Review by Frank Cohen
It is 4 a.m. Your university level, digital electronic-design class will be holding its final exam in the morning and your term project is due today. You might wonder why your eye's are bloodshot and your fingertips have burn marks. It's probably because you've been up all night working on a "breadboard" to make an integrated circuit do something simple.
Breadboards were created years ago as a temporary way to design and test simple electrical circuits. A breadboard looks like a bunch of Lego building blocks and is covered with places to snap and couple wires: Integrated Circuits (ICS), Light Emitting Diodes (LED), and switches. An electrical engineer usually starts with the design of an electrical circuit on paper. To test the design, the individual components of the circuit are assembled and placed onto the breadboard. A power supply is connected to the breadboard and the circuit is tested. If the circuit fails to work properly, the breadboard components can be easily shuffled around until the circuit begins to work.
Circuit Maker makes the breadboard a thing of beauty. Instead of using physical components, Circuit Maker displays the breadboard and all the possible components on your Atari ST's screen. Only a few clicks of the mouse are needed to make a connection between an IC and an LED. Selecting the RUN command from a drop-down menu simulates the circuit while it is running and the LED will become illuminated. Voila! Instant electronics, just add water!
Circuit Maker is a "simulation" program. It falls into the category of Computer Aided Design (CAD) and Computer Aided Manufacturing (CAM) software systems. CAD/CAM software simulates the physical world as lines and drawings on your ST's screen. Normally, commands are given to a CAD/CAM program using the mouse. The program's ability to accurately manipulate and display the simulation is what determines a good program from a bad program. Circuit Maker simulates most of the commonly used electronic components in a very friendly and intuitive manner.
Circuit Maker is packaged in a simple, unadorned user manual. A registration card is included so that you may receive the planned upgrades directly from the manufacturer. Illiad Software offers one free upgrade to registered users. After that, backups and upgrades cost $10 each.
The manual covers enough information for you to run the program and understand each of the program's functions, and also includes several experiments in a tutorial section that require a minimal amount of electronics experience. However, for those of you with little or no electronics experience, the manual is not a book on digital electronic's design. For that, you will have to find an introductory book or more likely take a course on the subject.
For experienced electronic designers or students, Circuit Maker is a powerful way to create, test and record digital electronic designs. While a circuit is running, software oscilloscopes may be attached anywhere in the circuit to view logic levels of any component or wire. The dynamic ability to test circuits is very impressive.
The user of Circuit Maker has a large library of electronic components to use. Common NAND and NOR gates, flip-flops, gates, seven segment decoders and displays, LED's, digital timers and oscillators, and switches are available for circuit design. Wires and connect points are used to connect any of the available circuits. Once connected, the RUN command makes the circuit live and any of the output devices (LEDS and Seven Segment Displays) show the performance of the components as the circuit performs its designed task.
Circuit Maker uses GDOS, so what appears on the screen may also be printed out. GDOS is the controversial GEM operating system enhancement that allows fonts and graphics to be shown on the screen and printed on a laser printer, plotter or normal dot matrix printer.
Illiad Software purchased a limited license to use GDOS from Atari for a $500 fee. Michael Newson, Illiad Software's Marketing Director, indicated that Circuit Maker uses version 1.8 of GDOS and comes with a printer driver that will print only on Epson graphics printers. Newson said several other printer drivers might become available in the near future.
Circuit Maker was written in the Modula 2 programming language. At times, it can be cumbersome to operate as simple mouse clicks and other graphic functions have long lag times. Circuit Maker is fairly memory efficient, however a one-megabyte system is needed to hold a realistic number of components in a circuit.
Illiad Software also markets a complete CAD package called Athena. Expected early next year, Athena 2 Professional will also have CAM functions to drive tooling and manufacturing machines capable of receiving computer commands. In its Utopian state, the designs developed in Circuit Maker will be sent to an "auto routing" program which will determine the exact component layout of your design. Athena 2 will be used to produce the final PC Board design and program a milling machine to produce the finished, printed circuit board.
Circuit Maker was designed by Ozzie Boeshans, an electronics designer at Signetics, one of the largest integrated component manufacturers.