In the test and measurement industry, two distinct camps exist: those who favor vector network analyzers (VNA) and those who favor time domain reflectometers (TDR). Each camp relies heavily upon its instrument of choice for a variety of test and measurement and analytical tasks. The TDR’s strong suit is temporal analysis — characterizing impedance or reflection coefficient with respect to time. Its quick setup, intuitive controls, and results-oriented operation appeal to a broad range of users. The VNA, on the other hand, excels in frequency domain analysis — characterizing amplitude and phase with respect to frequency.
Learning to operate the VNA can be complex, but it offers an extremely stable, precise, and versatile measurement platform. Interestingly, both instruments have the ability to perform time or frequency domain analysis through built-in Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) algorithms or ancillary software.??Individuals working in digital applications tend to prefer the TDR, while those involved in traditional RF applications consider the VNA to be a laboratory staple. The push for ever-faster data rates has fueled an analytical rethinking of high-speed digital signaling.
Contemporary wisdom views high-speed digital systems as high-frequency applications; therefore more traditional, physics-based microwave analysis techniques can be applied. Once this concept is embraced, users follow a tendency to exploit the strengths of the TDR and the VNA, combining time and frequency domain analysis to accelerate design and development cycles. Both instruments can measure impedance, time delay, phase delay, and reflection coefficient, so they are often thought of as equals. This begs the question: Is there a quantifiable difference in measurement uncertainty between the TDR and VNA?
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.