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EEWeb Issue 84

February 5, 2013

Simon Blyth Simon Blyth Founder, LX-Group

Founder, LX-Group

TECHNICAL ARTICLE

Quickfire Pyrotechnic TECHNICAL ARTICLE Project Red Dog Pyrotechnic SPECIAL ARTICLE Project Semtech's Low-Cost, SPECIAL ARTICLE High-Range The SiC Advantage Transceivers and the Future of Power Semiconductors Electrical Engineering Community

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

Simon Blyth

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LX GROUP Interview with Simon Blyth - Founder of LX Group

Featured Products

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Designing a Wireless Fireworks System

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The unique challenges that LX Design House faced while developing the Quickfire Pyrotechnic System for wireless fireworks displays.

Semtech: The Advantages of Low-Cost, HighRange Wireless Transceivers

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A look at this innovative semiconductor company’s expansive wireless product portfolio and how it differentiates itself from the rest.

Product Overview: RIGOL DSA-1030A Spectrum Analyzer

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RTZ - Return to Zero Comic

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Simon

Blyth

LX Group is an Australian design group that specializes in new technological innovations, consulting and solutions for a wide array of areas. We spoke with Simon Blyth, the company’s founder, about his inspiration for starting the company, what it takes to bring a great idea to market, and how the company is handling its rapid growth.

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INTERVIEW

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EEWeb PULSE How did you get into engineering and how did your experiences lead to you starting LX Group? I grew up as one of those kids who just loved electronics. I was always making things - it was just a passion. My grandpa gave me a soldering iron when I was five. At school, I realized it was something I really wanted to full-time. The drive for this was the idea of not just making things, but making and selling them. Unfortunately when I was little I made the wrong kinds of things, like devices that would produce 400 volts, and sold them at school. At one point, my principal confiscated some of my devices and asked me “what would your parents say if they knew you were doing this?” I didn’t have the heart to tell him my dad had actually helped me with the bill of materials estimates and had helped me calclate what profit margin we should be looking at for these things. I had a fun childhood. I grew up on a farm, which gave me the freedom to create and build some crazy things. My parents really encouraged my innovative side.

I went to university to study Electrical Engineering, but was really disappointed with how theoretical it was. I see now the value in the theory, but before I started university, I had visions of just making things all day; I really had no idea what I was in for. After a couple of years, I deferred my studies to start a company around a holographic interface system. It was a media display where you could use your fingers to interact with the user interface in midair. It was probably a technology looking for a market as opposed to a market looking for technology. We were a little start-up company, and after a couple of years we ran into some IP problems. We disbanded the venture and I went back to university. I am really thankful for the experience of the previous startup, as I often now recall the problems I have faced before when I’m working one on one with clients in a workshop who are trying to get their idea off the ground. It really helps to look at ideas from that perspective; it helps to see how viable they are. Customers, especially inventors, often have to put their own personal finances on the line when starting off

“What I wanted to build in LX was a solution to the problems that I had been up against. I wanted to make a product design ‘engine’ so others could take an idea for a concept and develop a new product quickly and efficiently.” 6

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on the design path, and at LX we do not like customers to risk all that they have if we do not believe in the idea. Often what we find is that we can work closely with the customer to market the idea to a wider audience or to tweak the idea slightly to make it more commercially viable. A lot of what we do is to work with a customer to see their idea to fruition. I have had a couple of other ventures as well (product-based technology start ups). I worked one device, for example, to help blind people to “see” using ultrasonic sensors. I would start these ventures, make prototypes, business plans and things like that, but I would always run into many of the same problems. I really learned from those experiences. When I left university, I had no money. I took a harvesting contract job to make some money just to start LX Group and put together a simple website. What I wanted to build in LX was a solution to the problems that I had been up against. I wanted to make a product design “engine” so others could take an idea for a concept and develop a new product quickly and efficiently. I guess I learned how important speed to market is. It wasn’t the 1950’s anymore where you had five years to develop a product. Everyone is now so synchronized globally, and because of that, innovation is happening at a much faster rate. I realized that if you want to innovate and bring a product to market, you have to do it quickly. If you are thinking it’s a good idea today, it probably means a hundred people are also thinking the same thing. Your execution is imperative. So the idea for LX was to get a group of people together who are excellent at what they do, give them the equipment and tools they need


