As workhorse testbench instruments go, frequency counters/timers are right up there with the most frequently used pieces of gear. They see application in a very broad range of design/debug environments, including wireless communications, industrial automation, consumer electronics, medical, military/aerospace, and more.
With the introduction of its 53200A series of frequency counters, Agilent intends to replace its older 531xxA series with a line that’s a drop-in replacement in terms of form, fit, and function. Users of the new series gain a 7X to 25X improvement in single-shot time interval measurements (500/150 ps down to 20 ps), as well as a 100X improvement in reading speed.
The 53200 series (see the figure) frequency counter/timers offer single-shot time resolution of 20 ps and frequency measurements of 12 digits/second. Capture of raw measurements with no gap is possible up to 1 Msample/s, which can be output from the instruments for basic modulation-domain analysis. An important feature is LXI compatibility, and Agilent claims these instruments to be the industry’s first such frequency counters. Built-in Web pages allow for remote control and access.
The instruments give users numerous views of their measurements, starting wtih simple numeric frequency readouts. The display features a tabbed view; tabs correspond to channels. The baseband channel inputs are color-coded so users can correlate signal inputs with traces or data appearing on the screen. The instruments also offer built-in math and statistics, including frequency mean, standard deviation, minimum/maximum frequency, and other calculated statistics. A third view is a trend plot or data log. Trend plotting shows how data varies over time. Finally, a histogram view is a fourth option. Users can toggle between various views to gain insight into the quality of the signal being measured.
Several features are geared toward ease of use as well, including context-sensitive soft keys that change their functions as you navigate through menus. There’s also context-sensitive help. For example, when making a pulse-width measurement, holding down that key brings up a graphic showing what the width of a pulse is and other useful information.
The instruments’ front-panel layout makes routine measurements a simple matter, with one-touch setup for most readings. Buttons are dedicated to configuring math functions and display settings, while an autoscale function automatically sets peaks for the signal being measured. A particularly convenient feature is a front-panel port for a USB memory stick—a handy way to store data and instrument setups.
Three configurations are available. The 53210A is a 350-MHz RF frequency counter, while the 53220A is a 350-MHz universal frequency counter/timer that is offered in single-shot time interval resolutions of 100 ps and 20 ps. Pricing starts at $1963 for the RF counter and rises to $2273 for the 100-ps universal counter/timer and $3552 for the 20-ps version.