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Eagle 8.6 First Impressions

As long as I've been designing PCBs I've always used Eagle Cad. I was first introduced to it in school where the first thing I designed with it was an infrared transmitter to control TVs. When I started at my current company, I found we also used it there to design test fixtures and prototypes. The version I've always used was 5.11, and this was because the PCB machine used at work had a full license to this version. Just to keep things consistent, I installed that version on my personal PC as well and never bothered to upgrade and continued to design in 5.11 from then on.

Once version 6 came out the files were no longer backwards compatible with each other, so as time went on, I was no longer able to open schematics and use parts libraries other people had posted online. This turned out to be for the better as it kind of forced me to become really good at creating my own libraries from scratch.

More recently though, I've been watching YouTube videos on PCB design and I've noticed some of the neat features that high end CAD packages like Altium or OrCAD have. This got me thinking that its time to finally upgrade from Eagle 5.11 to the latest release because maybe it would have some of these features. Since I wont be able to use any of my libraries of parts, or re-use the PCB designs I've made over the years, the thought did cross my mind that maybe this would be a good time to completely switch from Eagle all together and maybe look into something like KiCAD or DipTrace (Ideally I would have liked to switch to Altium, but unfortunately I don't have a spare 7000$ sitting around to spend on a license). However once I downloaded Eagle 8.6 and started diving deeper into the new features I was hooked.

Although I have a lot of good things to say about Eagle 8.6, there is a fair amount of not so good things I've noticed as well. For this reason, I've made my own list of pros and cons. Please keep in mind some of the things I am pointing out have been added since 5.11 and aren't all necessary new in version 8.6


-A preview is now displayed in the CAM processing window. I like this feature because it shows exactly what will be in each gerber file I create. Many times, in the older version of Eagle I've had to close the cam processing window to check what I have in each layer and re-open the processor to finish making my gerber files. Having a little monochrome preview window also allows you to quickly make sure you didn't put anything on the wrong layer before converting your file.

-Integration with Fusion 360 is also a new feature which I am quite excited about. Although I don't do much mechanical design, Fusion 360 is a software I am looking into learning at some point if I decide to get more into enclosure design. Even if you don't have Fusion, they make it super easy to use their online tool for viewing your design in 3D. Not everyone seems happy with the integration though. Some people like Eevblog forum member rx8pilot think "Eagle side by side with Fusion 360 is like a 20 year old dating a 75 year old though. Just looks wrong even if they are in love." I guess I will just have to see for myself.

-Locking parts and traces. There have been countless times, while routing a board, I've accidentally nudged a part or moved a trace without noticing, only to find out after manufacture that I made a mistake. With this new locking feature, you can essentially lock these parts into place to prevent things like this from happening.

-PUSH AND SHOVE!!! This is above all else my favorite new feature. This allows you to push other traces out of the way while respecting the design rules you set in place. In the older version of Eagle if I was routing a bus of traces from one side of the board to the other I would route the traces, roughly guess how close the traces are to each other, and run a design rule check. If I still had room, I'd go back and move the traces closer together, or fix any the clearance issues found by the DRC. Now in Eagle 8.6 the trace will not actually go any further if it is too close to another object. This allows you to really snug up traces as close as possible to other parts and other traces.

-The Nets are now labeled in board view. This not only speeds up the design process but also helps trouble shooting.

-Junctions balls are now automatically created when creating a schematic. Before I'd have to go back and manually place the junctions.

-Has spice simulations! This is a neat feature. I'm not sure that I will use this, as I am already fairly comfortable with LT spice, but maybe if I have time I will give it a try some day.

-You can now route differential pairs. Although I've only had to route a differential pair of traces a hand full of times, I still really like this feature. Its never been easier to match two different trace lengths.

-Parts can be aligned automatically. This is one feature I've wanted for a while. Labview has a similar feature which is used to aligning items on a user interface, and I've always thought this would be a neat function to incorporate into PCB design software.

-ULPs and scripts now have descriptions. ULP's can be really powerful at times, and are a great way to extend the capabilities of Eagle. Now you can easily see what each ULP or Script does because there is a detailed description of it when you go to use it. Before you'd open a window and there would be a list of the ULP's. In order to find out what each one did you would have to close the window, google its function and how to use it, then re-open that window and choose it. Now there is a detailed description for each one. Definitely an incentive for me to use them more often.

-Design Blocks! Second to push and shove, this is my other favorite new feature. This allows you to essentially copy entire chunks of your schematic and routed board, and paste it still intact. Of course you could copy and paste chunks of schematic before in Eagle, however the new parts created on the board would not be routed at all. Being able to multiply entire routed sections of the board is definitely going to be a huge time saver.


-One thing that Eagle is now being criticized for is its new pricing model. The only option is a monthly subscription, and being able to buy an indefinite license is a thing of the past. Even with all the newest features, this reason alone has probably caused many to jump ship. Although you only have to log in every 14 days to keep the license active, there are PCs I use that I rarely like to have connected to the internet that I'd like to install 8.6 on so this may be an issue for me. More and more companies seem to be doing this though so apparently this is something I may have to get used to. One good thing about this though is you can now essentially "rent" the version of Eagle you need for a couple months. In my case I only need a standard license most of the time, but if for example there is a project I am working on that will require more than 4 layers, or a larger board space, I can pay 60 per month to have access to the best version, then roll back to the stand 15 dollar a month standard license.

-It only can be installed on 64 bit machines. This is a huge bummer for me since there are PCs I use that aren't 64 bit.

-I dislike the process of getting a license. There are a lot of unnecessary steps I feel like they make you take in order to get a one. Once you do finally get one, turning off the auto-renew is also not so straight forward.

-Even to use the free version of Eagle you now need to register and get an Autodesk account.

-The sound effects are being abused. If you click on any function like move for example, if you don't click directly on the part, the generic windows error sound is made. After a while this sound gets annoying. I ended up turning off by typing in the command "SET BEEP OFF".


I'm glad I finally made the switch. Being able to download libraries of parts other people have made, and open other peoples boards and schematics is going to be a huge advantage. I was disappointed to find out that there were some features I wanted which were not included. Being able to route multiple nets at the same time, and auto-route individual nets one at a time, is something I've noticed you could do in Altium but not in Eagle. I'm sure Eagle is going to be continuously improved so maybe this will be included in the future. Who knows, maybe they will one day revert back to the indefinite license model, or maybe they will make it an option.

over and out.

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