INTERVIEW to excel, and recycle design IP to enable us to be really efficient in how we design. Then we would have a killer team to execute new product development opportunities. In addition, there are relationships all design houses need in terms of suppliers, manufacturers, patent attorneys and investors. We cultivated this community and started off doing contract designs, but it quickly grew. From this fairly simple idea, we have grown up to 130% a year for six years straight without any investment. We put this down to the great team we have, and our focus on not just growing the business but also ensuring that our business practices and policies grow with us. LX has not just won engineering awards but a number of business awards as well. Most recently LX was a finalist in the Telstra Australian Business Awards. Ultimately, we want to have a team where people can come to us and we can quickly execute a product for them. What part of Australia do you live in? I currently live in Sydney. The company is based in the Australian Technology Park in Sydney, which brings together a large number of technology companies, from start ups to global corporations. It is a great place to have a company, as we have access to companies from a wide range of technologies and market areas. It is a great space for innovation. Tell us a little bit about your team—what areas do you specialize in and what resources do you have in your labs? We have what I would call a fairly complete spectrum of hardware, embedded firmware, and software

“I realized that if you want to innovate and bring a product to market, you have to do it quickly. If you are thinking it’s a good idea today, it probably means a hundred people are also thinking the same thing. Your execution is imperative.” engineers. In terms of that spectrum, we can literally develop the software and the board together. We have a few engineers who work with both hardware and firmware and we have a few that specialize in just one area: hardware, firmware, or software. In addition we have a few guys who serve as bridges between the specialties. Initially our main focus was hardware and firmware. What we found is that ten years ago, everyone wanted a box or widget with a processor in it. Five years ago, everyone wanted a box connecting to a computer using USB. But now, everyone wants a box that connects to the cloud that connects to a smart phone. The internet of things, we’re finding, is really taking off. In terms of lab, a lot of what we do is design on CAD tools, so it’s computers and a lab with soldering benches. We also have some environmental testing equipment such as thermal cycling chambers, EMC testing equipment, and vibration testing equipment. All of these can be useful for new product development. It is important to

determine the life cycle of a product that you develop. This testing ensures that we design products using quality parts and processes. Clients need to know their product is going to last as long as the end user market expects it. We have worked on a wide range of products, but over the years, we’ve found that our expertise is really embedded systems. Our embedded systems expertise is not just limited to one industry - we have designed products for mining companies, medical companies, consumer electronics, military, and a whole range of other industries. This is one of the reasons why we can attract and retain engineers who are experts in their field. At other organizations, engineers design one version of a product this year and five years later, they will be pretty sure to be designing a new version of that same product. The screen or a few other minor features may change, but essentially it’s the same product. At LX, we are working on a number of projects at once. Our engineers are constantly working on Visit www.eeweb.com

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EEWeb PULSE Simon Blyth and his wife, Kelly

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INTERVIEW

“At LX, we are working on a number of projects at once. Our engineers are constantly working on new products and expanding their knowledge base.” new products and expanding their knowledge base. We look back at the end of the year all the projects we’ve actually made, and it’s really quite exciting. Some of those projects are really cool -- everything from robots to devices that help read your mind (like EEG devices) to pyrotechnic systems and devices that will tell you when a cow is on heat! Our projects are quite diverse, which is what I believe helps us attract and retain really great engineers. When it comes to embedded development, are there any particular processes or families use more than others? I would say that the main processors we use would be Microchip, ST, TI, ATMEL, and Renesas. What other noteworthy projects have you worked on? We’ve had a lot of fun recently developing a large-scale wireless fireworks control system for initiating pyrotechnic displays. ‘Quickfire’ recently won an Australian design award. There are a lot of fireworks initiation systems available on the market, but our system has a lot

