True software instrument set to revolutionize RF test: Page 4 of 4

August 15, 2012 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
Moore’s law has been a driving force in electronics since the first integrated circuit. However, test and measurement has not benefitted to the same degree — largely dominated by vendor-specific test boxes and modules. Software-based instruments exist today but such instruments are still designed with a view to the vendor-specific test paradigm and remain programmable in a limited sense. Four key factors define the effect of Moore’s law: smaller size, faster operation, lower power consumption and higher integration with increased functionality. This process is illustrated by the evolution of the first wireless handset through to today’s smartphones.
RF output signals from the fading models were acquired with spectrum analyzers and are displayed on the right. These spectral graphs clearly show the spectral nulls that have resulted from the fading models.

Figure 4: 2x2 MIMO radio channel emulator implemented using two VSTs. Click image to enlarge.


VST software is built on LabVIEW FPGA and the NI RIO architecture, and features a multitude of starting points including application IP, reference designs, examples, and LabVIEW sample projects. These starting points all feature default LabVIEW FPGA personalities and prebuilt FPGA bit-files to get started quickly — bringing unprecedented levels of customization to high-end instrumentation.

LabVIEW is well suited for FPGA programming because it clearly represents parallelism and data flow, so users who are both experienced and inexperienced in traditional FPGA design can productively apply the power of reconfigurable hardware.

The VST represents a class of instrument that is truly software designed, with capabilities limited only by the user’s application requirements—not the vendor’s definition of what an instrument should be. As RF DUTs become more complex and time-to-market requirements become more challenging, this level of instrument functionality shifts control back to the RF designer and test engineer.

The PXIe-5644R delivers typically over 10 times faster measurements than comparable solutions and can replace multiple traditional instruments at a fraction of the cost and size, while consuming under 60 W of power. By bringing true software instrumentation to the market National Instruments has set off a revolution in how engineers approach test in the RF world.

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