Comparison Between Protel P99SE and Protel DXP

This is currently an unformatted dump of some email posts (mainly from the PEDA and Altium DXP forums). Maybe one day I will organise this more elegantly.  This page was updated after the release of Protel 2004 - it does not really go into any detail of the Nexar stuff, just the PCB, Sch, Sim sort of tools. DXP 24004 was released a long time ago.  This comparison does not discuss features, improvements, problems, bugs etc from later versions.  This document is no longer very useful and is really just a piece of history.  Maybe some P99SE users will find some value in it but please don't take this as remotely representing the current state of the Altium software.

Here is my summary, very incomplete, very personal and in no particular order.

DXP/P2004 Likes


  1. Bi-Di blowing and sucking from P99SE seems OK (with some provisos on the use of names for parameters etc, and some new rules can't convert of course)(There are some recent reports of some issues - check the DXP forum archives.)
  2. Speed on my old PIII-450 256MB is marginally acceptable (I did not really expect this). There is a significant speed hit compared to P99SE, though. (Note DXP only currently works under Win2k and XP, not NT or 9x.).  I guess P2004 would be slower than DXP and so be no go on the old banger.
  3. Integrated libraries offer a better level of control in some circumstances - library contains sch symbols, footprints, sim models etc.
  4. Stability generally seems OK to me. I have had a number of AV's but only once lost any data, and that was doing a non-core operation (copying and pasting from a sim chart into a word processor, this may have been fixed) - I am not sure what others would say about stability but I do not see a lot of complaints on the DXP forum.  Update for P2004 - I have recently had one crash that required killing DXP without first being able to save. See Dislikes Point 1.
  5. Ctrl-R rubber stamp placement mode (like pasting but no need to keep Ctrl-V'ing).
  6. I quite like the new panel based view - though dual monitors make a huge difference. The Inspector panel is good. (I remain unimpressed by the merging of the List view with the Query/Filter entry panels, see here for details.)
  7. I like the query system - though I understand some find it difficult.  The "Find Similar Objects" right-click function is good.
  8. DDB has gone to make way for disk files that work well with version control systems. (See also DXP Dislikes point 9.)
  9. Interface to version control systems.
  10. But here is the biggy, the killer feature, the solution to all our ills and the bringer of world peace - the little-arrowy-thingy-next-to-the-file-menu has a text, yes a text, label!
  11. Scripting now has the power to access the underlying CAD data and iterate over components, tracks etc.  No need to have a copy of Delphi (and the right version at that) to develop complex add-ons.

Sch and Sim

  1. The new query engine is great. It is more complex and possibly does help if you have some experience with software development and booleans. It is much more powerful than the old global operations stuff. The applies to Sch and PCB.
  2. The ability to use version control properly is a big plus.
  3. Right-click and drag panning in Sch. I now hate it when I go back to P99SE and try editing schematics.
  4. Freely addable parameters at both the library and Sch level. (Pins and projects can also have parameters.)
  5. Better control of footprint source - you can choose which library, or let it choose first available and quite a few options along these lines.
  6. Much better ERC - including the important ability to check for unplaced parts of a component (power supply sections, preventing floating inputs...).  P2004 - ERC is on-line - red wiggles show something is wrong.  I find it quite useful - traps errors early.
  7. The initial problems with the loss of selected vs focussed are now watered down by provision of a number of tricks, and the provision of a selection memory, such that this is no longer an issue for me - this was one of my *major* reasons that I could not go with DXP seriously. I am not sure the new system is as good as the old, but it is certainly no longer a critical issue at all, for me at least.
  8. Database linking is much improved (including to Access and SQL-based including MySQL etc) - and no longer so terribly slow.
  9. <comment on feature removed due to DXP SP2 Beta>(I forgot the feature I wrote about here originally was affected by the latest SP Beta. Take it as read that this is a very nice and powerful feature that extends greatly P99SE abilities. Couldn't be bothered re-ordering all the list numbers.)(SP2 has been released but now I can't recall what this was to add it back in - oh well.)
  10. Sch Part field can be locked to reduce the chance of accidental changes - useful for those that work with a "one-symbol per company part number" - a 4k7 resistor will not have its value entered instead of replacing the part from the library. Though a field locked in the SchLib can still be unlocked in Sch - I would like to be able to *fully* lock a parameter within the SchLib to prevent any changes in the Sch.
  11. Filtering and masking features - stuff can be masked off (greyed out) and then not subject to edits. You would have to see it to understand it. Linked to the query system.  
  12. Dropping a two pin component onto a wire will (optionally) break the wire.
  13. Co-linear wire segments are (optionally) joined - so removing stray autojunction hotspots.
  14. Much better dual monitor support.
  15. Support for multi-channel designs, including some user suggested options for naming components in the channels.
  16. Better support for build variants - though I have not tested this in an serious fashion. Design variants is something we do heaps of.
  17. Much better simulation viewing.
  18. Easier mechanism to integrate sim (and other) models into a component. Though there are still some quirks here, nothing like as convoluted as P99SE though.
  19. Having our user suggestions (if presented well with a clear justification) implemented a few weeks later - get involved and your worthy ideas get implemented. It is great to see in a program that many will not easily be able to change from - the pain level in changing a CAE pkg is high. I take the view that it is much cheaper for me to get involved and see my ideas appear than it is to move CAE vendors - at least up to some bug/misfeature level anyway.
  20. Control over hidden pin connectivity on a per pin basis.
  21. Sch footprint models can have a user defined pin map.  So a Sch part may use pin number, 1, 2, 3 etc, while the PCB footprint may be a BGA or similar with a row, column pin/pad/ball naming scheme (such as A1, A2, ..B1, B2...).  In DXP Sch (and SchLib) you can establish a pin map between the different pin naming scheme and PCB naming scheme. This is very useful when a part is available in both TQFP or BGA footprints - one Sch part can do both footprints, if desired.


