Test and Measurement Applications

Communications Test

Multiport Network/Protocol Analyzer

Communication test and monitoring equipment consists of various products in the wireline, wireless, optical, and telecommunication market segments. These products include network/protocol analyzers, spectrum analyzers, bit-error rate testers (BERTs), voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) testers, SONET/SDH testers, and more.

Designing communication test products presents a two-fold challenge:

  1. The need to support a variety of standards such as PCI Express* (PCIe*) and 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10GbE) well ahead of equipment manufacturers
  2. The constant pressure to upgrade products that support emerging standards, new features, and new functionality

As a result, designers need programmable solutions that provide the flexibility to upgrade and prolong the life of the tester equipment. Programmability is both a business and design requirement, making FPGAs the ideal solution for these applications.

Figure above illustrates the use of Intel® FPGAs and Intel® FPGA Intellectual Property (IP) functions in a multiport network/protocol analyzer. There are three key functional blocks in a typical tester line card: a generator, a framer/media acess control (MAC), and an analyzer. The generator generates the test pattern, which is sent to the framer for framing and then over to the device under test (DUT). Once the data comes back from the DUT, the framer sends the data to the analyzer for bit-error rate (BER) testing, histogram, and various other test procedures.

Key System Architecture Variables

  • Number of ports per line card
  • Power (total power dissipation per board: maximum 50 – 60 W)
  • Multiple ports with varying network protocols (Ethernet, GbE, optical, etc.)
  • Software/hardware partitioning (Layers 1 – 7)

Solutions

The feature-rich architecture of the Intel Stratix®, Intel Arria®, and Intel Cyclone® series FPGAs provides an excellent solution for communication tester equipment production needs. These programmable device families give system designers flexibility, performance, integration, and design resources that are not available in any other device solution. These devices along with Intel’s extensive portfolio of IP cores give designers industry-leading development solutions for the next generation of communication tester equipment.

Intel Stratix series FPGAs use a high-performance architecture that accelerates block-based designs for maximum system performance. Intel Stratix devices include up to 5.5M quivalent logic elements (LEs), up to 229 Mb of embedded memory, high-performance, variable-precision digital signal processing (DSP) blocks with up to 11,520 18x19 high-performance multipliers, and flexible I/Os for most popular interface standards.

Intel Stratix series devices also include transceivers capable of data rates up to 30 Gbps, as well as up to 144 full-duplex transceiver channels supporting data rates up to 30 Gbps, with the accuracy required for multiple serial protocols such as PCIe 1.1, 2.0, and 3.0. The inclusion of integrated transceivers in some family members provides a solution that is efficient in both cost and board space for communication tester products. Intel Stratix devices include the embedded memory and LE resources needed for input and output data processing functions, such as framing, BER testing, and clock signal synchronization.

Intel Arria® FPGA series include unique innovations such as an embedded dual-core ARM* Cortex*-A9 MPCore* processor. This hard processor system (HPS) includes a rich set of hardened peripherals, the lowest power transceivers at 10.3125 Gbps and 17.4 Gbps, hardened memory interfaces, and a power-optimized core architecture that comprises redesigned adaptive logic modules (ALMs), variable-precision DSP blocks, distributed memory blocks, and fractional clock synthesis phase-locked loops (PLLs).

The low-cost Intel Cyclone FPGAs are a precise fit for applications that need a lower price per port. A Cyclone device can be used with Intel IP cores, such as the 10/100 Ethernet MAC controller core, to reduce design time. The Nios® II embedded processor can be used to perform some of the control functions within the system. The integration of various discrete devices into a single Intel Cyclone device decreases the number of components on board and also reduces design cost and time. Cyclone devices have a highly efficient device architecture and meet the performance and price requirements of cost-sensitive communication test products. The low-cost Cyclone devices used in combination with Intel IP cores can lead to shortened development cycles for faster time to market and significant cost savings.

Intel offers a variety of IP cores that can be utilized in tester equipment. High-speed chip-to-chip interfaces such as SFI, SPI3, SPI4.x, SGMII, and XAUI, and memory interfaces such as DDR3 and RLDRAM III can be downloaded from Intel FPGA IP Portfolio website.

Semiconductor ATE

Semiconductor automated test equipment (ATE) consists of various instruments or cards used for testing memory, digital, mixed signal, and system-on-a-chip (SoC) components, both at the wafer and packaged stages. Driven by the demand in the consumer, computing, and communication markets, these test systems continue to evolve. To keep pace with innovation in the semiconductor industry, today’s ATE products must provide more functionality at higher speeds than ever before.