of advantages over competitive products. The client is also genuinely happy with their product and the entire company wants to see the successful launch of the Quickfire system. I’m also really excited about our own product. It’s essentially a hardware compiler (www.lx-group.com.au/ solutions). What we find is that when we start designing a product, you quickly break the product into its subsections, such as the power supply, a gas gauge for the battery processor, and maybe some sensors. As we have been involved in so many designs, we start seeing the same things over and over again. All designs have their own unique needs, and you need to design for those needs. We don’t think you could ever get to the point where nothing is custom, but we do believe a lot of time could be saved if the building blocks of designs could be recycled. At LX, we do this to a small extent already, but we have a real passion for making a more efficient and effective system for achieving this. We’ve found it’s really easy to embark on doing a design and spending a few days selecting parts

for it and a few more days drafting schematics. The system is then reviewed and still there might be a few errors here and there. When the boards come in, you have to spend time testing and debugging the design to find out where they went wrong. The design would normally be a five to six week project. With our new hardware compiler, we are able to do the schematics, parts selection and the board design in just a couple of days. The board design works the first time around. The concept is not new, but what we’re trying to achieve in releasing this product is a system where you can buy modules and pre-built bits of hardware, and then “compile” a custom board layout. Currently with all of the modules on the open market there is no central place to select the module and crank it into one design. With our system, all of the design IP is in a uniform format, so all the different parts required for a design can be brought together quickly and easily. With this approach we recently delivered a hardware design that would have usually taken around 30 days in only 3.5 days (an order of magnitude less).

For more information about LX Group, visit:

www.lx-group.com.au

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D

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PROJECT

Designing a

Wireless Fireworks System The Quickfire Pyrotechnic System is a wireless fireworks display system designed by LX Design House of Australia, which won the 2012 Electronics News Future Award for Best Design. We talked to Project Manager Kelly Blyth and Managing Director Simon Blyth about the processes and challenges of designing the Quickfire system, as well as the advantages their design offers. Visit www.eeweb.com

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EEWeb PULSE Safety-Related Product Design: A Balance

Testing

and

Designing a fireworks display system presents special challenges to engineers, as it is a safety-related product. Kelly talked about the steps the company took to ensure that everything LX did while working with the Quickfire design would still make a safe device. “There are quite a few different layers which we had to look at in order to make sure that the device was safe at a functional level,” she said. She went on to say that there were certain questions that the company had to ask about every part of the device, such as whether or not a certain component would fail, and whether or not the failure of that particular component would render the device unsafe. “Everyone has experienced electronic devices failing,” Simon said. “There are lots of different things that happen in electronic devices that cause them to fail,” he went on, and then added that the main challenge and focus of designing the Quickfire device was to make sure that if it does fail, it will always “fail in a safe way.” Still, though, Kelly pointed out, there’s always a balance between making a device extremely safe, while still keeping it cost-effective and easy to use. “Sometimes you can go so far down the path of making sure a device is safe,” she said, “that you can’t find the right components you need, in order to make the device function as you need it to.” Simon agreed, adding that it “may be possible to make things very safe, but function in a way that is difficult to use. It’s important to keep a design simple and costeffective, so the project is still commercially feasible, while still safe.” We asked them what kinds of test the project underwent to ensure safety, and Kelly pointed out that one of the steps the company took was to “put forward the product to a group of industry and related-industry experts” who “explored many of the different threats that the device might cause and how they could be mitigated against.” Kelly added this expert workshop was “a due-diligence workshop LX runs for all of our safety-critical and safety-related systems. “ Simon explained some of the other testing the company put the device through. “There’s environmental testing,” he began, “such as vibration testing and thermal testing. We also performed unit testing of

