Scopes, PXI-Based Instrumentation Bring Test To New Heights

Nov. 28, 2012
The 2012 Best Electronic Design awards for test and measurement go to Agilent Technologies for the 4000 X-series oscilloscopes, to Teledyne LeCroy for the HDO4000 and HDO6000 oscilloscopes, and to National Instruments for the NI PXIe-5644R VST.
The Best Electronic Design awards in Test & Measurement go to two oscilloscopes, one from Agilent Technologies and the other from Teledyne LeCroy, and to the VST, a PXI-based instrument from National Instruments.

A Touch Of Trigger

Did you ever think you’d see the day when you could set a scope trigger just by pointing at a glitch on the screen and swiping to create a box around it? That’s just what Agilent engineers have accomplished with the InfiniiVision 4000 X-Series scopes (Fig. 1).

1. Speed, usability, and integration are the hallmarks of Agilent’s 4000X-Series oscilloscopes.

Each member of the 4000 X-Series sports a 12-in. capacitive touchscreen. Since these scopes were designed specifically for touch operation, Agilent came up with new ways of using them. The unique triggering operation, called InfiniiScan Zone, makes triggering as easy as finding the signal of interest and drawing a box around it. In essence, if users can see the signal, they can trigger on it (see “Agilent InfiniiVision 4000 X-Series Oscilloscope”).

The hallmarks of the 4000 X-Series are speed, ease of use, and integration, as well as an embedded operating system. The waveform update rate is 1 million per second, which gives users unprecedented ability to find waveform anomalies. Operation is fast, even with digital channels, protocol decoding, math functions, or measurements activated. A segmented memory feature called MegaZoon IV smart memory technology also enhances the speed of operation by capturing greater selective signal detail over very long time periods. MegaZoom IV is a custom ASIC that enables both the waveform update rate and the deep memory acquisitions.

Ease of use, of course, comes with the capacitive touch interface. Just as consumers find it easier to use their smart phones and tablets via a touch interface, engineers should find it easier to work with this scope. The InfiniiScan Zone touch trigger is but one example of this ease of use. To further improve productivity, the interface’s alphanumeric touchpad replaces knob-based operation, and touch-based interaction provides greater flexibility in displaying measurement information.

As for integration, the InfiniiVision 4000 X-Series scopes combine five instruments in one: an oscilloscope, digital channels (MSO), protocol analysis, a digital voltmeter, and a dual-channel WaveGen function/arbitrary waveform generator. The 4000 X-Series also supports a wide range of popular applications as options: MIL-STD 1553 and ARINC 429; I2S; CAN/LIN; FlexRay; RS232/422/485/UART; I2C/ SPI; and USB 2.0 Hi-Speed, Full-Speed, and Low-Speed triggering and analysis.

The InfiniiVision 4000 X-Series includes 200-MHz, 350-MHz, 500-MHz, 1-GHz, and 1.5-GHz models. The standard configuration for all models includes 4 Mpoints of memory and segmented memory. Pricing ranges from $5600 to $22,000.

Viewing Scope Waveforms In HD

Ever since the dawn of the digital signal oscilloscope (DSO), engineers have become used to seeing waveforms as a composite of many waveforms in sometimes thick and colorful representations. But Teledyne LeCroy has changed all that with its new series of high-definition oscilloscopes, the HDO4000 and HDO6000, based on the company’s HD4096 high-definition technology (Fig. 2).

2. Teledyne LeCroy’s HDO high-definition oscilloscope with 12-bit ADC provides 16 times more vertical resolution with high sample rate and low noise.

The HD4096 high-definition technology is rooted in high-sample-rate 12-bit analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), amplifiers with high signal-to-noise ratios, and a low-noise system architecture. Oscilloscopes with HD4096 acquire waveforms of up to 1 GHz with high resolution, high sample rate, and low noise. Waveform displays are cleaner and crisper with 16 times more vertical resolution than traditional 8-bit instruments. Waveform details that were previously difficult to see can now be easily distinguished and measured.

