Autotrax is a freeware PCB CAD package written by Protel in the early 1990's (See image, right). Autotrax is capable of producing 6-8 layer boards (see image below) and reasonably fine geometries. The file format is simple - which has resulted in many engineers open-sourcing tools to support Autotrax. (See resources list) Most PCB manufacturers can import the Protel Autotrax format if you ask them, in our experience. Autotrax can be used to produce PCBs with Non-plated holes, complex routed shapes (internal to PCB and external contour), non-solder masked copper, and for panellising multiple PCBs for manufacture. Autotrax is easy to drive with mouse, menu or keyboard commands. Library components (new part footprints) are easy to generate in Autotrax.
It produces good quality single sided and double sided PCBs, and does reasonably well at Multilayer provided you do not need buried vias or exceptionally fine geometries. Autotrax is free. The file format is reasonably easy to manipulate, and people have written tools that provice special features such as circular arrays of pads, bitmap to tracks (great for logos), PCB to bitmap. As Autotrax runs under Dosbox it is by default portable to any operating system.
The main advantage of Protel Autotrax is it quite capable of completing 95% of the PCB design work (my estimate) done today - and it is simple, fast, and free. The other 5% is the complex stuff - if you are using large pin BGAs and you don't wince at $2000 prototypes, you should probably be using the latest product from Mentor Graphics.
Autotrax has had its name usurped by UK Kovacs, who makes the PCB package "AutoTRAX DEX 2020". This is not compatible with Protel Autotrax, although it is also not an expensive package (I mean that in a positive sense) and may be worth considering for new PCB designers. Having two packages with the same name is confusing.
Autotrax is not able to do all the finer operations of newer CAD packages - such as autorouting (it does this, but not well), automatic impedance matching, , Trace length equalization. There are workarounds to achieve many of the extra features that are sometimes needed but not directly supported - such as components rotated by other than 90/180/270 degrees, tented vias, a mechanical drawing layer, and non-plated holes. Autotrax does not produce RS-274X format gerber files, so gerber file translation must be achieved with third party tools. Autotrax does not have integrated schematic capture ( = circuit design), or simulation so this must be done by another package. Autotrax was originally sold with Protel Schedit V3.31 for this function. Autotrax does support all the functions required to integrate with a schematic package, including netlists, rubber banding, automatic component import based on a netlist, progress through a netlist (using the autorouters preroute) and design rule checks.
Autotrax runs inside DOSBox, so it can install under many operating systems.
To install Autotrax you will need the Autotrax Freeware package, the DOSBox package suitable for your operating system (we will show Windows 7/8), and a package containing the VESA video files, config file, and so forth, from us.
Successive versions of Windows have broken Autotrax and required workarounds. Windows 98 ran Autotrax quite well, although most video hardware would only support 640 x 480 resolution, and required our VESA drivers. Later, XP also ran Autotrax, but only using either the VESA drivers or our XP Driver. With later versions of windows there is no native support at all. Autotrax runs well under DOSBox, (using our VESA driver inside DOSBox), and will now run on just about any Platform. It is very likely that DOSBox will be ported to run on all future versions of windows. Even on a system still running XP, I still prefer the DOSBox solution to the XP Driver, but ofcourse people can take their pick.
Referring to VESA modes (above) DOSBox V0.74 (October 2010) supports resolutions up to 1280 x 1024. The DOSBox devlopers do fix bugs that stop old games from running, but I can't find a list of planned future features. I emailed one of the two main developers (Peter Veenstra) a year after 0.74 release to ask about Higher VESA resolutions, he suggested trying the Megabuild 6 put up by a (now less involved) third member of the team (H-A-L-9000). MB6 has extra VESA modes, but it is slow. I tested 1600x1200 set to mode number 120h: Autotrax was unuseable due to slow redraw. MB6 also has 1440x1050 set to unusual mode number 230h, untried. We could wait, the DOSBox team may add extra VESA modes in any case. Otherwise, Do we have a volunteer to experiment with a rebuild with higher res VESA modes? Feedback appreciated!
Resolution and mode numbers in the list above are from my Best-effort research, I would value feedback
Never give up on a dream just because of the time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway -- anon