€2300 USB real-time spectrum analyser spans 6 GHz

March 06, 2014 // By Graham Prophet
Signal Hound BB60A is a real-time spectrum analyser and RF recorder designed to capture and display RF events as short as 1 µsec. The BB60A is a small, lightweight, USB-based real-time RF spectrum analyser that operates from 9 kHz to 6 GHz and can go anywhere. It can also be customised to perform complex, remote, and/or automated functions.

Interference hunting and real time spectrum monitoring tools have become a necessity, its makers say; the problem is finding a real-time spectrum analyser that is adequate for the task and isn’t cost prohibitive. Also, adding RF recording capability to a traditional spectrum analyser is avoided due to added cost. Advances in commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components contributed to the design of the Signal Hound BB60A, providing a high value/low price real-time RF spectrum analyser with RF recorder capability.

The analyser is the first to market with an RF recorder that uses the USB 3.0 data pipe. USB 3.0 streams at twice the data rate of a 1GiE connection. In order to achieve this functionality, three things were necessary, according to the unit’s designers; first, computer processors and video card performance had to advance to the point where GPU acceleration of the spectrum analyser graphics became inexpensive to implement. Second, the availability of inexpensive high performance SSDs (Solid State Drives) was required so that broadband RF recording to the PC could be achieved without a costly and bulky RAID-0 or RAID-5 hard drive configuration. And third, the Cypress FX3 chip, which was the first USB 3.0 device controller to market, was needed for Signal Hound to cost-effectively create the large 140 MB/sec data pipe from the BB60A to the PC.

The BB60A streams 80 million samples per second of RF data to a PC via USB 3.0, enabling real-time spectrum analysis of any 20 MHz segment of spectrum. Users are able to visualise spectral events as short as 1 µsec with 100% POI (probability of intercept) within a 20 MHz instantaneous bandwidth.

The open-source spectrum analyser software features a 2-D waterfall or 3-D topographical view, as well as a GPU-accelerated colour persistence mode. The picture shows a real-time capture of an HP 8662A stepping between two frequencies, reveraling exactly what happens in the frequency domain as the PLLs unlock and lock during