Since precise measurements are critical for effective debug and analysis, HD4096 enables oscilloscopes to deliver unmatched measurement precision to improve testing capabilities and provide better results. In addition to HD4096 technology, the scopes feature Teledyne LeCroy’s ERES (Enhanced Resolution) filtering, which enables users to gain up to 3 additional bits of resolution for 15-bit vertical resolution.

The HDO4000 oscilloscopes feature a sample rate of 2.5 Gsamples/s with up to 25 Mpoints/channel of memory (up to 50 Mpoints/channel when interleaved) in two- and four-channel models from 200 MHz to 1 GHz. The HDO6000 oscilloscopes are available in four-channel models and deliver sample rates of 2.5 Gsamples/s, a maximum 250-Mpoint/channel memory, and bandwidths of 350 MHz, 500 MHz, and 1 GHz. All HDO models have a 12.1-in. touch display. As you might expect, the touch interface makes operation more intuitive and gives users an easy means of controlling channels, trigger settings, and math and measurement functions.

To take advantage of its accurate signal display and high sampling rates, the scopes come with powerful debug and analysis tools. The WaveScan advanced search and find tool lets users search a single acquisition for runts, glitches, and other anomalies using more than 20 different criteria. The tool can also be used to set up a scan condition and search for an event for hours or even days. History mode permits scrolling back in time to isolate anomalies and measure them with parameters or cursors. Serial trigger and decode functionality quickly isolates bus events without the need to set manual triggers. Sequence mode stores triggered events as “segments,” enabling the capture of many fast pulses in quick succession or events separated by long periods of time, reducing dead time between triggers. And, the scopes’ LabNotebook documentation and report generation tool makes quick work of saving and documenting test results.

The HDO4000 is available in six different models with list prices ranging from $9000 to $16,400. The HDO6000 is available in three different models with list prices ranging from $14,900 to $19,900.

A New Class Of Instrument

At NI Week 2012, National Instruments made a blockbuster announcement, calling its Vector Signal Transceiver (VST) a new class of instrument. The company, which has been fond of using the term “software defined instrument” in the past, was now using a new term: software designed instrument. As the first software designed instrument, the NI PXIe-5644R VST (Fig. 3) frees test engineers from the limitations of vendor-defined instruments (see “New Vector Signal Transceiver from National Instruments”).

3. The NI PXIe-5644R VST is a vector signal transceiver that fits into a PXI chassis. It is the first software designed instrument.

According to National Instruments, a software-designed instrument has three defining characteristics:

  • Instrumentation hardware designed with open-source firmware based on FPGAs with out-of-the-box capabilities and rich sample code
  • Well-built system design software to simplify the complexity of designing a custom hardware instrument
  • A fundamental change in mindset from integrating a fixed-function device to designing exactly the instrument you need

The NI PXIe-5644R VST is indeed hardware. It combines an RF generator and analyzer plus a high-speed digital I/O port in a small footprint that takes up just three PXI Express slots. It also sports a user-programmable FPGA. It covers from 85 MHz to 6 GHz and has an 80-MHz real-time RF bandwidth. And, it supports the latest wireless standards including 802.11ac and LTE.

But with industry-leading FPGA technology and firmware completely written in NI’s flagship product, LabVIEW, the VST hardware design pushes software as close as possible to the point where RF is converted to bits, a feat referred to as LabVIEW to the pin. By replacing fixed, vendor-defined hardware with a flexible, software-designed approach, the VST empowers test engineers to design exactly the instrument functionality they need.

The fact that the VST has an RF generator and analyzer in a single piece of hardware with both connected to a single FPGA makes for some interesting use cases. For example, users can design the firmware in that FPGA and take advantage of closed-loop, system-level testing for the first time in RF test applications. The NI PXIe-5644R VST costs $44,999.


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