PXI joined by VXI and AXIe at Autotestcon USA

September 23, 2013 // By Larry Desjardin, EDN North America
Autotestcon is an annual conference focused on testing of mil/aero systems. This year it was held outside of Chicago in Schaumburg, Illinois. Autotestcon has always had a large modular instrument component to it, going back to the days of VXI in the late 1980s. Almost by reflex, many vendors launch new modular products at Autotestcon, aimed at mil/aero or not. This report covers vendors who support VXI and AXIe, perhaps in addition to their PXI offering; we'll return to look at those who are focused on PXI.

Agilent had just announced their new M9391A PXI vector signal analyser (VSA) a few days earlier. This product, along with its sister, the M9381A vector signal generator (VSG), shows that Agilent is serious in bringing new capabilities to PXI and the marketplace. Together, they form a powerful offering aimed at wireless communications. Equally important, there are additional software products, which I will get to shortly.

Like the M9381A VSG, the Agilent VSA is focused on delivering speed simultaneously with wide bandwidth and high signal fidelity. Built around a custom synthesiser and DSP ASIC, the VSA performs fast tuning and real-time data corrections. Couple that with the speed I reported earlier from the VSG, and you have one very fast test set for component test. The VSA is offered at a lower entry price if you want just 40 MHz bandwidth up to 3 GHz, suitable for many cellular applications. Like the VSG, it can be updated at a later time, through a software licence, up to 160 MHz bandwidth and to 6 GHz.

While I describe National Instrument’s software offering as LabView-centric, I’d describe Agilent’s strategy as automation environment agnostic, while adding their own measurement science. Essentially they are supporting automation programming from all environments equally (Microsoft Visual Studio, Agilent VEE, Matlab, Lab Windows, and LabView) through the use of IVI and LabView drivers. But for RF applications, they are leveraging their suite of measurement science software products. This includes Signal Studio for the VSG and the 89600 vector signal analyser software for the VSA. Additionally, they announced two new offerings. For the VSA, they have introduced the Modular X-Series Applications. These are the exact same measurement algorithms that run on their X-series signal analysers. For the VSG they’ve developed new baseband development software called the M9099. Agilent believes that the compatibility model they have of bringing the exact same measurements, via their software, from traditional instruments to modular ones