Lab Updates: Test Equipment Acquisitions, and new tools.
2022 overall and 2023 so far have been very great for the Hong's Electronics Hardware Lab.
A highlight of this period was my trip to the Orlando Hamcation in February 2022, where I managed to acquire some amazing deals. Most notably, I was able to purchase the Signal Hound BB60C Real-time Spectrum Analyzer, which has recently seen its MSRP creep up towards $4,000, for the incredible price of $400. I also picked up the Signal Hound USB-TG124A Tracking Generator for just $200, despite its MSRP of $1,585.
The significance of this acquisition lies not only in the great deals I got, but also in the fact that the BB60C is a spectrum analyzer that I am already familiar with from my current and previous full-time job, and I have extensive experience using its software and powerful analysis tools. (Spike Software)
Also, pictured above, is the next acquisition I got in 2022, The Rohde & Schwarz SMIQ 03B RF Signal Generator. This versatile instrument can generate signals across a broad frequency range, from 300 kHz to 3.3 GHz, with high accuracy and stability. It offers a wide range of modulation capabilities, including AM, FM, pulse modulation, and more, making it suitable for testing a variety of devices such as communication systems, audio systems, and radar systems. I had budgeted about $1200 - $1500 for a RF Signal Generator with the requirement that it covers HF through L-Band frequencies. The SMIQ 03B fulfilled these requirements and was acquired well under budget at $500 from eBay. The leftover budget was used to acquire RF Cables and another Signal Generator from Signal Hound, which I will mention next here.
The next test equipment acquisition following the R&S 03B RF signal Generator is the Signal Hound VSG25A RF Vector Signal Generator. "The VSG25A hardware features a 12-bit I/Q baseband arbitrary waveform generator which can be clocked at virtually any frequency from 54 kHz to 180 MHz, and includes a 4096×16 bit pattern buffer for built-in or custom modulation."
Bought using the remainder of the funds budgeted towards a RF signal generator, this particular signal generator is very compact and great for field use. This is also an instrument I'm familiar with since I used it at my previous full-time employer extensively.
Following my acquisition of the VSG25A, I was surprised to come across a Keysight DSO-X 3024A Oscilloscope on Facebook Marketplace, which I wasted no time in acquiring. All options were unlocked and this acquisition prompted me to sell my Rigol 1054Z Oscilloscope to a colleague of mine.
A few days after the acquisition of the Keysight Oscilloscope, I went to the local hamfest (Melbourne, FL Hamfest), and got an amazing deal on an assortment of RF attenuators, filters, and all sorts of active devices/blocks. The box of attenuators was acquired for about $50 and all the other parts pictured above were bought in 3 for $5 deals!
One instrument my lab was lacking and really needed for completeness is a RF Power meter. After some research I settled on the Boonton 4220A RF power meter and a 41-4B Power Sensor.
Around the time of the Hamfest, I attended the local SMTA Expo & Tech Forum, where I talked with my favorite Soldering iron vendor, JBC Soldering Tools. I was convinced that I needed to upgrade my Hakko FX-888D to a JBC iron, specifically the CD-1BQF station. At my previous employer I was used to using the JBC iron and absolutely spoiled by the hot swappable tips on the NASE-1C SMD/SMT Soldering station.
Not too long after, I got the highly anticipated TinySA Ultra, which has the capability to measure and record signals up to 5.3 GHz! And also functions as a RF signal generator up to 4.4 GHz! At the cost of only $130!
I used the original TinySA, which was limited to 960 MHz, for observing signals and quickly checking out HF/VHF/UHF equipment in the field. As I like to tell engineers and ham radio operators, it’s basically a pocket RF multimeter that can give you a quick sanity check to determine if your device under test in the field is functioning as expected.
The Ultra has the added benefit and improvement now to save plots and data to a micro SD card, thus reducing the reliance and need to use a computer out in the field.
It is not a true replacement for a spectrum analyzer and RF signal generator, but it is a convenient tool that exists that you can take anywhere that doesn’t require a PC!
Towards the end of 2022 I acquired the Lecroy ArbStudio 1104. This instrument is a 4 Channel 1GS/s 16-bit DAC resolution Arbitrary Waveform Generator (AWG). The software was not very easy to acquire due to the fact that the combination of the above specifications makes the software export controlled/restricted, it was not a problem since we're based in the USA, but it took like 3 days to acquire the software after back and forth with Teledyne-Lecroy.
2022 Concluded with the acquisition of the Ascel Electronics AE 20401 5.8 GHz Frequency counter and power meter kit. Specifications and feature descriptions below:
2023 thus far started with an acquisition of the Agilent E7495B Base Station Test Set at Orlando Hamcation, and HP 8482A Power Sensor for the test set from eBay.
In conclusion, the recent acquisitions of instruments like the VSG25A, Signal Hound BB60C, and Keysight DSO-X 3024A have significantly enhanced my test equipment capabilities, and will allow me to take on more complex and demanding projects with confidence. I am excited to have these powerful and versatile instruments at my disposal, and I am confident that they will help me to achieve even greater levels of precision, accuracy, and efficiency in my work. While these acquisitions required a significant investment, I believe that they will pay off in the long run by enabling me to take on more challenging projects and expand my skill set as a researcher and engineer. Overall, I am looking forward to putting these new tools to work and continuing to push the boundaries of what is possible in the world of electronics and hardware development.