Bringing Moore’s law to test and measurement

September 12, 2012 // By Jean-Pierre Joosting
At the last NI week in August this year the National Instruments unveiled an instrument that claims to represent a new paradigm in how engineers approach test. The NI PXIe-5644R vector signal transceiver (VST) is purported to be the first true software based instrument available.

It is described in more detail on pages 14 and 15 in the print Edition and digital Edition of Microwave Engineering Europe September 2012

Not only does the VST dramatically improve test times (an order of magnitude and more in many cases) but it also makes possible test scenarios that were previously too complex to attempt. The instrument is much smaller than conventional boxes, even those that are software programmable and consumes barely 60 W.

Key to the VST is that it can be programmed down to its firmware or as National Instrument’s puts it ‘engineers are able to touch the pin through software’. Practically, this enables engineers to custom design their test scenarios to suit their needs, they can even change the nature of the beast by programming the VST to do everything differently. However, the instrument will work as is, without any programming as well, combining a vector signal generator (VSG) and vector signal analyzer (VSA) with FPGA-based real-time signal processing and control into a single PXI modular instrument.

By allowing engineers to customize test to whatever level they choose and by bringing dramatic improvements in test speed through a different architectural approach, the VST challenges every traditional test box in the way test is done. I do not expect traditional test to change much, but at the high end where traditional approaches are struggling the VST offers another way of solving complex test problems. The improvement in speeds and costs will also enable test coverage to be significantly improved.

Although there are software instruments available, none claim the performance, size and power benefits offered by the VST and its ability to be completely customized. Before, the architecture of the instrument limited both its form and function. Now the architecture has been put into an FPGA silicon fabric and has become software based.

This is an exciting development and it will set the stage for a different approach

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