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Volume 10 Number 14 August 1, 2006

The Testability Director Version 3.2



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How to Select a Logic Analyzer for Under $1,000


Alan Lowne, Saelig Co. Inc.
Product/Service Focus

This issue's focus is Logic Analyzer
You can view and add to our existing list of Test Products/Services, Test Literature, Test Definitions, Test Vendors, containing "Logic Analyzer"

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How to Select a Logic Analyze for Under $1000

Alan Lowne, Saelig Co. Inc.

What is a Logic Analyzer?

A Logic Analyzer is basically a multi-channel version of a digital oscilloscope which only displays  two logic levels - 0 and 1. Also logic analyzers usually implement much more complex triggering capabilities than oscilloscopes.  An oscilloscope can display digital signals like a logic analyzer, but is better used for analog measurements such as rise-times, fall-times, and peak amplitudes. You use an oscilloscope when you need to see small voltage changes and when you need very accurate time interval measurements.  Logic analyzers are ideal for when you need to see what effect signals have on your digital logic, when you need complex triggering to find specific events, and when you need to show lots of channels.  Until recently, logic analyzers were extremely expensive and out of reach for individual purchasers.  That has changed dramatically with matchbox-sized USB-connected adapters with small logic grabbers. 

Whoa, Trigger!

A logic analyzer continuously samples multiple input signals and stores the values in a recycling FIFO buffer. When a preset trigger condition occurs (rising/ falling edge or defined logic input pattern) writing ceases to the buffer and the contents are displayed statically. Edge triggering is can be set by the logical OR of one or more signal edges. For instance, trigger when the write strobe falls or the read strobe rises.  

Pattern triggering is set by the logical AND of various signals. For instance, trigger when chip select is High, the write strobe is Low, AND the other signals are in some selected state.  

This is the next stage beyond pattern triggering. The same events are defines as in the previous answer - ORs of various edges, ANDs of various levels. But these events are used to drive a state machine within the logic analyzer. The state machine moves between states and eventually arrives at the trigger state.

An example of complex triggering may clarify this:

  • start in state 0
  • move from state 0 to state 1 when you see a certain pattern
  • move from state 1 to state 2 when the pattern goes away
  • go back from state 2 to state 1 when an edge occurs
  • trigger when you enter state 1 for the 500th time.

Notice that complex triggering introduces one more feature - a counter. This example illustrates all the essentials of a complex triggering capability - a few states, a few pattern or edge recognition, and at least one counter.

How many channels do I need?

For some applications, you can never have too many channels, and logic analyzers are available with several hundred channels. Typically these expensive systems are used to debug complex microprocessor buses and it is a time consuming process to connect the myriad probes involved.

Simpler tiny units like ANT-8 and ANT-16 are[LU2]  ideal when you want to see exactly what is happening on a few signals -  hooked up to a few signals to give a trigger source, and to a few signals which are being debugged. For instance, when debugging a first-in/first-out (FIFO) memory with an 8-channel unit, you could look at full and empty indicators, read and write strobes, and a few other signals for reference. Additional signals in a 16-channel unit make it possible to look at, say, an 8-bit data bus. 

How fast should sampling be?

You might expect that the maximum sampling rate can never be too fast but in practicality 10 times your clock speed should be fine. Even some of the less expensive modules can sample at up to 500MHz, which gives a timing resolution down to 2ns. Of course, the sample buffer fills up quite quickly at that speed, so for slower signals the sampling speed can be stepped down in stages to a minimum of 100Hz, which gives a timing resolution of 10ms. Sampling beyond 500MHz needs sophisticated, expensive probes.

How about Isolation?

A degree of isolation can be achieved by running adapter modules from an isolated laptop computer, or by using an optical USB extender. But otherwise the PC ground is your ground! 

What’s available?

Watch out when comparing models - the data buffer size can vary from 32kB to 4MB.

ANT-8      8-ch 500MS/s $222.00

ANT-16   16-ch 500MS/s $333.00

BitScope 8-ch 40MS/s with 100MHz scope   $345.00

LogicPort 34-ch 500MS/s $379.00

USBee 8-ch 24MS/s $445.00

Digiview  18-ch 100MS/s   $499.00

LA-2124 24-ch 100MS/s $800.00

Cleverscope 8ch 100MS/S  with 100MHz scope $999.00
Next Issue's Product/Service Focus
In our next issue of Product/Service Focus we will cover All/USB. You can add or upgrade a listing before the next issue comes out.

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This month:
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