Santa Clara, Calif.—No point in just dipping a toe in the water, when you have the resources and commitment to jump in aggressively with both feet: that is the message of the latest "broadside" from Agilent Technologies Inc. The company is bringing its broad and deep test and measurement expertise, including software, to the modular form-factor world, by introducing a raft of 46 PXI and AXIe products spanning analog, digital, RF, microwave, and even lightwave applications with digitizers, arbitrary function generators, digitizing oscilloscopes, digital multimeters, and switch-array products, all supported by software drivers, I/O libraries, and analysis/control software.
Agilent's Open Modular family of modules and chassis supporting PXI and AXIe standards, plus development and analysis software tools, brings a new level of sophistication and operation to test and measurement systems.
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[A brief aside: PXI is a long-established, mature modular standard, supported by many vendors, and comes in several variations, including PXIe and PXI-H; AXIe (AdvancedTCS Extensions for Instrumentation and Test) is a new, open standard which supports larger board size (better for shielding and interconnect), higher-power applications (single-rail power up to 200 W/slot), and greater scalability and use of rack space than PXI, as a chassis can have up to 14 slots in vertical or horizontal orientation, and multiple chassis can be connected for higher channel counts).]
Among the initial products is the M9392A microwave vector signal analyzer (VSA) with 89600 VSA software, affording instantaneous bandwidth of 250 MHz for signals up to 26.5 GHz. There is also the U4301A PCIe Gen 3 analyzer for the AXIe chassis, for multi-gigabit signal capture and protocol testing.
But modular products do not function by boards alone. Within the 42 products of the first modular release family are six chassis, including the M9018A PXIe unit with 16 hybrid slots, for data intensive application such as imaging and radar analysis with wide bandwidth from module to module as well as between a chassis and a system controller, and two AXIe chassis, one a two-slot (2U) model and the other a five-slot (4U) model, designed to support high-performance instrumentation in minimal rack space, which Carla Feldman (Marketing Manager for Agilent's Modular Product Operation) told me was becoming a increasingly critical factor among customers.
Software and I/O is not an afterthought for high-performance instruments, but an integral part fo the system-level execution that users must implement. To support this, the Agilent modular family supports Microsoft Visual Studio .NET, National Instruments LabVIEW, and Agilent VEE Pro. Each module also includes drivers which are specific to the operating environment: IVI-C, IVI-COM, and G, with context-sensitive help such as Microsoft Intellisense and LabVIEW hover-help. Higher-levels applications support includes MATLAB from The MathWorks as well as Agilent's internal packages such as vector signal analysis (VSA) software.
By the way, in case you were wondering (or worrying), the legacy IEEE-488 GPIB interface hasn't been orphaned by the new modular product architecture, which does support that long-established bus and its protocols. Von Campbell, Strategic Planning Manager in the Modular Products Operation, pointed out that there's a lot of GPIB instrumentation out there still being used and doing so successfully, and users are hesitant to change that, for both cost and "we don't need any more surprises" reasons.—Bill Schweber
Price and availability: The bulk of the 42 products are available now, with the rest due later this month. Prices for modules range from $2,000 to $42,000. Modular chassis prices start at $7,500.
For More information: Basic information is available at http://www.agilent.com/find/modular; and in-depth modular products background discussion is at http://www.agilent.com/find/modular_backgrounder.