Saturday, February 1, 2020

KiCAD Schematic and PCB Design

The venerable Eagle PCB design program has gone Cloudy.  I have used Eagle for about 20 years - sometimes I bought the professional version and sometimes I just used the free hobby version - depending on what I needed to do.  Eagle now requires a permanent subscription, which is not compatible with intermittent use.

I therefore looked around for a Free PCB design program, tried gEDA PCB and KiCAD and quickly found that I am not alone.  My favourite high tech toy stores Sparkfun and Digikey also looked around and we all settled on KiCAD.  It turned out that KiCAD is also used by Great Scott Gadgets (HackRF One) and that two of the main developers of KiCAD are employed by CERN.

KiCAD on a MacBook

If KiCAD is good enough to make the HackRF One PCB, then it must be good enough for me...

As with all CAD tools, it takes a little getting used to.  Note that Move and Drag are not the same.  For example, Dragging will rubber band the wires, while Moving will not.

I tried to install it on my MacBook and soon ran into a little spot of bother, but after futzing around a bit, I found the solution and it works great, as you can see from the above screen grab. (My latest hack is an Olde Skool VHF preamplifier using a miniature thermionic valve - for use with my RTL-SDR SatNOGS receiver)

Download

On Windows and Linux, installing it should not be a problem and the stable version comes with all versions of Linux, so it is as easy as:
# dnf install kicad

or
$ sudo apt install kicad

For Windows, get KiCAD here:
https://www.kicad-pcb.org/download/

Tutorials

https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/beginners-guide-to-kicad

https://kicad-pcb.org/help/tutorials/

Install KiCad on a Mac

If you want to install KiCAD on a Mac, you may run into a permissions problem:

No Authenticate Button

The usual way to install program on a Mac, is to drag the left hand icon over to the right hand one.

See the problem?  'Click Authenticate', but there is no 'Authenticate' button to click!

The solution requires two settings changes and some manual dragging and dropping.

1. Enable viewing the Library folders in Finder
Go to your User home folder. Pull down the “View” menu and choose “View Options” Choose “Show Library Folder” in the settings options for the User home folder.

2. Enable Install from Identified Developers
Go to System Preferences, Security and Privacy and tick Allow Apps Downloaded From App Store and Identified Developers.

Now, if you right click/two finger tap on the right hand icon of the KiCAD installer and select Get Info, then you will see the full designation path which is something like "/Library/Application Support".  With Finder, go there and drag the left hand icon of the installer over to the correct place in Finder and now you will get a security authentication prompt.

After that, once everything is installed, KiCAD will work just fine.

Routing

KiCAD includes a manual router, which is fine for very simple boards, but if you want to do something more serious, then the manual router will become tedious in no time.

Install Freerouting on Linux:
$ su -
password
# dnf install freerouting

KiCAD with Freerouting Auto-Routed Board

More information here: https://freerouting.org

In essence, you export a DSN file from KiCAD, import it into Freerouting, turn it loose and go watch a ball game - when you get back, it may be done...


Have fun!

Herman

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