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National Instruments big on progress

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NATIONAL Instruments used the centre stage of its recent annual instrumentation conference, NIWeek 2005, to make a number of major product announcements.

Highlights were:

1. MXI-Express delivers PCI Express control of PXI MXI-Express with a 40 percent performance increase and a 33 percent price reduction, compared to PCI remote control of PXI with MXI-4.

2. NI’s launch of what it claims is the industry’s first PC-based multifunction data acquisition (DAQ) devices for PCI Express.

3. The beta release of the NI LabView embedded technology for directly targeting Analog Devices Inc. (ADI’s) Blackfin processors.

4. The integration of ADIsimADC analogue-to-digital converter modelling software with NI SignalExpress to improve component simulation and evaluation.

In addition, concurrently with NIWeek, the PXI Systems Alliance officially announced its PXI Express specification, which integrates PCI Express and CompactPCI Express technology into the PXI instrument-interface standard.

NIWeek 2005 - held in mid-August in Austin, Texas, USA where NI has its headquarters - attracted a record number of over 2500 attendees from 47 countries including Vietnam, Uruguay and Iceland. Also attending were editors from 20 countries, including representation by Process & Control Engineering.

There were over 250 technical sessions and three summits: on RF and wireless communications, on sound and vibration, and on embedded engineering and control design.

More on the announcements follows.

MXI-Express kits allow PCI Express control

ENGINEERS now can use NI MXI-Express kits for PCI Express control of PXI and CompactPCI systems. PCI Express, an evolution of the PCI bus, is the next-generation PC I/O bus offered as a standard option on most new PCs.

With 250 MB/s of dedicated bandwidth available in each direction per lane, PCI Express delivers throughput for high speed and high-channel-count applications. Based on PCI Express, MXI-Express delivers real-world sustained bandwidth of up to 110 MB/s to PXI systems, a more than 40 percent increase compared to PCI remote control of PXI with MXI-4.

The increased throughput of MXI-Express makes it ideal for applications such as signal intelligence and mixed-signal test in for manufacturing, communications, consumer electronics, and military/aerospace industries. MXI-Express is available in two configurations designed to reduce cost 33-40 percent compared to prior-generation solutions.

NI PXI-PCIe8361 kit includes a PCI Express board with one x1 ( gby one h) cabled PCI Express link. This kit, which includes the PCI Express host board, PXI system controller module and cable, represents a 33 percent reduction in the price of PXI remote control compared to prior generation MXI-3 and MXI-4 technologies.

NI PXI-PCIe8362 kit provides two x1 PCI Express links from the host PC, each of which can cable to individual PXI chassis. This gives engineers control of two PXI systems from one PCI Express slot in the PC, saving a slot and reducing cost by 40 percent for a two-chassis system.

MXI-Express link is transparent to software applications and drivers, so industry-standard desktop computers, servers, and workstations can control PXI systems without additional programming.

PCI eXtensions for Instrumentation (PXI) is an open specification governed by the PXI Systems Alliance that defines the CompactPCI-based platform, said to be ruggedly optimised for test, measurement and control. It is supported by more than 65 member companies, and more than 1150 products are available. PXI products are compatible with the CompactPCI industrial computer standard and offer additional features, such as environmental specifications, standardised software, and built-in timing and synchronisation.

PCI Express multifunction DAQ devices

NI said it released the industry’s first PC-based multifunction data acquisition (DAQ) devices for PCI Express.

The new NI PCIe-6251 and NI PCIe-6259 DAQ devices reportedly combine the high-performance PCI Express bus with technology advancements of NI M Series DAQ to offer fast analogue and digital I/O with the dedicated per-slot bandwidth of PCI Express. The new devices feature up to 32 analogue channels with 16 bit, 1.25 MS/s sampling speed and 10 MHz digital I/O on up to 32 lines.

gNational Instruments is helping drive the adoption of PCI Express bus technology in the measurement and automation market with this announcement of the industry’s first PCI Express multifunction data acquisition devices to complement our existing PCI Express products for image acquisition, GPIB and remote control of PXI systems with MXI-Express, h said Tim Dehne, NI senior vice president of R&D.  gPCI Express provides dedicated, high speed bandwidth for measurement devices, while also delivering software compatibility with existing PCI products. This combination opens up new applications for virtual instrumentation and continues to take advantage of the high performance and low cost of PC technology. h

PCI Express is a high performance, point-to-point serial interconnect with a scalable architecture that provides bandwidth from two to 30 times that of traditional PCI. The NI PCIe-6251 and NI PCIe-6259 devices use a x1( gby one h) PCI Express connector that provides 250 MB/s bandwidth per device. In addition, these and other PCI Express devices from NI are completely software-compatible with traditional PCI, helping vendors and users preserve investments in existing driver and application software.

As with other NI M Series DAQ devices, the new NI PCIe-6251 and NI PCIe-6259 DAQ devices feature the NI-STC 2 system controller, the NI-PGIA 2 amplifier, and NI-MCal calibration technology for increased performance, accuracy, and I/O connections. The two new devices are part of the high-speed M Series family, offering up to 32 analogue input channels with 16-bit, 1.25 MS/s sampling speed; up to four analogue output channels with 16-bit, 2.8 MHz sampling speed and 32 high-speed digital I/O (DIO) channels with 10 MHz sampling speed.

