High-quality microwave engineering websites feature generous amounts of information, downloadable software and tools, ease of navigation, and uncluttered graphical design.
Engineering websites are important information resources for microwave design engineers. When properly designed, an engineering website can quickly guide a visitor to a particular component or device, track down a data sheet on a spectrum analyzer, or help locate a white paper or application note with useful design information. As most manufacturers have learned, just having a website is critical as a support tool for customers. Maintaining a high-quality website not only satisfies current customers, it can contribute greatly to adding new customers.
In considering the type of websites of greatest interest to microwave engineers, content is of foremost importance. Engineers often need data sheets quickly, and a good site should make this search as simple and speedy as possible. The site should also contain supporting technical documentation for a company's products, in the form of white papers, technical articles, and application notes. The best sites are readily searchable, often by different search mechanisms, such as model numbers or key words.
While graphical design is not the most important part of a quality site, it can make navigation through the site easier. In visiting several hundred websites for this report, the clean and unassuming appearance of the Applied Thin-Film Products (www.thinfilm.com) site stands out. Although the site lacks a true technical library or application notes, it is to be commended for its ease of use and the logical approach to its graphic design. Based on the use of left-hand menu bars to clearly guide visitors to information on photomasks, substrates, metalization, processes, links, and even employment opportunities. The site's home page offers a concise message about the company's capabilities, and helps deliver information quickly and simply.
Similarly, Tensolite (www.tensolite.com) features a very clean design with well-marked links to its three main products areas (wire and cable, cable assemblies, and connectors). The home page offers main sections on the left-hand side with a multifunction search function on the top of the site. News releases are presented without fanfare, but are clearly dated in order of release. The site succeeds in presenting information efficiently and effectively.
Millitech Corp., which does list its physical address and contact information right on the home page, also follows the classic website design approach with menu items on the left-hand side and a description of the company and its capabilities on the right-hand side of the home page. The home page offers a choice of the Millimeter-Wave Products Division or the Satellite Communications Products Division. Once selecting the desired part of the site, a visitor has access to information about the firm's engineering capabilities, product data sheets and information about ordering custom products, and technical tools, which include technical references and technical notes.
American Technical Ceramics (atceramics.com) presents a somewhat unassuming home page, dominated by links to recent news releases. The lack of character in the home page conceals the fact that this is an excellent engineering website, with a wealth of technical notes in PDF form, a link to receive a copy of the "The RF Capacitor Handbook," an excellent publication on capacitor basics. The site also features Circuit Designers Note books, which are well-produced technical articles on a variety of fundamental topics, including capacitor dielectric properties, understanding the temperature coefficient of capacitance, capacitors in bypass applications, and capacitors in coupling and DC blocking applications.
As might be expected, some of the most extensive sites in terms of information are hosted by instrument and semiconductor suppliers (see table). Some of the earliest sites reviewed in this magazine, including those of Agilent Technologies (Santa Rosa, CA) and Analog Devices (Wilmington, MA), are still among the best-designed and populated sites in the industry.
Agilent Technologies (www.agilent.com), for example, presents five major industrial areas on its home page, with Test and Measurement Equipment, Semiconductor Products, Life Sciences/Chemical, Communications Solution, and Automated Test Equipment. The home page also includes a link to support for each of these groups as well as a customer center that allows visitors to request samples and/or buy a wide range of the company's equipment on-line. Each section of this website is larger than many companies' stand-alone sites, but only the test and measurement section was considered for this review. That section includes areas for basic instruments, RF/microwave instruments and systems, oscilloscopes and logic analyzers, test systems, test software, EDA software, test accessories, and repair/calibration services. The technical library for this site is extensive, including operator's manuals, product notifications, technical papers, application notes, software and firmware downloads, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and newsletters. A search function allows viewers to search for any term across the entire site or within any of the five major areas of the site.
Similarly, Analog Devices' site (www.analog.com) is rich in information on the company's integrated circuits (ICs), with product lines ranging from amplifiers and data converters to frequency synthesizers. In addition to hundreds of application notes, the site features software utilities and models of its various products, such as the link to the ADIsimADC analog-to-digital converter (ADC) virtual evaluation board (www.analog.com/adisimadc). This part of the site allows a visitor to download executable software. The software models the behavior and performance of an ADC in a user's system when coupled with the firm's product files.
One of the most impressive sites in terms of sheer information and intelligence of presentation is hosted by Texas Instruments (www.ti.com). Although presenting more information on digital signal processing (DSP) than nominal RF topics, the site clearly categorizes products by function and solution type, and includes large sections on support and applications right on the home page. Upon entering the technical documentation section of the site, visitors can search for literature by type of article and key words, and even view the top three literature downloads to date.
In the test area, Anritsu Company's (www.us.anritsu.com) site has a wealth of technical documentation, including application notes, configuration guides, operations manuals, technical notes, and white papers. In addition, the site offers a wide range of software drivers for download, including drivers for spectrum measurements, power measurements, Bluetooth testing, BER testing, and optical communications testing.
