Agilent launches PXI RF Signal Generator
Larry Desjardin - September 5, 2012With today’s introduction of the M9381A Vector Signal Generator and the M9380A CW Source, Agilent Technologies has preempted the expected slew of introductions at next week’s Autotestcon show. Blazingly fast with stellar parametric performance, Agilent has thrown down the gauntlet when it comes to PXI RF signal generation. Couple in innovations in DSP, waveform generation, calibration, and global support, and Agilent has expanded the PXI capability envelope in some very interesting dimensions.
Three modules (frequency reference, synthesizer, and source output modules) are combined to create the 3-slot CW Source. Add the double-wide digital-vector modulator, and you have the 5-slot VSG. Because the frequency reference can be shared by numerous instrument sets, four full capability VSGs fit into a single 4U PXI chassis.
The M9381A is a 3 or 6 GHz VSG with 40, 100, or 160 MHz of modulation bandwidth. That alone puts it at the top of its class, but here is the interesting thing. Let’s say you only need 40 MHz of bandwidth up to 3 GHz today to test cellular equipment, but may need 160 MHz at nearly 6 GHz to test 802.11ac in the future. Agilent has an entry price for the less demanding specifications, but each VSG can be upgraded with a software license key to the full capability at an incremental cost. Essentially, Agilent has introduced six VSGs at different price/performance points, with an option for you to upgrade to higher performance instantly via software. And it’s not just these performance parameters. There are three waveform memory options, a high power option, and an ultra high speed switching option, all which may be enabled by software. With more than 60 possible combinations available in the VSG alone, this technique offers true option value.
Agilent delivers +/-0.3 db flatness across 160 MHz, and just +/-0.1 db across 40 MHz. With an ACPR (Adjacent Channel Power Ratio) of -70 dBc for a W-CDMA test model, and absolute power accuracy of +/-0.4 db up to +19 dBm, Agilent has erased all remaining doubts about high performance RF instrumentation in PXI.
The interesting thing is that Agilent can offer these specifications, even when one of the modules is swapped with a replacement module. This is another innovation, which Agilent labels as core calibrated exchange. Extensive calibration management comes with each instrument, which allows quick module swapping anywhere on the globe, while the overall product retains its specs. For a product that is aimed at manufacturing test, this is a nice addition that reduces downtime.
Manufacturing test also needs speed. Put your seat belts on for these specs, as Agilent has added a mode called baseband tuning, driven by their proprietary DSP ASICs. Within a 160 MHz tuning range (or whatever bandwidth the customer purchased), the VSG can switch frequency and amplitude in 10 microseconds. That is not a misprint. Of course, that is when using an internal list mode. But even when command driven, the VSG can switch frequency and amplitude in 250 microseconds. Agilent claims these speeds are each at least 30 times faster than other solutions.
What about software? For waveform generation, Agilent leveraged its Signal Studio software, which allows a user to generate all common cellular or wireless LAN formats. In run-time, Agilent has a full set of drivers that allow the VSG to be integrated with Matlab, LabVIEW, Microsoft Visual Studio, LabWindows CVI, or Agilent VEE.
I asked Carla Feldman, marketing manager for Agilent’s modular products, what else may be coming. The architecture itself hints at some obvious capability. Carla politely declined any specifics but said this: Agilent has a robust investment program and you can expect more coming from Agilent over the next several months. I suggest that you believe her.
By now, frequent readers of my “Outside the Box” blog should recognize the patterns. There is an epic Battle of the Titans occurring due to the industry’s shift to modular instrumentation, and RF will be the major battlefield over the next few years. Agilent’s powerful entry into PXI RF signal generation shows that it has not fallen victim to the innovator’s dilemma. It has exploited the inherent advantages of modular instrumentation, and then added a few of its own. Be warned, however, that Agilent’s introduction will further accelerate the transition.
Next week, Test and Measurement World colleague Janine Love and I will be reporting live from Autotestcon, and I expect a lot of modular, and non-modular, news from the show. You can follow me on twitter at @modularconx (retweeted by Martin Rowe @measurementblue), or watch the pages of T&MW. Stop by if you are in the Anaheim area to see a truly modular show. After all, if there is going to be a Battle of the Titans, you may as well get a front row seat.