The instrument is certainly important, but so is its trigger
One more observation from the just-concluded IMS 2009 MTT-S event: instrumentation suppliers were there, showing their newest boxes. We know that in all engineering design and development, test equipment is as important as the components on your BOM and your design itself. But without proper test equipment, setups, and procedures, you don't know what you have, what meets specs, what's working and to what extent, and what's not quite right or is very wrong.
This is especially critical in RF and microwaves, where many designs are literally pushing the boundaries of frequency, bandwidth, data rates modulation, noise, and other performance parameters. While hunches, gut feel, and experience are an essential part of test and debug, they can be very misleading in the RF and microwave world, there is so much "magic" along with unseen, and often nearly unseeable, factors playing critical roles.
One thing became clear as I looked at the latest in oscilloscopes, spectrums analyzers, vector analyzers, and more. The instrument's basic "data acquisition" channel is important, but so is the channel trigger. With so much signal coming in, in real time, burdened by artifacts, noise, runt signals, and who-knows-what, you need a way to unambiguously focus in on signal areas of interest. In other words: it's about the "trigger" as much as the channel itself.
This point was reinforced by one of the many product marketing managers at IMS 2009. The point is that a trigger is a mechanism for conserving the memory in the instrument. In other words, since you can't record everything, for as long as you want, and with the resolution you'd need, you need multi-dimensional, multifaceted triggering to use the memory where it counts.
This means triggers which employ combinations of time, amplitude, frequency, pulse width, delay, and other factors. Setting up such triggers sounds formidable, but today's smart instruments also have sophisticated user assistance and visual guides which make them manageable. And that's a very good thing for all parties. ♦