Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 5, NO. 7 / NOVEMBER 1986



Makes circuit templates for etching

PCBoard Designer is a computer-assisted design (CAD) tool that creates etchable printed circuit board designs on Epson-compatible printers.

The only real limitation I found with PCBoard is that the finished board can't be larger than 6.3 x 3.95 inches. This might be insufficient for professional board designers. But it is fine for any printed circuit board templates that would be made by electronics hobbyists like me. The biggest drawback for the hobbyist is the $395 price tag. However, this price has already been heavily discounted by mail order houses.

PCBoard Designer consists of two programs. The first, DEF.PRG, is a GEM application used to create a customized library of component definitions which will later be used to design a board. This program is a little awkward to use. A component's outline is drawn on a grid using a "rubber-band" line, and the connecting pins are placed in their appropriate positions. The problem is that you cannot "lift" the imaginary pen and move it to a new starting point. You can't draw truly curved lines either, but this is less important.

PCBoard Designer work screen

You probably won't need to use DEF.PRG often, however. The authors have included a definition library containing most of the component icons you will need. Libraries of definitions can be expanded, modified, merged with other libraries and saved to disk. Still, a better drawing routine would be a welcome improvement.

The program disk also contains sample circuit boards and layouts for use with the extensive tutorial section of the well-done manual. The tutorial takes you step-by-step through the creation of a typical circuit board.

The second program PCB_DESI.PRG, is the actual design program. Like the first, it is a true GEM application and makes intelligent use of the desktop, switching between mouse and keyboard functions whenever appropriate. Your design work is all done from a single window and menu bar. To test the program, I designed a printed circuit board template based on the WEFAX interface circuit from the September 1986 Antic. (Figure 1.)

PCBoard layout

After becoming familiar with the program, creating the template was simple. I designed two component definitions, added them to the existing library and loaded the expanded library into the design program. Then I created a component list, where each item is given a name (such as C1), a component type from the library and an optional remark. Pressing the [HELP] key displays a list of all components in the library. The manual includes pictures of all the existing definitions, which is very helpful.

Next, I typed in the connections, which is the most tedious and time-consuming part of the process. You will probably have to work from a hand-drawn diagram to accomplish this accurately. But then the real fun begins. You'll really begin to appreciate PCBoard when you see how easy it is to rearrange the components on the screen. You can even rotate the components 90 degrees at a time by pressing the right mouse button. Rubber-band lines connect each component, giving you an idea of how well the layout is set up.

After you are satisfied with the arrangement, all you do is click on the routing option from the menu bar and select auto-routing. Within seconds an etch pattern appears on the screen. Sending this to your printer produces a double-size image which you must then reduce to the correct size on a copying machine. The result is an actual-size template suitable for photo etching!

Numerous features are supported. You can print out silkscreen diagrams of the component placements, add wide traces, specify double-sided boards and make varied adjustments to the layout.

Abacus has a generous backup policy. Upon receipt of your registration card, you will automatically be sent a backup disk. If you later need another, return your bad disk and the company will send you a new backup free of charge. This should ensure that you'll always have a working copy.

PCBoard Designer requires a 1040ST or a 520ST with TOS in ROM. You will also need a monochrome monitor and an Epson-compatible printer. The program disks can be duplicated, but the copies are not fully functional-they only accept 14 component entries, which is not enough to do anything useful. The bad thing about this copy-protection system is that you cannot transfer the program to a hard disk. The original master disk must always be in drive A.

I was thoroughly impressed by PCBoard Designer. It is a powerful, multi-featured design tool that can be easily learned and used.

Abacus Software, Inc.
P.O. Box 7219
Grand Rapids, MI 49510
(616) 241-5510