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Editor’s Pick: RF Vector Signal Transceiver Configurable for Multiple Applications

By Anthony J. Lockwood

Dear Desktop Engineering Reader:

Now this is interesting.

At NI Week earlier this month, National Instruments introduced an RF vector signal transceiver (VST) on a single 3-slot PXI Express modular instrument module for real-time signal processing and control. Designated the NI PXIe-5644R, a huggable name if I ever heard one, this device combines a vector signal analyzer and vector signal generator with user-programmable field-programmable gate array (FPGA) architecture at its core. In other words, A) this hardware is software-centric and B) the RF design, testing, and implementation processes are integrated. The world of RF design and testing has never known such a thing, even from the company that made virtual instrumentation ubiquitous.

Without a doubt, this is cool. It takes the concept of virtual instruments to its next logical step. With the NI PXIe-5644R, your hardware, design software, and your test and implementation software are the same environment. That means no more separate test benches, no more translating algorithms into an implementation language, and no more hoping that the automatic translation generators get the job done with only a few bugs. You can design, simulate, debug, test again, and implement in a single integrated hardware and software environment.

The trick here is in the NI PXIe-5644R’s FPGA heart. It enables you to use NI LabVIEW FPGA system design software to customize the hardware’s behavior just the way you want it. And by that I mean you can get right down to coding a single pin if you need to. And, of course, because it’s software-centric FPGA hardware, you can upgrade the code in the field. When you’re done with a job, you can reconfigure the NI PXIe-5644R for another custom job.

By the by, the NI PXIe-5644R’s VST performance and capabilities are pretty robust: 65MHz to 6GHz frequency range, 80MHz instantaneous bandwidth, and 24 channels of high-speed digital I/O. It supports RF standards like 802.11ac and LTE. It expands to support multiple input/multiple output configurations. It has things like RF record and playback and RF list mode. NI says that its overall measurement performance is better than 10 times faster than comparable solutions. And, as a bonus, it gets rid of a lot of other stand-alone boxes.

DE’s editorial honcho Steve Robbins called me right after he saw a demo of the NI PXIe-5644R. Apparently this device is already changing the way engineers work. Essentially, the system’s high-level performance coupled with its custom programmability is enabling people to create RF signal processing and control set-ups that they could only imagine previously. DE is going to have more on things like that for you soon. In the meantime, hit the link over there to get the lowdown on the NI PXIe-5644R VST starting with today’s Pick of the Week write-up and then from the links at the end of the main text.

This sounds like a game changer. See why I said it was interesting?

Thanks, Pal. — Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering

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About Anthony J. Lockwood

Anthony J. Lockwood is Digital Engineering's Editor-at-Large. Contact him via de-editors@digitaleng.news.