Programmable logic plays an important role in the development of ATE products by providing flexibility and scalability. Functions such as timing accuracy, memory control, digital signal processing (DSP) analysis, high-speed I/O capability, and jitter compliance are all served by programmable logic. Figure below shows a typical instrument card in an ATE system. With the increasing complexity of ATE products, more intellectual property (IP) continues to be integrated within the programmable logic.

Intel offers a variety of IP cores that can be utilized in ATE products. Memory interfaces such as DDR3 and RLDRAM III, or high-speed bus interfaces such as PCI Express* (PCIe), SFI, and SerialLite (a lightweight, high-bandwidth, point-to-point data protocol) can be downloaded from the Intel FPGA IP Portfolio website.

Typical ATE Test Station

Solutions

The feature-rich architecture of the Stratix®, Arria®, and Cyclone® device families provides an excellent solution for ATE production. These device families give system designers flexibility, performance, integration, and design resources that are not available in any other device solution. These silicon products, combined with Intel’s extensive portfolio of IP cores, provide designers with industry-leading solutions for the development of next-generation ATE platforms.

Stratix series FPGAs use a high-performance architecture that accelerates block-based designs for maximum system performance. Intel Stratix series devices include high-performance, high-precision DSP blocks, up to 52 Mb of embedded memory, up to 950K equivalent logic elements (LEs), and flexible I/O standards.

Built on the award-winning Stratix architecture, Stratix series devices include the embedded memory and LE resources needed for input and output pin processing functions, such as signal synchronization and timing analysis. The Intel Stratix device series integrates 28.05 Gbps transceivers and up to 66 full-duplex transceiver channels supporting data rates of 14.1 Gbps, with the signal integrity required for serial protocols such as PCIe Gen3.

Arria® FPGA series include unique innovations such as an embedded dual-core ARM® CortexTM-A9 MPCoreTM processor. This hard processor system (HPS) includes a rich set of hardened peripherals, the lowest power transceivers at 6.5536 Gbps and 10.3125 Gbps, hardened memory interfaces, and a power-optimized core architecture that comprises redesigned adaptive logic modules (ALMs), variable-precision DSP blocks, distributed and new M10K embedded memory blocks, and fractional clock synthesis phase-locked loops (PLLs).

Intel offers a variety of IP cores that can be utilized in tester equipment. Chip-to-chip interfaces and memory interfaces such as DDR3 and RLDRAM III can be downloaded from Intel FPGA IP Portfolio website.

For applications requiring a lower price per pin, the Intel Cyclone FPGA series of high-density, low-cost devices are a precise fit. Cyclone devices can be used in conjunction with Intel IP cores, such as the Nios® II embedded processor, to implement control functions that significantly shorten design time. This embedded IP function can shorten development cycles, lower costs, and yield faster time to market. The integration of various peripherals into a single Intel Cyclone series device reduces the number of discrete components on boards, along with related design costs and time, leading to significant cost savings. With a highly efficient device architecture, Intel Cyclone series devices meet the performance and integration needs of ATE products.

GENERAL PURPOSE TEST

Traditional

General-purpose test instruments consist of products such as oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, signal generators, video test equipment, automotive test equipment, and many more. These products are used across multiple applications in environments ranging from labs to manufacturing facilities.

Programmable logic continues to play an important role in general-purpose test instrument development. FPGA flexibility and scalability accelerates time to market and reduces risk. This, coupled with the rapid advances in integration capability, have made programmable logic the new centerpiece of both hardware and software development teams.

In addition to the use of programmable logic, numerous new circuit structures are emerging as performance requirements and circuit densities increase. Significant use of new buses, often involving high-speed serial data transfer, and the commonplace use of system-on-a-chip (SoC) and system-on-a-programmable-chip (SOPC) devices have been pervasive in the industry. Now designers must deal with very complex design and circuit structures, making in-circuit debug harder and, at the same time, even more necessary. Figure below shows high-speed capture, analysis, and processing for online measurements in typical video test equipment.

Typical FPGA Usage in Video Test Equipment

Solutions

The feature-rich architecture of the Intel Stratix®, Intel Arria®, and Intel Cyclone® series FPGAs provides an excellent solution for general-purpose test instrument and equipment production. These programmable device families give system designers the flexibility, performance, integration, and design resources that are not available in any other device solution. These silicon products, combined with Intel® FPGA Intellectual Property (IP), provide designers with industry-leading solutions for the development of next-generation general-purpose test instruments and equipment.

