified Components section of the Content Store. You can also use these components directly from within Altium Designer via the Vault Explorer - where you will also find supplier links and pricing information. For integrated libraries, look for the ‘Download Library’ button on the Content Store pages.

A total of 801 new components have been released this week across 11 families. For details on the RF IF devices you can find more at Analog Devices’ website here.

Stay tuned for more Analog Devices content coming soon, including Linear and Amplifiers!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Altium releases Maxim board-level components as online resources

New collection of Maxim component resources now available as design-ready content in AltiumLive

Shanghai, China – 28 March 2012 – Altium, developer of next-generation electronics design software and services, announces the release of new board-level components developed for a collection of Maxim’s analog and mixed signal devices, to its online content delivery system, AltiumLive.

The announcement highlights another step in Altium's rapid and continuous expansion of the design content available through AltiumLive. Establishing cooperative relationships with electronic component companies such as Maxim allows Altium to deliver high quality design content directly to electronics designers using Altium Designer, via its online services.

The new components released to AltiumLive include Maxim's smart building block products such as 1mm x 1mm 4-Pin comparators, MEMS-based real-time-clocks, point-of-load (POL) regulators and 'beyond-the-rails' multiplexers. Also in this release is a collection of design content for analog signal chain, interface and power devices.

Available online through AltiumLive, the unified board-level components are developed and maintained using the latest Maxim source data. The design-ready components include schematic symbol and PCB footprints with detailed 3D models for mechanical integration during the PCB design process in Altium Designer. Through relationships formed with electronics suppliers such as Digi-Key, Mouser and Newark, the Altium board-level components also include real-time supply-chain information, such as supplier choice, pricing and availability.

"Relationships with key parts manufacturers such as Maxim pave the way to providing our customers with high-integrity component resources that are ready to use in Altium Designer" said Rowland Washington, Content Development Manager for Altium. "Hosting design content in AltiumLive allows us to update and maintain an ever increasing pool of valuable design resources for Altium Designer users".

The new release of Maxim unified components with supply-chain information adds to the collection of Maxim design content available from the AltiumLive Content Store, which already includes Maxim's memory and microcontroller devices.

"Providing Maxim content through AltiumLive really helps us to provide our mutual customers with access to up-to-date Maxim products," said Shailendra Mahajan, Executive Director of Strategic Segment Marketing at Maxim . "This further enhances our ability to provide a streamlined and efficient design experience when using Maxim products, and helps AltiumLive users meet their design and production milestones.”

The board-level components for the new and existing Maxim devices can be accessed online from the Unified Components area in the AltiumLive Content Store. Within Altium Designer 10, the ready-to-use components and supply-chain links are available though the Vault Explorer, which directly accesses Altium’s managed component vaults via the AltiumLive web portal.

More information on the board-level components and how they are accessed in Altium Designer is available from AltiumLive and in the related blogs. Maxim products are available directly from Maxim online or from a range of Maxim authorized distributors worldwide. For more information, go to