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Freeware catches on in electronics DIY projects

Posted: 02 May 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:DIY  tool  freeware 

Editor's Note: EE Times' Cabe Atwell throws together ten of the best free online design and simulation software and tools, the functions of which extend beyond that of a simple adding machine, for designers pursuing DIY projects.

Every electrical engineer who does DIY projects knows that dozens of free resistor calculators are out there that can save quite a bit of tedious work. Other simple tools can be found, but traditionally the free tool arsenal would stop there. Sure, there are base platforms such as SolidWorks and Autodesk, but what happens when they are missing a feature needed at that exact moment?

Now we're seeing a relative explosion in free tools for engineering electronics. It is easy just to hit the Net and use the myriad resources available. Some of those online tools prove to be worthless, and it's back to blind searching or some paid tool. But free software extends far beyond the functionality of a simple calculator.

To help sort out the nonsense from the useful online tools, check out the following list.

Calculatoredge: when one calculator isn't enough

Calculatoredge

Calculator choices from Calculatoredge.

One of the more useful tools in an engineer's tool-box is a physical calculator. Why does it seem to get lost when it's truly needed? Workstations usually save the day. Those included in your OS of choice (Windows, iOS, Linux, etc.) are good for simple tasks but not so great for other things, even in scientific mode.

Searching for the right one online will net you roughly 131 million choices. Which one are you to choose when there are so many? Why not choose them all?

Almost all calculator versions known to humankind are located in one convenient site, Calculatoredge. It boasts no fewer than a few hundred calculators for just about every field imaginable (and perhaps some that are unimaginable), including electrical, mechanical, civil, chemical, and even math. There's no need to search aimlessly for that obscure number cruncher ever again. Some of the more complex calculators even come with some rudimentary instructions.

SourceForge's Cedar Logic Simulator

SourceForge

SourceForge's Cedar Logic Simulator.

When it's time to test simple digital logic gates and registers or even some high-level components, you can turn to SourceForge for some free online simulations with its Cedar Logic Simulator (still in beta edition). Designing circuits is great and all, but will they function correctly and perform when it counts? The Cedar Logic Simulator allows users to perform test simulations at the transistor, register/transfer, gate, and other levels.

The software also can be used as an introductory tool for teaching logic design and an entry platform for circuit design by allowing users to drag and drop gates, inversions, and connections. There are also options for undo/redo and copy/paste functions. Projects can even be exported to monochrome or colour bitmap files for project integration. SourceForge's main application window allows users to move back and forth through 10 different pages for multiple projects, making it one of the better free applications on the web.

Logisim 2.7.0, an alternative to Cedar Logic Simulator

Logism

Logisim 2.7.0

SourceForge's Logic Simulator isn't the only free simulation tool available on the Internet. Tools that rival its design and simulation applications include Carl Burch's Logisim logic simulator. Students of the computer sciences often use the app as an introductory circuit design/learning tool, but it's practical for use outside the classroom, as well.

Logisim incorporates some of the same features as Cedar, including design and simulation platforms with preconfigured elements: AND, OR, NOT, etc. However, the software provides more in-depth functionality, including a tool for drawing colour-coded wiring connections that make programming and debugging a little easier. One of the more interesting aspects of Logisim is that it's portable and can be stored on removable storage media. It also can be used on any Windows-based PC, and it runs immediately after you click on the program. That's a luxury in today's install-but-with-malware world.


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