Mathcad worth checking out?

I saw an ME professor use Mathcad during a video presentation recently, and after a quick search I learned PTC makes Mathcad prime 3.1 available to FIRST people. Upon searching here, there’s little recent mention of Mathcad, so I’m curious…

  • Is it worth downloading and checking out, or is there little benefit over using a spreadsheet?
  • If anyone uses it, how do you find it to be valuable?

To me, it looks like it could be a decent place to document an overall design including engineering calculations the factors of which can be changed if the design changes.


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I’ve used Mathcad for some school projects. As a programmer, I found it a little cluttered/disorganized but that is probably my own fault for laying out the formulas in a weird way. I prefer programs with more structure like Matlab or plain old excel.

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As a mechanical engineer, you programmers are odd. :wink:

I used Mathcad in college, and for some of the design-type problems it could be a real help–IF you set everything up in order. Might be a little disorganized but when you’re laying everything out on a blank sheet that’s kind of typical. You can move stuff around a bit after you’re done.

Think of it as an engineering calculation sheet that is a typed version of what you’d write out by hand and it makes a little more sense.

Daily use for me is Excel, but that’s because I don’t have Mathcad availability. I never learned Matlab other than “this is what it is, this is how you set up a program, here’s some sample code” so I don’t have a good comparison.


I use Mathcad extensively at work

  • once you learn the keyboard shortcuts, it’s fast as hell for writing math. Much faster that MS Word’s equation editor, or LaTeX.
  • the “WYSIWYG” display makes it easy to create reports that clients can follow. We use it typically for “hand calcs” to verify experiments or simulations. It has a fairly good graphing package too.
  • the fact that it does math with units is a life saver. You can instantly check if your formulas are close to correct by checking whether the results are in the right units. Conversions and constants are taken care of too, so there’s less opportunity for mistakes.
  • it has programming features (loops, variables and conditionals), but they’re definitely a bit weird compared to a proper programming language. You can’t really step through a program like you can in a debugger either. I find it’s best to treat MathCAD as a professional grade spreadsheet, rather than a programming language.
  • it’s really expensive. Does PTC offer a student version?
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I get it free through my university and have used it for a few classes. It’s more of a substitute for doing calculations by hand (on paper or with a basic calculator) than a programming language. The main benefit it has is that it will automatically calculate with units and easily convert between equivalent units.* It’s also useful if you want to construct a complicated equation out of a bunch of simple ones substituted into each other. It can also do plots of equations, but that’s about all it’s good for. It has a few programming-like features but for all intents and purposes it isn’t really a programming language.

The bottom line is for an FRC team it may be useful for doing quick back-of-the-napkin calculations that you would otherwise do by hand, but it probably won’t be very useful for actually designing or programming a robot.

* For example, let’s say you wanted to show that a motor’s torque constant and back-EMF constant are approximately the same value when they have equivalent units. Converting between Nm/A and V/rpm by hand would take ages and you’ll probably mess up a conversion somewhere, whereas Mathcad does it correctly in seconds.

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I kinda wish MathCAD included a little vector graphics package, instead of just importing images I make elsewhere. So much of what I do with it involves solving problems that need diagrams to properly communicate the details.

MathCAD Prime is free to all. It lacks a few higher end functions, but I doubt you’ll miss them.

I’ve used it for many, many years. The unit tracking is priceless, especially when your algebra is as bad as mine (a dropped minus sign here, a misplaced parenthesis there).

You can draw graphs (in various coordinate systems) in MathCAD. They are quite useful.

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Mathcad was required for physics labs at CU Boulder. I despised it. I cannot rightly emphasize how unhappy I was with basically every facet of the tool. I can’t imagine any problem-space in which I’d consider using it again.

YMMV, of course, but I’d strongly recommend considering alternative tools.

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Thanks for all the responses. I confirmed with PTC that FIRST folks can get Mathcad PRIME 6.0. The unit conversion management alone sounds interesting, so I think I’ll give it at least a cursory look.

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