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[28 October 2005}: As UK distributor in the of the Spectrum range of PC instrumentation, including ultrafast signal capture, waveform generation, digital I/O and digital pattern cards, Dataquest Solutions can now supply the next generation of boards for the PCI and PCI-X bus.
The new M2i range has evolved from the well proven 'Mi' series, with a card base that is totally renewed so that a wide variety of new functions and features, many unique, are now incorporated. Most notably of these is an improved the onboard memory, now the deepest available with up to 4Gbyte possible. Such a large memory imparts major advantages. When data transfer to this memory is performed streaming through the PCI or PCI-X bus is not required, minimising loading on CPU time, so even processor hungry MS Windows packages like LabWindows, Labview, Dasylab, Agilent VEE, Matlab and FlexPro can operate simultaneously. Naturally text code programmers are well catered for with free driver software. Indeed combining a code program such as C++ with a Spectrum card operating with the faster PCI-X bus allows real-time streaming of data to PC-RAM at 200Mbyte/s. (The PCI-X bus is the new generation of PCI bus now available on many newer computer motherboards with a higher clock-through bus speed). These boards are also 100% compatible with current PCI 32bit slots. Although this older technology has a more restrictive bandwidth (about half that of PCI-X), the deep M2i onboard memory capabilities provide a way of still achieving extended ultra high-speed acquisitions. Following on from customer requests another feature has been added. Called ABA mode this allows changing from long-term slow and continuous data logging (through a process of sample decimation), to ultrafast acquisition on a trigger event. This is handled by the hardware. This is more efficient than having to write code in a post-process program and helps isolate in detail interesting events from reams of data. It also reduces significantly stored file sizes. At the sort of rates these ultra-high-speed cards can operate at this is a big advantage. The level of decimation can be set in the driver code or the SBench software, a free graphical interface with virtual oscilloscope and logging facilities that is included with every board. Where a high number of channels are required multiple cards may be used.These can be zero-phase synchronised, which in itself is nothing new, but setting up of individual capture card sampling rates has been simplified, but at the same time improved. Always there is a master board supplying a clock to the slaves. Before now the slaves could only have certain divisions of this clock. Now with the M2i series any integer can be used. Also varying the number of channels operating on the master clock does not change the clock speed it outputs.Before juggling between master clock speeds and slave clock dividers did work but was quite complicated. This is not longer the case. All boards can capture pre- and post-trigger data, but previously in one mode 'Multiple Record' this was not possible. Multiple Record is useful in that it allows triggers to be repeated very rapidly, in fact to less than 20 samples apart (that's less 100ns on the 200Msample/s boards). The downside was that only data after the trigger could not be logged. Now pre-trigger data is available and furthermore trigger delay is programmable too, another feature customers have requested and which Spectrum now provides. So for example, if your trigger comes from an external source that is also providing a stimulus to an experiment where you know the resulting effect is delayed you need no longer capture redundant data before the event arrives. The enhanced trigger engine can be set to detect level, edges, slope and those that meet pulse width criteria. TTL triggers can operate in a gate function giving a tight control over start and stop of capture, or it could be a simple software trigger. Altogether a trigger engine suitable for nearly every application. The M2i series will succeed the Mi series, keeping all of the best well proven features. This includes Time stamping of trigger events, programmable input gain ranges with signal offset capability and synchronised digital inputs. We will still continue to supply the older (series one) cards henceforth for several years to come for those happy with their current systems, in the belief of giving the customer long-term support and choice. For those who have already created program code for the earlier series a driver software compatibility layer has been created, making adaptation to the new M2i series easy.

[15 July 2005}: Since their introduction, the Spectrum series of signal generator boards have allowed programmers to freely generate their own arbitrary waveforms by transferring signal data to the boards memory, using either code, or by simply pointing to the data file using the included SBench signal display software. However a number of users have requested an easy interface to provide a set of high-speed but standard waveforms too, such as the sine, square and triangle. SPEasyGenerator provides a rapid way to generate standard signals from an on screen virtual panel, not unlike that found on the standard bench top waveform generator - and just as easy to control. Using simple mouse-clicks on knobs, and buttons, the signal shape, frequency, offset, amplitude and filter settings are easily set. This software is included free with all arbitrary waveform generators from the Spectrum 60xx and 61xx series, providing up to four output channels and update rates to 125Msample/s. As well as being available to all new users of Spectrum hardware, existing users are welcome to download this interface at no cost from the DataQuest Solutions website.

