Thursday, October 26, 2006

Instrument Ethernet links get standardized

With local area networks (LANs) becoming an enterprise necessity, virtually every desktop and rack-mounted test instrument has a LAN port for remote connectivity. The trouble is, the way test engineers must use that port varies from instrument to instrument. Now, an industry consortium is on the verge of releasing a new standard for controlling test instrumentation over LANs that will simplify the development of automated test software.

The utility of tying bench instruments together to automate test and measurement has long been proven. The venerable GPIB (general purpose instrumentation bus) has been used for more than 30 years. The interface is showing its age, however, and is being challenged by the industry's need for increasing bandwidth, faster data rates, and lower cost in its small- and medium-sized systems.

A number of potential replacements have come forward, including USB, FireWire, and the CANbus, but none has gained widespread support in the industry. This has left a void that Agilent Technologies and VXI Technology sought to fill by creating both the LXI (LAN extensions for instrumentation) standard and the LXI Consortium ( to administer it. Many major instrument companies, including Keithley Instruments and Measurement Computing Corp., have joined the consortium since its creation in September 2004.

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