In comparison, LeCroy Corp. (www.lecroy.com) features one of the cleanest designs, with a featured product promotion, several additional featured products, and company news clearly displayed on the home page, along with clearly labeled menu choices for products, applications, services and support, and the technical library. The LeCroy website features 18 application notes, but the abstracts of these do not include the date of each. Lab briefs, app notes, product manuals, white papers, and video tutorials (a total of 13 at present, with more to come, topics include tools for data-communications analysis, tools for jitter measurements, and the characteristics of power devices. In terms of sheer volume, Tektronix (www.tek.com) offers thousands of application notes. A search for "Spectrum analyzers," for example, revealed a total of 311 application notes and product data sheets.
Although lacking a real literature section, the MITEQ site contains a large collection different product groups. The home page groups product lines in two main categories: satellite-communications products and components and assemblies. Clicking on the second category, for example, brings a visitor to a wide assortment of different product types, from amplifiers and mixers to fiber-optic links and integrated subassemblies. The easy-to-navigate site allows visitors to drill down to specification sheets, performance plots, and outline drawings. When product lines are listed for further information, such as the AFS amplifier series, a frequency range is also listed to aid engineers in their search.
Also in the components area, Mini-Circuits (www.minicircuits.com) presents a smart balance of data sheets and instructional literature. Each product is backed by a full set of data (including prices), while technical documentation includes application notes, "how to" guides, and FAQs.
In software area, Applied Wave Research (www.mwoffice.com) offers an excellent site with a generous collection of articles (not requiring registration) and links to major electronic magazines in the microwave and general-electronics areas. There is one caveat to this site, however: downloads require registration with a visitor required to furnish an e-mail address and remember a password. Another site worth visiting, if not for their intelligent layout or well-organized information, is Sonnet Software (www.sonnetusa.com). The home page offers a free copy of Sonnet Lite 10, a fully functional electromagnetic (EM) simulation tool that is a downscaled version of the company's powerful Sonnet em simulation software.
One of the classically designed sites in the software area is hosted by Eagleware Corp. (www.eagleware.com), with a clean look, main menu items on the left-hand side, a short description of the company on the home page, and even a link to a short video on the company. Another outstanding software site with generous technical information, it hosted by Ansoft Corp. (www.ansoft.com). Although lacking in graphical design (too much of the home page is devoted to news links, such as company news and product news), the site's poor appearance belies the quality of the information.
In semiconductors, California Eastern Laboratories (www.cel.com) presents a clean and uncluttered home page that is deceptive since the site contains extensive information on the company's semiconductor devices (which are manufactured by NEC). Following the proven design approach of menu choices on the left-hand side of the home page ad graphics at the top and right, the home page offers major product information on top, engineering information just below, with application notes, block diagrams, a parameter library, and even a glossary of terms. Visitors can even order the ADS Design Kit which contains a wide range of models for NEC transistors, including small-signal silicon bipolar transistors, low-noise GaAs FET devices, and high-frequency silicon-germanium (SiGe) transistors, for use with the Agilent Technologies' Advanced Design System (ADS) simulation software suite. Although somewhat lacking in graphic design (poor mix of background and type colors, for example), the RF Micro Devices site (www.rfmd.com) is rich in product and technical information.
Linear Technology (Milpitas, CA), with an extremely clean home-page design, offers visitors listings of new product releases as well as new technical documents upon entering the site. Products are logically grouped according to functional categories, such as data conversion, signal conditioning, power management, and high-frequency/optical products. Visitors can quickly find design notes and application notes on the home page, and register for several regular company publications.
In oscillators, Valpey Fisher (www.valpeyfisher.com) offers a unique search function in which visitor can identify their key product specifications, and the website's search function will identify a product based on those specifications. To start, a visitor must narrow down the product type, such as a quartz crystal, TCXO, or OCXO. Once that is done, the search function prompts a visitor for such parameters as frequency stability, package type, output type, and frequency tolerance. The site also clearly lists the main product areas, including quartz crystals and various forms of crystal oscillators. The site offers a small but informative group of white papers and application notes, including literature on specifying crystals and on understanding crystal-oscillator specifications.
Vectron International (www.vectron.com) hosts a website that is simple in design, but extremely easy to navigate, even offering a quick link to PDF data sheets for the company's oscillator-based product lines. Using a top-mounted menu bar, the site quickly guides visitors to news, product information, and application notes. One of the application notes (on using loop-filter software with one of the firm's PLL sources) includes download for free software.
Obviously, a finite list such as this excludes many other fine microwave websites. Some, such as the Dow-Key site (www.dowkey.com) deserve special mention for their well wishes to the industry for the holidays. To all companies, we wish a happy and healthy 2005, with the hopes of seeing their company on next year's Top 25 Websites list.