Multisim: Why, Oh Why, Would I Need That?

If you’ve been keeping up with Digilent over that last couple of years, you may have heard about our merger with National Instruments. We’ve collaborated to create new products, and we’ve expanded our capabilities to work with more of NI’s products. One of those products is Multisim, a full-function testing and simulation environment for analog, digital, and power electronics designs.

Multisim 13.0
Multisim 13.0.


I’ve been playing around with Multisim 13.0 for the past few weeks, and I have to say that I love it. There are many options out there for simulating electronics circuits, some of them web-based, some of them free for download, and still others require payment. Some of these simulators are symbolic or graphical, meaning that you build your schematic using the standard circuit symbols and it simulates from there. Others are based on SPICE code, where you write the code that tells the program what your component parameters are and it simulates from that. Most simulators use a combination of the two, often allowing you to input your own components, by using SPICE code netlists, creating symbols for them, or by generating the SPICE netlist from the schematic drawing. Multisim is one of the latter, giving the user full control over which components are used and the parameters for each. In addition, there are 20+ simulated measurement devices, like a voltmeter or logic converter. Some of these devices are even digital versions of their real-world counterparts, like the Tektronix TDS 2024, which can cost several thousand dollars. Still others are based on NI’s LabVIEW, so LabVIEW users will be familiar with the simple interface.


I had become familiar with using another simulation program and it worked well for me, even though I used it mostly for schematic design and did most of my testing on a breadboard. I’m also resistant to change, so when I first saw Multisim, I thought, “Oh that’s a neat program,” and left it at that. I wish I had gone for the change sooner. Everything is simple and easy to use, and the simulation function is a snap to operate. Placing and manipulating components is a breeze, and you can fully customize the default colors for easier viewing if you want. I had a couple of hangups at first, like the fact that the default drawing area is kind of small. I though maybe it was my version, that maybe there was a locked adjustment somewhere in the toolbar that I couldn’t access. Nope, it was right up there under the “Options” tab. The only thing I still have reservations about is how you choose and place parts. To choose them, the component catalog window pops up and you sort through the THOUSANDS of parts to find the part you need (it sounds like a lot of work, but the parts are all filtered in to groups that make it really simple and intuitive). Once you find your part you click “Ok” and the window disappears so you can place your part in the schematic. Once you do that, the window pops back up so you can choose another part. I don’t like that the window pops back up every time. I want it to come up when I want it to. That’s my only complaint though.


In the new Multisim 13.0, you now have the ability to directly program compatible Digilent FPGA boards, like the Cmod S6, Basys 2, or Nexys 4. You can design and simulate digital logic circuits and sub-circuits like normal, but now you have the ability to generate a PLD (programmable logic device) project, which allows you to program your FPGA board. You simply tell Multisim which board you have and it does the rest. Xilinx’s ISE tool is also required, since Multisim pulls up the necessary ISE files to route and place the design on the chip and generate the .bit file. A .vhdl file is also created so you can review the actual code if needed.


Simulation tools have been around for a many years, but never on this level. Multisim really is the best out there. It doesn’t matter whether you favor analog or digital, you can use Multisim to simulate your ideas before you go wasting all that time building it with a breadboard or hardware, just to find out it doesn’t really work. You can build sub-circuits that can be ported from one circuit to another. You can generate the SPICE netlist or the VHDL code of your design without having to need to know yet another coding language.


Multisim is also paired with Ultiboard, a PCB design program. You build your circuit in Multisim and then port it directly to Ultiboard. Once there, you can layout your PCB however you wish, adding different layers, vias, connectors, etc. to make your design look good. Once that is done, you can print each copper layer one at a time as a black and white image to build your own boards, or you can export the gerber files for production. Just like Multisim, the interface is simple and easy to use, especially for a noob like me.


As I said, I wish I had made the switch earlier. Multisim is an all in one program that makes designing, simulating, and prototyping a simple and, dare I say, fun project.


For some beginner tutorials, click here. For some more in-depth tutorials, click here. To learn digital logic and how to interface Multisim with Digilent FPGA boards, click here.


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