Getting Started With Circuit Maker


In this course, we will be using the free student edition of a commercial program, CircuitMaker, to design and simulate logic circuits. You can also get a copy of the student version of CircuitMaker from the course web site using this link: Download CircuitMaker from this course's web site. Note that this software is avaialbe only for student use on their own computers; it is not available for use on college computers. The file you download (3,400,151 bytes) is a self-installing package for Windows; just click on it to start the installation process. Let me know if you do not have access to a computer on which you can install this software.

Using the Program

The program is very well designed, but it is not something that you can just pick up and start using without some instruction. That's because it assumes you already know how to design digital logic, and does not provide real tutorial material.

What follows are some pointers to help you get started and to help you avoid some common problems. There is also help that comes with the program, but it tends to be sketchy.

  1. The first thing to realize is that CircuitMaster can be used to design and simulate both analog and digital signals. (Wherever you see "Spice" in the help system, it's talking about analog simulation.) You can build your circuit without concern for this fact, but when you simulate it (run it), you must be sure to do so in digital mode. If you don't, you'll get a cryptic message, probably telling you that you need a ground node "before a valid spice netlist can be generated". To avoid this problem click on the toolbar button with the symbol for a transistor on it; it's exactly in the middle, 12 buttons in from both ends of the toolbar.

    Just get in the habit of clicking on the transistor button (it turns into an AND gate) everytime you start running CircuitMaker. Better yet, set up CircuitMaker with your favorite options, including setting the simulation mode to digital, while working on the default circuit, "UNTITLED.CKT." Then save UNTITLED.CKT (just type Control-S), and those options will automatically be in effect the next time you run CircuitMaker.

    If you get any error messages when you try to simulate your circuit, read the above paragraphs!

  2. If you care about the neatness of your diagrams, select Grid under the Options menu, and select the "Snap to grid" option. I personally find it distracting to display the grid itself, but that's a choice you can make from the same menu.

  3. Use the Wire Tool (the toolbar button that looks like a plus sign) to connect inputs and outputs together.When you want to add a wire, click on one connection point, and move the mouse with the mouse button released. That way the wire will go in a straight line in the direction you move the mouse. Click again and you can move 90 degrees from the direction you were moving in before. You should have "Options -> Quick Connect" selected so the connection points are highlighted as you get near them. Alternatively, you can hold down the mouse button and drag the end of the wire to the connection point, and CircuitMaker will automatically square up the lines between the two points; but the lines will not be very well organized if you do this, possibly going through the middle of some gates and/or lying on top of other lines.

  4. Use the Devices menu to select gates, etc. to add to your circuit. Many simple gates and devices are listed on the Hotkey submenu without the need to browse through device and parts lists.

  5. A common input device is the digital logic switch, which alternates between outputting 0 or 1 each time you click on it. You can type a lower-case 's' "Hotkey" to get one, or look for it in Hotkeys2 under the Devices menu, or select browse from the Devices menu, and select Digital -> Power.

  6. The Hex Keypad (Hotkey: 'H') device is very useful when you need to set several inputs at once. It has four outputs that you can control by typing a hex digit while the keypad is selected. Or click on it to make it step up by one.

  7. The complement of the Hex Keypad is the Hex Display (Hotkey: 'h'), which shows the states of up to four wires as a hexadecimal digit.

  8. The simplest clock source is the Pulser device. Ignore the inputs, and just use either output (one is the complement of the other) as your clock signal. See the data sequencer item below for a more powerful (but more complex) alternative.

  9. A few shortcut keys can speed your work up considerably:

    • Alt-W turns the cursor into the crosshair so you can place wires.
    • Alt-A turns the cursor into an arrow so you can point at wires or gates to move them around, etc.
    • Alt-D turns the cursor into a lightning bolt so you can delete items from your diagram.
  10. You can simulate your circuit one step (propagation delay) at a time, or let it run at "full speed." Either way, you can use the probe tool (the 8th button from the right end of the toolbar, next to the button that has an inverter on it) to look at the logic value of any part of your circuit. The probe will show H ("high"), L ("low"), or Z (indeterminate) as you make it hover over various parts of the circuit.

    Better yet, turn on the trace option (under Simulation menu, or press F11). With this option on, the wires are colored to show their logic state and you don't need a probe.

  11. If the simulation runs too fast for you to see what's happening, you can slow it down using Simulation -> Digital Options menu to select a speed between values of 1 to 30. This is just an ordinal scale; the units don't have real meaning.

  12. You will probably want to look at the waveforms for various parts of the circuit as you run your simulations. Use F12 to turn this option on, or press the toolbar button to the right of the one with the inverter on it. The waveforms are displayed in a separate window, so select "tile" from the Window menu to get them both to show on the screen.

  13. You won't be able to look at waveforms unless you select some signals to look at first. (The F12 key won't do anything and the toolbar button will be greyed out.) The most common way to add signals to the waveforms window is to attach the Scope tool to the wires you want to look at. Type captial T to get a Scope tool, or select it from the Hotkeys2 menu under the Devices menu. To give meaningful names to your waveforms, double-click on the scope tool and type in the name you want to use. (The default name, "TPn" stands for "Test Point number n.)

  14. You can move waveforms up and down by dragging their names in the waveforms window. The white boxes to the left of the names are used for setting breakpoints. You can learn how to use breakpoints from the on-line help.

  15. Another way to get a clock signal to generate it using a Data Sequencer. Type captial G to get one, or browse to it under Digital/Instruments under the Devices menu. Here's how to set it up so that pin 1 on the right side can be used as a clock signal:

    1. Double click on the device, and you will get an "Edit Data Sequencer" dialog box. First of all, resist the temptation to turn on the "Use External Clock" option; it generates values at the proper rate for simulation (one propagation delay per step) all by itself. Edit the first 8 rows of the "Address - Data" box so that addresses 1, 2, 3, 4 contain 00, and addresses 5, 6, 7, 8 contain 01. Set the Start and Stop Addresses to 1 and 8 respectively.

    2. When the simulation runs, the sequencer will output 0 on output No. 1 for four propagation delays, then will output 1 on the same output pin for another four propagation delays. The process repeats as long as the simulation runs. Connect a scope tool to the output to add this waveform to your waveform window.

    3. This device can be used to generate any sequence of arbitrary 8-bit values, which makes it useful for testing certain complex circuits.