Modular instruments make waves at DesignCon

Despite the preponderance of bench/rack instruments on exhibit at DesignCon last month, modular instruments, too, made an appearance, with companies including Agilent Technologies, National Instruments, and Pickering Interfaces highlighting AXIe or PXI products. Applications ranged from bit-error-ratio measurements to 4G power-amplifier envelope-tracking test.

Agilent, for example, demonstrated its new AXIe-based M8000 Series scalable bit-error-ratio test system. That system supports physical-layer characterization, validation, and compliance testing for receivers used in multigigabit digital designs—including ones leading to computer, consumer, server, mobile-computing, and data-center products. The first model in the new M8000 Series is the J-BERT M8020A high-performance BERT. It enables fast and accurate receiver characterization of single- and multilane devices operating at data rates up to 16 Gb/s and 32 Gb/s.

Speaking at a DesignCon press conference, Siegfried Gross, vice president and general manager of Agilent's Electronic Test Division, said the new J-BERT is one of many products that will enable Agilent to address the complete technology deployment ecosystem. He said that Agilent is able to test all the interfaces throughout the ecosystem at the physical layer and the interfaces of many edge devices at the protocol layer.

National Instruments at DesignCon highlighted several PXI products, including the new NI PXIe-4138 and NI PXIe-4139 broad-range system source-measure units (SMUs). They offer up to 20-W DC source power (6 V at 3 A, 20 V at 1 A, or 60 V at 0.3 A); the PXIe-4139 can provide 10-A pulses at 500 W. Resolution for the PXIe-4139 is 100 fA or 100 nV. Both versions offer a 1.8-MS/s sampling rate.

The single-slot instruments enable up to 17 SMU channels in a 4-U, 19-inch PXI chassis. They feature NI SourceAdapt technology, which supports customizable SMU response for fast and stable measurements even with capacitive loads. They also provide direct DMA data streaming for large sequence sweeps or for waveform generation, and they offer an output disconnect relay for optimal isolation in production environment.

National Instruments also demonstrated the use of several PXI instruments in an envelope-tracking test application. Envelope tracking optimizes RF power-amplifier efficiency in applications such as LTE that exhibit a high peak-to-average power ratio (PAPR). The goal is to alter VCC in accordance with instantaneous output power to ensure that the power amplifier operates at or near compression, where it is most efficient.

Envelope tracking presents significant test challenges—for example, with respect to test-system power-supply bandwidth requirements and instrument synchronization. NI's DesignCon demonstration met these challenges with a PXI system including a vector-signal transceiver, arbitrary waveform generator, digitizer, battery simulator, and NI LabVIEW software. (NI offers a parts list for its envelope-tracking test system on its website.)

Pickering Interfaces, a provider of signal switching and conditioning solutions, showcased its range of RF and microwave switching solutions, which offer signal bandwidths up to 65 GHz and can be used to increase the flexibility of test and measurement systems. Configurations available within the company's PXI and LXI platforms include multiplexers, matrices, and general-purpose switches.

Specific products highlighted at DesignCon include PXI microwave multiplexers (40-784A), which consist of 4-way or 6-way multiplexers in single, dual, or triple formats. They are characterized for 6 GHz, 18 GHz, 26.5 GHz, or 40 GHz. All models occupy just two 3U PXI slots, and single and dual multiplexer versions feature LEDs that indicate which path is active.

In addition, the company demonstrated PXI 6-GHz solid state RF switch modules (40-88X), which include an SP8T (8:1) MUX occupying two PXI slots and an SP16T (16:1) MUX occupying three PXI slots. Each version uses solid-state switches that ensure fast switch operation time of 50 µs, repeatable performance, and an indefinite service life when used within ratings.

Pickering Interfaces also highlighted LXI products, including a microwave multiplexer (60-800) that has bandwidth available from 18 GHz through 40 GHz with a 50-Ω characteristic impedance. It has the capability of supporting up to 16 banks of 6-channel multiplexers and is suitable for constructing complex microwave switching systems for many applications. Also on display was a LXI wideband modular RF matrix (65-110), a new scalable matrix providing 200-MHz bandwidth with eight or 16 Y connections and up to 104 X connections.

Pickering Interfaces serves the automotive, aerospace and defense, medical, power-generation, energy, and commercial-electronics industries.

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