AXIe: It really is big brother to PXI

AXIe is the “big brother” of PXI.  It uses the same PCIe (PCI Express) fabric as PXI, but sports higher power and larger board size.  A goal of the consortium is to make AXIe appear to controllers and software as a PXI system, but focused on supporting high-end instrumentation.  Like PXI and VXI, it is open to all vendors, and uses similar software drivers, such as IVI and LabView, for instrument control.

So when Agilent contacted me a few days ago about an upcoming AXIe chassis announcement, I was interested to see these concepts delivered in what is arguably the highest performance open modular chassis yet created.  We’ll take a look at it.  But even more importantly, it demonstrates some key architectural concepts of AXIe, and some very interesting compatibility modes with PXI.

Do you know what an ASM is? An ESM? How about “fire breathing dragon”?  Read the entire article here.

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Increasing the speed of traditional box instruments

Frequent Test Cafe readers are familiar with the speed advantages of modular instruments.  But just to recap, modular standards such as PXI or AXIe gain their speed advantage in functional test applications by avoiding the ASCII interpretation bottleneck of traditional “box” instruments.  Recall that traditional instruments are typically programmed by SCPI commands, Standard Commands for Programmable Instruments.  These natural language commands take milliseconds to interpret, while driver execution is measured in microseconds.  I’ve seen PXI DMMs (digital multimeters) perform a complete measurement in 50 microseconds, including the command time.  A traditional LXI instrument wouldn’t have traversed the TCP/IP stack in order to send the first character in that time.  The bottom line is that SCPI is optimized for portability, not speed.  For top speed, you need pre-compiled high-speed drivers that manipulate an instrument’s native memory map directly over a low latency interface.  PCIe-based systems like PXI and AXIe do exactly that.

But are there ways around this bottleneck to make traditional box instruments competitive?  Yes- there are some tricks that users or manufacturers can employ to narrow the difference or even equalize the playing field.  Let’s review some here.

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Modular instrument highlights of 2013

So, where are we with modular instrument adoption in 2013?  It appears that modular systems have again outgrown traditional instruments by double-digit amounts.  Part of this is due to 2013 being a soft year for the industry overall, so this wasn’t a particular large hurdle.  However, the relative growth rate of modular instrumentation shows that PXI and AXIe continue to take share from their traditional counterparts.  

Why is this, and what are the sub-currents? Segment, drivers, acquisitions, architectures, I have it covered.  For the most integrated summary you will ever read of the 2013 modular instrument market, go here.

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