  1. Much more powerful rule system.
  2. Board shape stuff is OK. If it helps split plane checking, then I can live with it. It may even prove to be a winner. It certainly means that you can have mechanical details and sheet templates etc and still get reasonable reports from board info.
  3. Auto-pan issues fixed - hopefully forever but I certainly can't tell for sure on my old clunker. (Recent note 26Sep03 - auto-pan seems fine on my AMD 2700+/ATI Radeon 9700 based machine. BTW I haven't had any issues with this ATI graphics card under DXP (or P99SE).)
  4. Intelligent dimensions that can stay associated (and rescale) with entities.
  5. A much wider array of dimensioning tools (radius, angle, baseline etc).
  6. Net ties - should be able to do away with most of those kludges like wiring on unused layers and the "Lomax Vitual Short"
  7. Flipping selections works correctly - no need for multiple pass operations as required under P99SE. (Recent note 26Sep03 - though there is a problem, currently, with this - see PCB point 13  for details.
  8. Much better rules for checking component (and object in general) locations (InRegionAbsolute, InRegionRelative, TouchesRoom, WithinRoom queries). DRC is much better 
  9. Polygonal rooms.
  10. Ability to copy room formats (multi-channel design).  (There is debate on whether this feature could be improved - mainly should tracks that overlap the room boundary, even by tiny amounts, be copied - currently there tracks that cross the room boundary are not copied - meaning possibly some cleanup for tracks feeding in and out of the channels. I think that there are some improvements to be had here.) 
  11. PCB components have types as well as Sch components - to prevent them from being affected during updates from Sch - stuff like mounting holes or fiducial components. Also, Net ties are implemented using the component type feature. P2004 added the missing type - a component that should be updated on the PCB but not added to the BOM (example non-net tie RF PCB-only components).  
  12. Once (recent note 26Sep03 - some say "if") it is working, the autorouter has much greater control over weights and costs.
  13. Mech layers can be associated (Layer pairs) so they flip layers when components etc are swapped from top to bottom etc. Much like top and bottom solder masks are associated. (Recent note 26Sep03 - there is a bug with the updating a PCB footprint from a library for a component that has been flipped, and uses the paired layers - currently paired mech layers are not massaged if the target component has been flipped. Hopefully this will be fixed soon.)
  14. PCB polygon edit tools are a lot better. (Tony K. reminded me of this).
  15. Rounding/truncation issues when swapping between metric and imperial units seem to have been fixed or at least greatly improved. But See Dislikes point 8.)
  16. Filtering and masking (see Sch point 11). P2004 adds highlight modes which is good for inspecting nets on the PCB.  Also, P2004 adds better support for masking for users that prefer white backgrounds for PCB - so I believe anyway. 