[30 June 2005}: Until recently the 8 and 14bit arbitrary waveform generator boards from Dataquest Solutions were able to generate an output swing of +/-3V on their four channels at megasample speeds. However, attentive to customers wishes the supplier and manufacturer Spectrum has now released an even more capable range of amplifier boards, with output swing extended to +/-10V.
This amplifier option is available in one-, two- or four-channel configurations. The high 30MHz bandwidth of these amplifiers allows use with all generators, ranging from the entry-level version with 20Msamples/s, up to the high-end version with 125Msamples/s operating through 25MHz output filters. When using high impedance termination the full output swing of +/-10V is available, +/-5V when used with 50ohm termination. As these amplifiers have a fixed amplification no additional software programming is necessary. All features of the arbitrary waveform generators like the programmable gain and offset or the filter settings are still available when using the amplifier board. The arbitrary waveform generators of the highest specification 60xx series consist of eight different versions with 14bit resolution and output rates between 20 and 125Msample/s. All versions are available for different bus systems like PCI, PXI, CompactPCI 3U and 6U. The generator boards have one, two or four synchronous channels and can be combined using an internal synchronisation bus to multi-board mixed-mode systems with generation and signal capture combined. All cards can be loaded with freely defined waveforms using the up to 512Mbyte onboard memory.For the programmer a large number of Windows and Linux drivers are provided, including example code. For those wishing for a fast easy way to produce standard waveforms, SPEasyGenerator is a virtual bench top control panel for operators that quickly provides the standard range of output waveforms under PC mouse control.

[18 March 2005}: Trigger controlled data acquisition is a very useful way of controlling signal capture, particularly at very high sample rates.
It provides an automatic method to the isolation and analysis of important events, where often these events sit in a less important background signal. The question however is how to find an effective method of recording when and how often a valid trigger event arrives. The Spectrum range of high and ultra-high-speed digitisers have a time stamp module option especially designed for this purpose.This piggybacks onto almost all the PCI and compact PCI range and has a FIFO memory attached allowing up to 64 thousand time stamps to be stored for later retrieval. Also this storage produces no overheads on the capture rate of the board. Each timestamp has a resolution equal to the sample rate, so not matter how fast the capture board is running the exact time is available. An optional connector also allows direct injection of this clock signal from a radio clock card or GPS unit. The former is often used to precisely synchronise a PC clock time to an atomic clock signal from transmitters around the world, such as that at Rugby UK. Three modes are available for the module operation. Standard, StartReset and Refclock. It is the Refclclock that can operate with the radio or GPS clock, but the other modes also provide further flexibility allowing the user to determine his own zero start point, or to automatically start as soon as the board starts recording data. These modes can also be combined with other useful options such as multiple recording, which allows multiple triggers to be recognised even if only a few samples apart, or gated triggering, where signal recording which can be stopped and started over user definable and variable periods of time relative to programmed voltage levels for greater capture control. The time stamp module provides a start and stop time for each gate period. Useful application areas include radar, sonar, spectroscopy, spectrophotometers, RF, laser pulse, ultrasound and more.