Stratix series FPGAs use a high-performance architecture that accelerates block-based designs for maximum system performance. Intel Stratix devices include up to 950K equivalent logic elements (LEs), up to 52 Mb of embedded memory, high-performance variable-precision digital signal processing (DSP) blocks with up to 3,926 18x18 high-performance multipliers, and flexible I/Os for most popular interface standards.

Stratix series devices also include transceivers capable of data rates up to 28.05 Gbps, as well as up to 66 full-duplex transceiver channels supporting up to 14.1 Gbps, with the accuracy required for multiple serial protocols such as PCI Express* 1.1, 2.0, and 3.0. The inclusion of the transceivers in some family members provides a solution that is efficient in both cost and board-space for general-purpose tester products. Built on the Stratix architecture, Stratix series FPGAs include the embedded memory and LE resources needed for input and output data processing functions, such as framing, bit-error rate testing, and clock signal synchronization.

Arria® FPGA series include unique innovations such as an embedded dual-core ARM® CortexTM-A9 MPCoreTM processor. This HPS includes a rich set of hardened peripherals, the lowest power transceivers at 6.5536 Gbps and 10.3125 Gbps, hardened memory interfaces, and a power-optimized core architecture that comprises redesigned adaptive logic modules (ALMs), variable-precision DSP blocks, distributed and new M10K embedded memory blocks, and fractional clock synthesis phase-locked loops (PLLs).

Intel Cyclone series FPGAs are high-density, low-cost devices that provide a precise fit for applications that need a lower price per signal. Cyclone devices can be used in conjunction with Intel IP cores, such as the Nios® II embedded processor, to implement control functions that significantly shorten design time. This embedded IP can shorten development cycles, lower costs, and yield faster time to market. The integration of various peripherals into a single Cyclone series device reduces the number of discrete components on boards, along with the related design costs and time, leading to significant cost savings. With a highly efficient device architecture, Cyclone series devices meet the performance and integration needs of general-purpose test products.

Intel offers a variety of IP cores that can be utilized in tester equipment. Chip-to-chip interfaces such as SFI, SPI3, SPI4.x, SGMII, and XAUI, and memory interfaces such as DDR3 and RLDRAM III can be downloaded from 

Intellectual Property, Development Kits, and Reference Designs

Modular

Designers of general-purpose test and measurement equipment like oscilloscopes and logic analyzers have historically implemented custom designed hardware. With growing demand for lower costs and higher flexibility, Modular Instruments based on PXI (PCI extensions for instrumentation) are becoming increasingly popular. These systems share hardware resources (e.g. chassis, power supply, CPU), and utilize user-defined software to make custom measurements and support emerging standards.  

For your application-specific needs, you can now:

  • Easily implement modular PCIe-based function boards using the Intel FPGA IP for PCI Express.
  • Integrate multiple serializer/deserializer (SERDES) channels up to 12.5 Gbps, within Stratix® series FPGAs
  • Rapidly create custom functionality and interfaces using Intel Stratix and Intel Arria® series FPGAs and the Intel Quartus® Prime design software

Modular-Based Systems

Portable

Portable handheld-sized devices can implement field test equipment, such as multimeters, handheld scopes, and automotive diagnostic devices.

These portable devices have been implemented using a host of discrete components and a CPU. However, it takes more time and resources to implement these custom hardware platforms, resulting in:

  • Wasteful efforts developing standard blocks instead of custom application blocks
  • Obsolescence risk from multiple discrete ASSP and CPU components
  • Integration risk, cost, and inflexibility of ASICs

With the latest Intel Quartus® Prime development tools, DSP Builder, for Intel FPGAs, Nios® II embedded processor, and programmable hardware capabilities of Intel Cyclone®, Intel Arria®, and Intel Stratix® series FPGAs, you can:

  • Integrate multiple ASSP devices and the CPU into a single application-independent FPGA
  • Implement independent functions into multiple Nios II processors on a single FPGA
  • Couple coprocessing logic with a Nios II processor to "supercharge" functional performance
  • Easily integrate all the application-specific and standard intellectual property (IP) functionality with SOPC Builder

Additional productivity benefits include:

  • Reusing previous engineering IP development efforts
  • Leveraging additional Intel FPGA and partner IP blocks
  • Separating application-specific analog I/O and sensor circuits onto modular daughter cards

Figure below shows how a Intel Cyclone, Intel Arria, or Intel Stratix series FPGA implements a system-on-a-programmable-chip (SOPC) using one or more Nios II processors, including custom logic. The user interface, application-specific analog functionality, and network connectivity can be added to complete the portable device.