DXP/P2004 Dislikes

  1. There are still various Access Violations.  Sometimes these force you to crash the program (using Task Manager). Sometimes I find they appear and then go away and all seems to be OK - though I usually re-start.  P2004 is not as crash free as P99SE.
  2. The autorouter still needs lots more work, it is not yet the breakthrough many had hoped. There is lots of work going on on this at the moment I gather. This would be my biggest disappointment. I still see poor autorouting following the release of P2004 - clean up is much better and completion is better but it is much slower than the P99SE router but it does do better routing.  Still not a breakthrough from what I can see.
  3. The UI is different and a number of the dialogs are harder to read than P99SE. They may be useful for new users but one rapidly looses this benefit as you become familiar. This would not be a go/no-go factor in a buy decision but it is an issue that is coming up in discussions at times. The eye candy is of no importance to me - I'd prefer concentration on an efficient user interface and if this improves the look then great.  I don't like eye candy that makes it harder to find the stuff I want in dialogs - there are some instances of this.
  4. As mentioned the loss of selected vs focussed was originally a major issue. Chnages have been made to overcome the loss of functionality. This would only be a minor issue for me now as I can certainly work effectively with the updated editing mechanisms and tools. Shame it was lost though.
  5. Forced upgrade to Win2k/WinXP. I was already using Win2k so it is not a big issue for me, but I hate to see programs encouraging users to pay MS more money.
  6. Slower than P99SE - but what is surprising about this. My main beef here would be that some (much?) of the speed loss is possibly due to eye candy rather than features. Still, as has been discussed before, for most engineers a 1 to 3 year lifetime for a computer system is not atypical. I just hate it when caught by the out-of-sync upgrade cycles (like I am now).
  7. There are still bugs, of course. There are also some improvements that users are wishing that have not (yet?) been implemented. But I, and others, are very impressed with the speed of progress and as I said it is great to be able to influence the product. Those that are not involved will have to stay with P99SE, move to something else, or "suffer" what about a dozen other users convince Altium is worthwhile. (Recent note 26Sep03 - the rate of visible progress on changes has slowed significantly, with Service Pack 3 taking a *long* time to mature and be release publicly.  This is disappointing.)
  8. The underlying base units have not been metrified which could, if properly done, have resolved all rounding issues.
  9. DDB has gone - but see General point 8. The DDB had some nice characteristics, but nothing really that can't be dealt with with disk folders and a good compression program.
  10. Still no generalised (not just components or electrical entities) clearance rule with overlap capability (ability to set negative clearances).  This feature is not available in P99SE, either, but is an often requested feature.  Maybe in a future service pack.
  11. Loading external netlists is harder than it should be.  Some users have reported problems but I have not seen this and I even though I have asked for some examples to try out I have not received any.
  12. The Parameter Manager is good but needs more work to allow us to deal with so-called "system parameters".  System parameters can't be added in Parameter Manager, only changed. This is a nuisance.
  13. In PCB, when you click on copper, the PCB panel does not update and show the nodes connected to this net. P99SE did this; users have asked for this feature to come back.  It could hook in with the Ctrl-Click highlight mode.  Irritating, it will be very annoying if it doesn't come back SP2.
  14. Some experienced P99SE users are having trouble switching to the new method of doing globals.  They report it is harder for them to remember the keywords. They miss the always available nature of the P99SE globals.  There are certainly some operations that are much more fiddly in DXP/P2004 than in P99SE - changing the attributes of designators or comments of selected components is one.  There is a change that could be done to fix this but it has not been implemented (hopefully SP2).

Tony Karavidas made these comments on the PEDA forum - I hope he doesn't mind me quoting him (unedited):

Placing sch pins now allows incrementing/decrementing pin numbers WHILE decrementing/incrementing pin names. I've been wanting that one for along time!!

Right mouse button pan in SCH and PCB.

Mechanical component type in SCH...keeps some things from ending up on the PCB but still remain in BOM.

Very useful highlighting/masking features. It really helps to trace things around the schematic and the PCB.

SCH net 'Graph' mode which shows (very clearly) where a net connects using this nice looking floating graphic line and it works in a complex hierarchy.

Navigator panel is very useful and far beyond the old Browse panel.

Error messages all have live links to the design showing the errors.

PCB polygon edit tools are a lot better.

PCB dimensioning tools are a LOT better.


My reasons for thinking the query user interface should not be on the List panel