[04 March 2005]: It is especially important to take care in choosing a suitably rugged PC, be it a notebook, tablet or chassis, where it is envisaged the system is to be used outside the relatively benign environment of the office.
A set of ratings have been produced to fix some definable standards, and so judgement can be made as to the suitability of a particular computer system to more rugged requirements. This is commonly are defined in two forms: first the (military) MIL-STD-810E/F testing protocols for resistance to rain, humidity, salt fog, sand/dust, vibration, shock and temperature; and secondly IP (ingress protection) testing, which establishes the ability of an electrical enclosure to withstand penetration from solids (sand/dust) and liquids. The military standard MIL-810E and F (F superseded E in January 2000) is a complex testing protocols for rain, humidity, salt fog, sand/dust, vibration, shock and temperature, among others. This complexity does make it difficult to place in a nutshell all the various aspects of this stringent standard, rather it is best to concentrate on the its most relevant application to portable rugged PCs; that is drop tests and vibration. For example, the MIL-STD-810E/F specification for mechanical shock, calls for notebook computers to withstand 26 drops, (one drop on each face/edge/corner with display screen closed, and unit powered off), onto 2in plywood over solid concrete without failure from a height of 1m. Any computer successfully completing such a test is certified as MIL-810E/F compliant. In the real world this set of circumstances will be unlikely to be repeated, but it does give a good indicator as to the suitability and likelihood of survival, after all many off-the-shelf high street computer systems can barely survive the general knocks in the office, let alone any kind of drop. The MIL spec also defines resistance to vibration such as that from machinery or a vehicle. Overall this means that a PC system with a MIL specification will almost inevitably have a longer life.The IP rating looks at another aspect of environmental protection and describes the ability of an electrical enclosure to withstand penetration from solids and liquids, in real life most commonly dust and rain water. Choosing a suitable IP level is a critical factor for electronic equipment, a two digit number after the letters 'IP' uniquely determining the level of protection provided, the first digit giving the level of protection from solids, the second liquids. A reference table that summarises the levels is provided on the DataQuest Solutions website. If the PC system is to be used where there is any risk of liquid or dust contamination then choosing a system with a rating of at least IP54 is advisable. Such a rating will allow outdoor operation, repelling rain water and wind borne dust to a high degree. However where it is envisaged the system is to be used for several hours in heavy blowing rain, or the exterior deck of a ship a higher IP67 level should be considered. For further advice on the above considerations DataQuest Solutions provides a number of portable rugged solutions, including notebook and tablet PCs.

[22 February 2005]: Choosing the best rugged portable PC is an important decision.
And although there are scores of office and notebook PCs on the market, more care has to be taken in the choice of a rugged PC. Dataquest Solutions has carefully chosen a range of products to fit in with the many facets of industry and outdoor work, by ensuring all systems are equipped with suitable levels environmental protection to meet individual needs. The Rugged Notebook Professional (Rnote-Pro) has a rugged magnesium chassis with the feel and look of this of something a little special and its slim light design (weighing in at just 2.7kg) that fits well into the office environment, yet it has the ability to cope with the extra knocks that often come with use out in the field. For example, it is ideal for business people, engineers and consultants who visit industrial sites, the shop floor, or the laboratory, in this respect a particularly good feature is the splashproof and dust resistant keyboard. Where some protection from rain can be provided this system can also be used outdoors - ideal for occasional field trips. With pricing set in the same range as a good quality standard notebook this high quality alternative is very affordable too. The specification includes a Pentium M processor (1.6 or 1.8GHz), a good sized 15.1in SVGA display, a rugged disk - up to 40Gbyte in size - wireless LAN provided by Centrino technology, USB 2.0, Firewire, PCMCIA and a host of other features one would expect to find on a well -equipped portable PC. The second addition is the Ultra Rugged Notebook (Rnote-Ultra). This notebook really does look rugged. Indeed, with its IP54 and military specification it will shrug off rain, dust and dirt. Port seals and a waterproof glow in the dark keyboard are combined with tough magnesium chassis. To meet its military specification this unit has undergone tests where it is dropped repeatedly from a height of 1m and still has to work. Another very important feature, fitted as standard, is the antiglare daylight readable screen. Used outdoors many standard notebooks are next to useless in daylight - a factor often overlooked. The Ultra Rugged Notebook also sports a high performance Pentium M 1.8GHz processor, a removable ruggedised hard disk of up to 80Gbyte, USB2.0, serial and parallel ports, PCMCIA, FireWire, LAN connection, plus many useful options such as GPRS, Bluetooth and GPS: in fact just about anything and everything required for the operator away from base. This system is ideal for heavy industrial work, surveying the petroleum industry, military applications and more. The very high specification comes with a three-year warranty.


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