AXIe-0: The inside story of a new modular instrument standard

-September 15, 2014

There’s a new modular instrument standard announced!  It’s called “AXIe Zero”, titled “Low Cost Instrument and Switch Architecture”, and written as AXIe-0.  Like Coke Zero, AXIe-0 is the diet version of its namesake, AXIe.  But instead of cutting calories, AXIe-0 cuts cost and complexity.

I’m going to tell you about it. But before I do, I need to give you full disclosure.  I led the technical committee that designed it.  

So, I’m not a disinterested party. Readers know that I have opined greatly in this column; reporting the news of modular instrumentation and giving (I hope) intelligent commentary. Now the shoe is on the other hand! So, I am now going to tell you, first person, what this is all about.

I am a member of PXI, VXI, and AXIe consortia.  At an AXIe Consortium meeting, less than one year ago, I volunteered to lead a technical committee to reduce the cost of AXIe, so much that it could be used for electronic switching.  My offer was quickly accepted (!) and the committee was formed.

From day one our goal was to meet two objectives. The first objective was to create a standard that would significantly lower the cost of modular instrumentation and switching solutions.  Our second objective was complete upward compatibility to AXIe-1, the mainstream standard.  This is why we called it AXIe-0; it was a subset of the existing AXIe-1 specification.

I am happy to report that AXIe-0 meets both goals.

Regular readers recognize AXIe as the uber high end modular standard I’ve highlighted in several previous columns. Recently, Giga-tronics illustrated how they use AXIe for radar and EW test.  Just this past week, Keysight introduced the world’s fastest logic analyzer (4Gb/s state capture) and the fastest arbitrary waveform generator (four channels of 65 GSamples/s), all in AXIe.  There is no debate about AXIe-1’s high performance pedigree.

AXIe-0, on the other hand, aims at being a low cost alternative, suitable for large scale electronic switching systems or data acquisition, and is particularly well suited to provide a landing pad for VXI instruments.

If AXIe-1 is Red Bull, AXIe-0 is Coke Zero.

For the past several months I have been meeting with technical representatives of AXIe Consortium members nearly weekly.  I can’t name all the contributors, but the press release includes quotes from Adlink, Elma Electronic, Giga-tronics, Guzik, and Keysight Technologies.  It was my absolute pleasure to interact with the top-notch technical talent that each company provided.  The representatives were all savvy engineers and managers, many with switching system experience (like me), and all with electronic test expertise. 

We focused on switching systems, which are very challenging.  They are cost sensitive, and don’t scale down in size with Moore’s law. Therefore, large board sizes are needed for high channel counts. With electronic test assembled in EIA cabinets, deep modules have better rack space efficiency than shallower modules. This is what makes AXIe, with just a hair shorter depth than VXI but 14% larger overall, so attractive in a replacement system, especially in large switching systems.

My job was a facilitator. I led the agenda, focused conversations on each specific technical subject, and drove convergence when I saw a consensus forming. The thrill of working with architects to create a new platform or standard never grows old.  It never seems possible when you begin, but the solution seems obvious when you are done.

So, let me describe AXIe-0.  AXIe-0 retains the module size and board area of the current AXIe-1 Base Architecture, while delivering a cost effective platform for vendors and users not needing the full capability of AXIe-1. The module is 1.2 inches thick, 11 inches deep, and 12.7 inches wide (or tall) depending on whether the module is horizontal or vertical. Like AXIe-1, a chassis may have anywhere from 2 slots to 14. 

Figure 1. The image shows the board size of AXIe-0.  Several connectors are eliminated, significantly reducing chassis and module costs.  There is a single -48V power supply.

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