Ah, the age-old question. Well in this blog post, I’d like to mention a few differences between these top two PCB design software tools/companies so you have an easier time deciding which one to learn right now.
Differences – not much, except a better user experience in Altium and also Drafting and assembly documentation. Altium is also more stable (doesn’t crash, whereas OrCAD might crash sometimes, but it always recovers the project).
Industry? – For the biggest companies, Cadence. For large to small companies, Altium. For industry in general, learn both, starting with Cadence software. For specific jobs, learn what the job is asking for first (often Cadence software tools or Altium).
Altium has Draftsman pre-installed, which provides built-in documenation and drafting options for creating high-quality assembly and fabrication drawings, while there is no dedicated drafting software installed with OrCAD at this time.
However, EMA Design Automation does provide Documentation Editor (similar to Draftsman) as an add-on software to elevate your drafting and documentation experience. It’s far better than providing PDFs and some printouts and text files (Gerber). So Altium comes with its drafting software by default, while OrCAD does not. However, upon purchasing OrCAD, you can add Documentation Editor to your quote and get them both installed.
OrCAD may have Altium beat on simulation but Altium does have simulation. I can’t say which is better right now so I’ll be testing that in Altium and updating this post as I learn more. So this isn’t really a difference at the moment.
Altium gives a better feel for me and user experience right now (feels like a Porsche). OrCAD is powerful and can also do anything (feels like an F-150) but has a bit of a higher learning curve than Altium.
Use in Industry
For Biggest companies ($1 billion+ USD in revenue) – mostly Cadence Allegro/OrCAD (and also Altium, but less so, or depends on the engineer or department).
For Mid-to-large companies – Altium wins out recently, but don’t be surprised if the company switches to OrCAD or just switched from OrCAD. Really though the above notes don’t cover nearly enough information.
For Small Companies – It really depends on the department/manager’s choice. Maybe OrCAD Standard, EAGLE or something else, like PADS (due to pricing).
From experience, Altium is a full package, best for freelancers and one-man armies and is easier to work with. However, OrCAD is not that hard to use once you have some tutorials/guides and understand how things are connected. I use both for freelance work and they both get the job done well. However, I prefer Altium, because it’s just smoother and easier to work with, even though I’m far more skilled in OrCAD.
Which One Should You Learn?
As mentioned in some of my courses and videos years back, I always recommend learning both. If you start with Altium and land a job, that’s great. Also learn some OrCAD. If you start with Cadence software and land a job (likely at a big big company, but doesn’t have to be that big), then eventually learn some Altium. But here are my thoughts on which to learn if you could only pick one:
If you want to work in Corporate Industry – Learn Cadence OrCAD/Allegro. It’s hard to find a job from a big company that doesn’t mention the Cadence software, even if they mention Altium, too. I’ve noticed that’s not the case the other way around. Meaning I don’t see a lot of job postings that state Altium that don’t mention Cadence, too.
If you’re trying to make a one-person army to do a project from absolute scratch to finish, to providing professional documentation, revisions, management, communication, etc., in a streamlined way that clients will love…just get Altium. It provides all that and more. However, you can do the same with OrCAD Pro, but it will not be the smoothest ride.
With that being said, most of my projects for clients have been in OrCAD, because that’s what the company was using. So…don’t think just because you’ve learned Altium, that you’re done, unless you only want to work with clients who use Altium. The same goes for OrCAD. At some point you might want an easier time producing quality deliverables to your client(s) and might switch to Altium.
Also keep in mind that yearly maintenance for either software, though. You want to be clearing at least 7-10x the amount of money annually that you spend on any of these software. If you’re good at PCB design and the full spectrum, that should be normal revenue, though.
Learn OrCAD/Allegro/PSPICE. The industry loves freshly degreed engineers who know this software.
Want to Know for Sure? Try Both
Altium and Cadence have free trials to their PCB Design software. Try them out on complex designs and see which one works for you.