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Logic analyzers tackle complexity with automation

Posted: 09 Jun 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:tektronix? logic analyzer? tla application software? tla5000?

Tektronix continues evolving its logic analyzer product line, and the company now claims it has leapfrogged Agilent Technologies in the marketplace. Aside from who has market share, though, Tek's new hardware and software offers a number of roll-up-your sleeves advancements you'll appreciate.

Innovation and ease-of-use is important as your own effort at product differentiation virtually forces adoption of new technologies (such as DDR-2 memories or serial buses). Designers everywhere are now encountering the proverbial sea of data. How you sail across that sea, and how you interpret voluminous waves of data into information, can dictate product success or disaster.

The TLA7012 portable and the TLA7016 benchtop analyzer, both considered mainframes, are modular instruments that accept logic analyzer and pattern generator modules. These extensible analyzers can support analysis of up to 6,528 channels (!) with as many as 48 independent buses, letting you view data in waveform, listing, source code, or histogram displays. That makes cross-domain analysis very straightforward.


Realizing victory in time-constrained design environments is where Tek's new logic analyzer products come in. Automation is the operative keyword.

Let's look at the company's new TLA Application Software v5.0 first. It's suitable for use with Tek's whole family of logic analyzers. As the press release notes, the latest TLA Application Software v5.0 can run on any Windows XP Professional or Windows 2000 platform.

What's more, it's compatible with previous Tektronix logic analyzers, including the TLA5000 Series that we previously reviewed, as well as the company's TLA715 and TLA721 mainframes (they run 733MHz Pentium IIIs).

Drag-and-drop automation

The new bits provide a number of new capabilities that can streamline and smooth logic analysis. For starters, through its Windows interface, you get on-screen drag-and-drop automated measurement. You also get drag-and-drop automated triggering in the data domain. Tek claims both as industry-firsts.

The v5.0 software automates many measurement tasks that were previously accomplished manually. "With the sophistication, speed, and complexity of today's designs, it's important than ever to match fast hardware with software," emphasizes David Bennett, Tek's Logic Analyzer Product Line VP.

Bennett recently treated me to a one-on-one hands-on demo of one of these new analyzers and the latest v5.0 software. Bennett points out that v5.0's automation can ease common logic analysis tasks, pointing to its efficacy when measuring frequency, edge-count, pulse width, or channel-to-channel delays.

"Automatic measurement is similar to what's currently happening with digital storage oscilloscopes," adds Bennett. "In logic analyzers, this industry-first capability can show you what you need to debug designs using the newest buses, technologies, and standards."

A new look-and-feel

The new v5.0 software also sports a user interface that Tek promises will reduce the number of mouse clicks required to navigate to actually obtain meaningful information.

Drag-and drop triggers also simplify the task of isolating problems and data of interest. This feature lets you drag common trigger eventssuch as trigger--on-a-rising-edge or trigger-on-a-bus-valuefrom a palette of choices and drop them into a waveform window. Very nifty indeed.

The new software's intuitive user interface and navigation also reduces the steps required to perform common everyday logic analysis tasks. A new tabbed TLA Explorer window, for example, supports single-click navigation to a window of interest, such as a trigger, setup, or waveform window. As Bennett emphasized during our demo discussion, that means you'll likely spend less time navigating and more time actually addressing and solving problems.

Usability enhancements have also been made to waveform and listing windows, providing more insight into captured data. If placed on a network in its Remote Hosted Mode, these Tektronix analyzers can also provide off-line analysis support that can free up the analyzers themselves.

Network operation also lets you remotely check your logic analyzer's statuswithout disturbing an acquisition that's under way. With their Gigabit Ethernet interfaces, these newest analyzers can also transfer large data files through the network cloud.

Fast hardware

Speaking of hardware, these analyzers also pack 2GHz Intel Pentium M microprocessors and 533MHz backplane interfaces (Agilent's competing 16900A Family of analyzers run 1GHz Pentiums with 133MHz front-side buses). The Tek benchtop mainframe TLA7016 and its portable TLA7012 counterpart both run 533MHz FSBs.

The TLA7012 portable's high-res 15-inch active TFT (thin film transistor) XVGA (1,024 x 768-pixel) color display is also a beauty to behold (Agilent's 16900As use 12-inch 800 x 600-pixel displays).

When you couple all of these features, you get quick scrolling and zooming with fast searches and filtering. The big screen can also show all data windows and tool windows simultaneously, saving you from having to tediously rearrange and size windows. You can also use the big viewing space to see more address lines and longer record lengths.

Not mentioned in the press statement is the fact that these new analyzers also provide support for external displays. Using a built-in DVI-D port, you can feed 1,600 x 1,200-pixel external displays.

Use with scopes

They also work with Tek's iView (Integrated View). That gives you up to 15GHz at 40GS/s analog oscilloscope acquisition when used with Tek's TDS digital storage oscilloscope.

If you choose to do that, the TDS scope data and the TLA logic analyzer data is automatically de-skewed and time-correlated, thanks to iView. Trigger In/Out connections can help interface to other external instrumentation, too. These are all hooks that can give you better cross-domain analysis.

Beyond that, these new analyzers pack internal DVD-RW drives and hard disks, and replaceable hard drives, as well as multiple USB 2.0 ports.

Finally, you can remotely control and monitor these instruments across a network. That's done in either a hosted mode or using Windows XP's Remote Desktop with .NET and COM/DCOM.

A productivity shot-in-the-arm

It looks like the TLA7012 portable and TLA7016 mainframe, and the user-friendly v5.0 software, will shape up to give you a substantial productivity shot in the arm as you test and validate designs (Tek claims a 3x improvement in throughput over predecessor analyzers).

Moreover, the TLA Application Software v5.0 will run on Tek's TLA5000 Series as well as the TLA7000 Series (as well as off-line), and the company has ensured complete compatibility with all of its previous-generation modules, too (only 15 of Agilent's 49 modules were brought forward to Agilent's newest analyzers, claims Bennett).

The TLA7012 is priced at about $14,000, and the TLA7016 at about $16,000.

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