National Instruments has launched what it says is a new class of compact ‘software-designed instrumentation’ which features an architecture that allows engineers to use LabVIEW to tailor open, field-programmable gate array (FPGA)-based hardware for their specific needs.
The company says that while Moores Law has enabled electronic devices to become faster, smaller and less power consuming, traditional test and measurement instrumentation has failed to follow suit. “We have not seen an equivalent reduction in size, power and cost of such equipment,” said Charles Schroeder, director of test marketing at National Instruments.
The RF vector signal transceiver (VST), the NI PXIe-5644R, has been designed to enable the effective test and measurement of wireless systems. It replaces the need for multiple traditional instruments at what National Instruments claims is a fraction of the cost. Specifically, it replaces the need for four separate instruments: an RF generator, an RF analyser, I/O and a field-programmable gate array. Schroeder said that its power consumption was exceptionally low. “It uses less power than a 60 Watt lightbulb. That’s pretty amazing,” he said.
Importantly, the VST is based on LabVIEW open source software, meaning users can drill down to the firmware to customise performance to suit their specific requirements. This is important for companies that require flexibility when developing modern wireless solutions such as 802.11ac.
Doug Johnson, director of engineering at technology firm Qualcomm Atheros, said: “Instrumentation flexibility and to-the-pin control are critical for keeping our RF test process as efficient as possible, and we're pleased with the performance gains we've seen when testing with the vector signal transceiver. It provides us freedom and flexibility, and has significantly improved our test throughput.”
VST product features include up to 6.0 GHz frequency coverage and 80 MHz instantaneous RF bandwidth. National Instruments said it was capable of carrying out more than 10 times faster measurements than comparable solutions. It can also be easily expanded to support multiple input, multiple output configurations or parallel testing in a single PXI chassis.
Schroeder said that he expected the VST to prove a big hit with National Instrument customers. “The market for testing wireless signals is ripe for disruption,” he said.
The starter price for the VST is around $45,000, with Schroeder claiming that a stand-alone RF analyser and generator would cost “three times that amount”.