"All I want is a Source."

Posted on Tuesday, August 12, 2014
By Scott Blanchard

Today’s signal generators, from portable to bench types, are endowed with an impressive array of features designed to make them useful in every conceivable application. They’re powerful tools -- but they’re also expensive and for many measurement tasks their “feature-rich” capabilities are simply unnecessary and even get in the way. In short, sometimes all you need (or even want) is a compact swept signal source with CW and pulse modulation that doesn’t sacrifice RF performance for size. There are plenty of scenarios in which this is true, from field testing high up a mountain and miles from anywhere to well-endowed engineering environments where test benches always seem to be in use by someone performing a long-term reliability test.


Building on both analog and digital technology, Vaunix has created the Lab Brick signal generator series, phase shifters, digital attenuators, and switches that when combined with a laptop computer can form an automated test system that can generate test signals, attenuate them, and shift them in phase. The whole system including the laptop is small enough to fit in a backpack or a computer bag so you can take it up the mountain, back to your office, or even take it home.


An essential ingredient in their capability is USB, which allows the signal generator and all of the components to connect to and be powered by a laptop or even by a battery or USB-based DC back-up power source. A system that includes a Lab Brick signal generator, phase shifter, attenuator, and switch can be controlled using Vaunix Windows-based software or you can write your own test routines using LabVIEW.


They may be small, but the Lab Brick LSG and LMS Series signal generators nevertheless deliver excellent performance including low phase noise, high RF output power, fast sweep times, full control of pulse characteristics, external triggering, and provision for a precision 10 MHz reference.


It doesn’t take much imagination to envision a “homebrew” test system built from these components, as none of the ingredients (including the signal generator) is larger than a paperback book. You also don’t need a bag of power adapters or any power source other than the laptop’s USB port, and the system can be programmed and controlled from the laptop GUI.

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