Agilent's PXA spectrum analyzers get real-time analysis

-February 08, 2013

Signals continue to become more complex, so the need for real-time analysis is growing. I recently spoke with Richard Overdorf of Agilent Technologies’ Microwave Communications Division about the company’s new real-time spectrum analysis (RTSA) functionality for its PXA X-series signal analyzers, released today.

The big news with this announcement is the probability of intercept (POI). Overdorf explains that when configured for real-time spectrum analysis, the PXA can detect intermittent signals with durations as short as 3.57 µs (with 100% POI), which is the best POI currently available. The PXA also offers a noise floor of -157 dBm/Hz at 10 GHz with no preamp. According to Agilent, that this is the lowest noise floor available.

So what is real time? “With this product, acquisition and processing is gap-free, so finding intermittent issues or analyzing dynamic signals becomes much easier,” says Overdorf. “FPGAs provide parallel processing so there are no task interruptions. Without real-time capabilities like the ones in this PXA, engineers would need to spend more time analyzing data to indentify and understand elusive signals.”

The new PXA is designed to scan wide spans of spectrum, with 160-MHz real-time bandwidth and up to 50-GHz frequency range. In order to enable detection of small signals, the product has up to 75 dB spurious-free dynamic range across the 160-MHz bandwidth.

The real-time PXA uses ASICs and FPGAs to convert sampled signal data into signal spectra at nearly 300,000 spectra per second. Spectrum data is combined to create information-rich displays such as density (histograms). Alternatively, the stream of spectra can used to produce a spectrum-specific and behavior-specific frequency-mask trigger (FMT).

Overdorf cites a use case where there is an intermittent issue. “Engineers simply plug into this new RTSA capability and see the problem,” he says, “In the past, they would need to use a dedicated real-time analyzer that cost on the order of $100,000.” With the Agilent product, engineers can use the current PXA spectrum analyzer hardware and, through a firmware upgrade, have the real-time capability.

Particularly well suited for applications such as radar, electronic warfare and military communications, the RTSA is available as two upgrade options for new and existing PXA signal analyzers. Both options are available now worldwide. List prices are as follows:
·         N9030AK-RT1 real-time spectrum analyzer up to 85-MHz bandwidth: $7,224.
·         N9030AK-RT2 real-time spectrum analyzer up to 160-MHz bandwidth: $10,320.
The starting price for a new N9030A PXA signal analyzer with the real-time spectrum analyzer option up to 160 MHz bandwidth is $96,304.
More information is available at

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