Portable Devices

Market Trends

Communications Test

Communications Test

The communication test sub-segment is closely tied to the telecommunications segment. Specifically, the communications test sub-segment moves in conjunction with the capital expenditures in the telecommunications segment.

With a market size of approximately $12B in 2014, the communications test equipment market is growing at roughly 7% CAGR.

Wireless Test Equipment

  • Spectrum/Noise Analyzers
  • Signal Generators
  • Handset Emulators/Testers
  • Base Station Test
  • Tx/Rx Vector Network Tester
  • Modulation Domain Tester

Wireline Test Equipment

  • Spectrum Analyzers
  • Signal Generators
  • Network Protocol Analyzers
  • DSL Testers
  • SONET/SDH Testers
  • Intellectual Property (IP) Router Testers

Market Trends & Dynamics

The following determines market trends and dynamics in the communication space:

  • Test equipment vendors are focusing on and designing reconfigurable platforms:
    • Allows for derivative product offerings; leverage the same development and position the product at various performance and price points
    • Make test equipment “future-resistant” to extend product life
  • Heavy focus on reducing price per port
  • Extensive need for functionality testing
  • Ideal for small “boutique” companies—over 50 percent of the test market owned by small test vendors
  • The following makes FPGAs a logical choice:
    • Feature creep
    • Constant requests for upgrades
    • Evolving and emerging communication standards/protocols
  • Early access to leading edge-technology is critical:
    • Usually a 12- to 18-month difference between start of test equipment development and mass technology adoption

Semiconductor ATE

Semiconductor ATE

The ATE/semiconductor test space is a sub-segment which experiences dramatic upturns and sudden and extreme downturns.  

With a market size of approximately $4B in 2014, the semiconductor ATE market is growing at roughly 3% CAGR.

The ATE/semiconductor test segment is comprised of six distinct types of testers:.

  • Analog/Linear Test
  • Mixed Signal Test
  • RF/Microwave Test
  • Digital/Logic Test
  • Memory Test
  • System-on-Chip (SOC) Test

The ATE market is driven by semiconductor chip volumes. As chip volumes steadly increase, the demand for chip testers also grows.

Given the sharp increase in usage of memory devices in end products such as home appliances, cell phones, and automobilies, it’s no surprise that the memory tester sub-segment is the largest in the ATE space.

Market Trends & Dynamics

The following determines market trends and dynamics in the ATE space:

  • ATE vendors are tied to a boom and bust cycle
  • Test equipment orders:
    • Capital utilization rates drive capital equipment orders
      • Customers buy on technology, low-failure rates (i.e., equipment reliability), and ability to delivery systems on time
    • Device manufacturers’ sentiment on the future of chip volumes
  • Reducing test times is key; lower test times equates to more devices tested which leads to higher revenues
  • Each customer has their own testing methodology—leads to a high mix/low volume business (except memory market which is high volume)
  • Customers want:
    • To extend return on investment (ROI) of existing systems—need for in-field upgrades
    • To test different technologies from day-to-day—need for flexibility in the system
  • ATE vendors have a limited customer base (only 25 major independent device manufacturers and 10 independent test houses worldwide)
  • ATE vendors attempt to tie development of system(s) to one “teaching” customer and ultimately leverage sales to many “production” customers

General Test

General Test

The general-purpose test sub-segment is diverse and includes oscilloscopes, signal generators, automotive diagnostics equipment, and broadcast video testers. Because of its diverse nature, the success of the general-purpose test sub-segment is tied to a wide range of end markets and can only be characterized as tracking the general high-tech market.

With a market size of approximately $5B in 2014, the GP Test market is growing at roughly 3% CAGR.

General-Purpose Test Systems

  • Oscilloscopes
  • Spectrum Analyzers
  • Signal Generators
  • Logic Analyzers
  • Arbitrary Waveform and Function Generators
  • Multimeters
  • Network Analyzers

Market Trends & Dynamics

The following determines market trends and dynamics in the general-purpose test market space:

  • Very fragmented market segment
    • A broad array of customers with very broad test and measurement needs
    • Many test solution vendors offering point/custom solutions
  • Test vendors moving their solutions to a modular approach:
    • Logic analyzers & oscilloscopes as an example moving towards PXI/AXI based Modular Instruments form factor.

Test and Measurement Solution Reference Links

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