The devices also include additional static DIO lines and two 32-bit counter/timers. The new PCI Express M Series multifunction data acquisition devices include time-saving NI measurement services software, including NI-DAQmx driver software and VI Logger Lite data-logging software. In addition, all examples and applications originally written for PCI-based M Series devices are said to be compatible with these new PCI Express counterparts.

LabView embedded module for ADI Blackfin processors

ANALOG Devices Inc. (ADI) and NI announced availability for the public beta version of the NI LabView embedded module for ADI Blackfin processors, which provides design engineers early access to a seamless, graphical dataflow development paradigm to directly target Blackfin processors.

With this new intuitive software, more engineers can take advantage of embedded technology to increase productivity and reduce time to application, the companies say.

gAnalog Devices is excited to collaborate with National Instruments to significantly increase the productivity of embedded designers by combining LabView graphical programming with our Blackfin processors and development tools, h said Jerry McGuire, general manager, convergent platform and services group at Analog Devices.

gThe new LabView Embedded technology provides a development environment that is at the forefront of the industry, h said McGuire.  gThis LabView module offers simplified embedded programming for domain experts and a high-level graphical tool for traditional design engineers as well as low-level optimised algorithms, on-chip peripherals and component drivers, helping companies deliver products to market in record time. h

The beta version builds on LabView Embedded technology and includes Blackfin-specific, hand-optimised analysis and signal processing functions; integrated I/O devices, such as audio and video DACs, ADCs, and CODECs; and on-chip debugging.

Engineers can completely design applications using intuitive LabView graphical dataflow programming paradigm and integrate legacy C code within LabView diagrams for extended functionality. The new LabView software reduces time to application by seamlessly integrating with ADI’s VisualDSP++ development and debugging environment for real-time, interactive debugging and deployment directly to Blackfin processors.

The beta version also is said to provide easy connectivity to the extensive range of NI test and measurement hardware for deploying external stimulation and test methodologies early in the development process.

gTraditionally, engineers have relied on a limited number of experts to program their embedded applications through low-level, text-based programming languages, such as assembly and C, h said Tim Dehne, NI senior vice president of R&D. He expects the collaboration will increase productivity among engineers, giving them time to develop more embedded design ideas.

ADI’s Blackfin processors are called the first in a new breed of 16/32-bit embedded processors, combining a 32-bit RISC-like instruction set with 16-bit dual multiply accumulate (MAC) signal processing functionality and ease-of-use attributes found in general-purpose microcontrollers. Dynamic Power Management enables breakthrough power consumption required for many battery-operated applications by allowing simultaneous adjustment of operating frequency and voltage under application control. Because of code compatibility, all Blackfin processors are said to provide portability of design.

The expected launch of the NI LabView embedded module for ADI Blackfin processors is later in 2005.

ADIsimADC converter models in SignalExpress

NI announced that it can integrate Analog Devices’ ADIsimADC analogue-to-digital converter (ADC) modelling software with NI SignalExpress to provide a virtual benchtop for device simulation and evaluation.

With these tools, engineers can take advantage of a seamless transition between simulating and physically evaluating a component signal chain to verify real-world performance against simulation results.

In the past, engineers seeking new components spent one or more weeks reviewing data sheets and converter samples to select the correct chips for their designs. With ADIsimADC and SignalExpress, mixed-signal design engineers can reach their design milestones more quickly by accurately simulating and verifying converter performance to select the most effective converters for their designs. These tools help engineers reduce time spent selecting and evaluating converters from a scale of weeks to days.

gAnalog Devices and National Instruments have worked together to deliver a solution for comprehensively assessing ADI converter performance quickly through NI SignalExpress software, h said Brad Brannon, systems applications engineer in the High Speed Converter group at Analog Devices.  gWith SignalExpress, engineers can define complex signal inputs for our ADC models. This is particularly useful for simulating the performance of ADCs in cellular CDMA and OFDM wireless data transfer applications. h

NI SignalExpress is an interactive software environment that provides a virtual benchtop for acquiring, comparing, automating and storing measurements from standalone and PC-based instruments.

With SignalExpress, engineers can easily take mixed-signal measurements to characterise and validate their prototypes without programming. By integrating ADIsimADC with SignalExpress, engineers can apply custom inputs to the models and perform interactive signal chain analysis on a large selection of ADI’s ADCs.

gReviewing data sheets and setting up evaluation boards in the lab occupies priceless time in the design cycle, h said Richard McDonell, senior product manager at National Instruments.  gIn fact, design teams often avoid updating their existing designs with higher-performance and more cost-effective components because of the time required for evaluating and selecting new converters. The ADIsimADC converter modelling capabilities in NI SignalExpress give engineers the ability to more accurately and fully characterise components for their new and updated designs. h

With the virtual evaluation board and virtual benchtop capabilities of SignalExpress and ADIsimADC, engineers can go from simulation to prototyping with minimal or no time spent characterising physical evaluation boards, the companies suggest. This helps engineers eliminate a step in the product development process, resulting in a shorter time to market with minimal risk.

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