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Modular instrumentation has long been attractive for RF/microwave applications, owing to its potential for packing multiple measurement functions into the space where a single-function instrument once stood. But receiving such benefits usually meant a tradeoff in performance, compared to full-sized instruments. However, that is not the case with the fast-switching model M9393A PXIe performance vector signal analyzer (VSA) from Agilent Technologies.


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Based on the PXI-Express (PXIe) modular format, this VSA can meet or beat the performance of any available VSA, with 150-μs switching speed and a frequency range of 9 kHz to 27 GHz. Ideal for aerospace and defense applications, it also provides the measurement power for the latest emerging commercial communications standards and advanced modulation formats. It is as much at home on the R&D bench as on the manufacturing/production line.

Modular measurement formats such as VXI and PXI provide not only flexibility and “measurement density” in small footprints, but can also help save on operating costs: They do so by conserving power and packing more functions per measurement space and power supply. For example, a PXI mainframe has 18 card slots within a 19-in.-wide, four-unit-high (4U) chassis.

In addition, these modular instruments can cut measurement times, since digital formats such as PXIe allow for rapid data transfer between the instrument modules and the host personal computer (PC) in a test setup. A modular format such as PXIe can also result in financial savings over time, since modules (and their functions) can be readily exchanged as instrument modifications and improvements are needed.

PXIe Modules Pack Speedy 27-GHz VSA, Fig. 1

The M9393A occupies five slots in a PXIe chassis (Fig. 1), including modules for a microwave frequency downconverter, frequency reference, digitizer/intermediate-frequency (IF) processor, and microwave frequency synthesizer. The frequency reference module can be shared by multiple VSAs, enabling four to fit into a single chassis An ideal PXIe modular companion for the VSA is the firm’s model M9037A PXIe embedded controller, which helps the M9393A achieve its top measurement speed (Fig. 2).

PXIe Modules Pack Speedy 27-GHz VSA, Fig. 2The M9393A VSA actually includes many different frequency options, with available RF/microwave frequency ranges all starting at 9 kHz and terminating at 8.4, 14.0, 18.0, or 27.0 GHz. Optional preamplifiers are available for all four frequency ranges. The analyzers are supplied with a standard analysis bandwidth of 40 MHz, and available with optional analysis bandwidths of 100 and 160 MHz. The standard instrument memory is 128 MSamples, with options for 512 and 1024 MSamples memory.

In terms of performance, no matter the frequency range or analysis bandwidth, the M9393A delivers. Building upon the high levels set earlier in the firm’s lower-frequency model M9391A PXI VSA (in 3- and 6-GHz models), the M9393A provides a wide dynamic range, with a -160-dBm displayed average noise level (DANL) at one end and a +30 dBm third-order-intermodulation (TOI) level at the other. These M9393A VSAs also show signal levels with outstanding ±0.15 dB absolute amplitude accuracy. The extremely compact PXIe configuration of the M9393A VSA, for example, allows four time-synchronized channels to be mounted within a single instrument chassis.

PXIe Modules Pack Speedy 27-GHz VSA, Fig. 3By adding the M9037A PXIe embedded controller (Fig. 3), the measurement capability of the M9393A is increased. The M9037A features a 2.4-GHz quad-core processor with as much as 12 GB/s data bandwidth. Based on the latest i7 series microprocessor from Intel Corp., an i7 4700EQ extended-life processor, the M9037A is essentially a high-performance PC designed for challenging applications.

The M9037A’s 2.4-GHz quad-core processor features as much as 12 Gb/s data bandwidth from the central processing unit (CPU) to the PXIe backplane using PCIe technology, and can support as many as 24 PCIe lanes for multiple-function processing and fast computations on complex measurements, such as microwave power and error-vector-magnitude (EVM) measurements. The M9037A PXIe embedded controller even includes an X8 PCIe front-panel connector to link to a second PXIe chassis or to redundant-array-of- independent-disks (RAID) data storage. It is bolstered by preloaded libraries and drivers, and features the convenience of a front-panel removable 240-Gb solid-state memory drive.

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Measurement Support

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In addition to its modular hardware capabilities in vector signal generators and arbitrary waveform generators, Agilent Technologies has developed extensive measurement software that also supports the PXIe M9393A modular VSA. Software tools include the 89600 VSA software and the X-Series measurement applications. The 89600 VSA software was recently enhanced with stepped spectrum measurement capabilities, allowing the M9393A to search for signals across its available bandwidth.

Given the frequency switching speed of the M9393A and the control of the 89600 VSA software, the combination can perform stepped spectrum measurements across a 27-GHz bandwidth in less than 1 s with a 10-kHz resolution bandwidth. Such measurement capability is invaluable when checking for harmonic and spurious signals cross wide bandwidths.

The X-Series measurement software can be used with the M9393A to simplify device conformance testing of commercial communications applications, such as Long-Term-Evolution (LTE) cellular systems and wireless-local-area-network (WLAN) wireless connectivity systems. The X-Series software supports measurements on a wide range of applications, including Bluetooth and a variety of wireless communications systems. In addition, the software eases general-purpose measurements, including analog and digital demodulation measurements. Developed for use with the firm’s X-Series signal analyzers, the software can control other applications—such as MATLAB and the 89600 VSA software—on the same modular instrument (e.g., an M9393A VSA).

At the same time that Agilent is introducing its 27-GHz VSA and high-powered controller, it is also unveiling modular products that help pack additional measurement power into smaller spaces: the model M9514A AXIe chassis and the model M9521A system module.


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The model M9514A is a 14-slot AXIe chassis compatible with AXIe standards 1.0 and 2.0. It features a front-panel Gen 2 × 8 PCIe interface for connecting multiple AXIe and PXIe chassis, PCIe and gigabit LAN for connections to a host computer, and 62 differential local bus lines for module-to-module communications. To make such high measurement density possible and practical, the M9514A chassis is designed with an innovative cooling configuration to achieve 200 W cooling per slot. The M9521A system module also meets AXIe 1.0 and 2.0 specifications.

With their high-performance AXIe communications bus, the chassis and module support many measurements of interest to military and aerospace customers. These include phase-coherent measurements across many test modules and modulation-quality measurements in satellite-communications (satcom) systems. Equipped with the appropriate function modules, the chassis and system module can perform multiple-channel antenna testing and high-speed digital testing with tight timing synchronization possible between modules. The M9393A is available for order but will ship in July. P&A: $42,000 and up (M9393A VSA) and $6950 and up (M9037A controller).

Agilent Technologies, Inc., 5301 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara, CA 95051; (877) 424-4536, (408)  345-8886, FAX: (408) 345-8475.

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