AutoTrax operating notes

General information about the AutoTrax PCB design software.

{Summary}
Content revision history:
Article first written: 21st September 2007.
Updated: Extra information added, 6th September 2009.
Corrected:

Introduction

Although AutoTrax was created in the early 1990s it remains a very good tool. Its strong points are

  • That it works reliably
  • It does what it is needed to do
  • It very easy and FAST to operate since it is largely keyboard driven and using the keyboard is generally four to ten times faster than using a mouse-driven point and click method of control.
  • It is free. Altium (formerly Protel) decided to give it away to anyone who wants it, via their web site.

Notes based on experience

Linux penguin studying AutoTrax PCB design.
This looks like fun

Unless otherwise indicated, these notes apply to the AutoTrax software itself, rather than to any particular operating environment.

  1. The library editor for the schematic program will sometimes corrupt the library file just edited. It is known that having space characters in component names can lead to corruption even though the SLM program will allow spaces to be used.
  2. Instead of using the SLM schematic library editor to create components it is possible to use a plain text editor to create a library source file, and then usel the SLM program to compile the source file into something that the schematic editor can use. This is a slightly more complicated process but it it means that the whole library need not be lost when the SLM program has one of its 'corruption' experiences. Also, if the components are held in library source files it is much easier to create custom 'pick and mix' libraries because a standard text editor can be created to cut and paste whichever components are wanted.
  3. The netlist checking facilities that allow a set of schematics to be matched to a PCB _do_ work. However in order to have the process work it is essential that every pad of every component is properly numbered. Ordinarily this is what you would expect but some of the standard libraries supplied with the original software had every pad numbered '0' which comprehensively confused the net list checking. If necessary you will need to edit the PCB component libraries to give every pad a proper number. It is very tedious to do but only needs to be done once and thereafter the benefits of being able to cross check the schematic and PCB layout will save you lots of time and money and leave you with a warm and cosy feeling inside.
  4. The component footprint libraries supplied with AutoTrax tend to have every hole of every component set to a size of 28 thou (i.e. 28 thousands of an inch). In many cases a 28 thou hole is smaller than the component leg diameter, so the libraries must be modified before attempting to use the software to create a circuit board.

AutoTrax can be operated on GNU/Linux systems by making use of the DOSemu emulation program. AutoTrax and DOSemu.

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