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the individual firmware sections. There’s been a lot of functional testing, and trials without explosives -- trials just with electronic squibs which don’t cause any harm. We also then have had live trials with real explosives. The device has been put through its paces for a whole spectrum of tests.” “Regulatory compliance testing for Australia has been achieved as well. We are proud the device past compliance first go” Kelly continued, and went on to say that testing for compliance with other countries is also being completed. Advantages of the Quickfire Pyrotechnic System We asked Kelly what makes the Quickfire system stand out, and she pointed out that having a wireless system allows for a greater range of geographical locations to be used in a fireworks show.” For example,” she said, “in Sydney we’ve got the big harbor, and here you might want to have many fireworks going off from multiple barges. In that sort of situation, a wireless system is much more effective than a wired system.”


PROJECT “Quickfire is not just a wireless system that would be point to point,” she went on, “but it actually has a mesh network, which means each barge, or each slave controller, acts as a router and a repair unit, which allows you to cover more ground”. “Essentially,” Simon continued, “in a lot of systems you have one controller, and you might be able to have a wireless remote unit half a kilometer or a kilometer away, and any other remote units would have to be within that same range. That means you can only ever have a show covering a geographical area of essentially whatever that length of range is to the last controller. But with the Quickfire system, you could have a river that is 30 kilometers long, and have a barge every kilometer down it, and then you would have a range of 30 kilometers, essentially. Quickfire is quite unique like that.” “Another advantage is that most traditional firing systems rely on the master controller to send the firing command throughout the display, which means that

“It’s important to keep a design simple and costeffective, so the project is still commercially feasible, while still safe.”

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EEWeb PULSE independently then knows the program for the whole show and what they need to do and when. This ensures the show will run more smoothly if the signal drops out throughout the show,” said Kelly Another advantage the Quickfire system has, Simon explained, is a music synchronization feature that “allows the device to automatically resynchronize,” to a fireworks show if the show and music don’t start at the same time, or get out of sync somehow. Finally, Simon explained that, though there are other wireless networks out there, he believes Quickfire competitively combines an ideal price point, additional features, and quality. if the signal is lost, then that information isn’t getting “The price point is going to be quite competitive through. With the Quickfire system, the complete file compared to some of the other systems out there,” he Electronics News Future News Awards 2012 is stored on the receiver unit -- so it is on the slave units said. “Some of the smaller operators would not be able Bestof Design themselves. The master unit is just used for initiating to afford a system like this, but~most them will be the command to begin, and each of the slave units able to afford the Quickfire system.”

Above: Fireone Software Below: System Software

Figure 5-4 - System Software

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PROJECT

Elite Fireworks Founder Setting up a Show

Figure 5-5 - Elite Fireworks Founder Setting up a Show

“It’s a really high-quality product and has more functionality than other systems out there, and also has wireless mesh networking that enables shows like the ones mentioned before, but at a very competitive price.” Simon explained. “It’s affordable,” he continued, but still meets “all of the needs and more of the large operators who do need really advanced systems.” The Future.... The Quickfire Pyrotechnic System is planned to be a family of products. However, Simon points out, the next releases will be upgraded on the same unit as this first release. “If someone was to buy this system,” Simon explained, “the firmware updates that will come out for the next versions will be things that they can just put on the unit themselves. Essentially they won’t need to come buy a new system each time, just the upgrade.”

Conclusion In conclusion, Simon points out that the group has also “done some work with Emotive Systems -- headsets which you can control something using your thoughts.” LX Group plans to demo a fireworks show which is controlled by someone’s mind; in such a show, the operator might think “blue,” and a blue firework would be set off, and then think “red,” and a red firework would be set off. “It’s not something you would do in practice, but it’s something we thought would be a bit of fun,” he said. Hopefully future pyrotechnic displays will be as much fun for audiences as designing the Quickfire was for the engineers at LX Group.

To read about more projects, visit the LX Group website:

“There’s a lot of additional software functionality that will be added in the future as well,” Kelly added, “and again, that won’t require the user to purchase new devices.”

Figure 5-7 - Ali Khodadad from LX Working on Project Visit www.eeweb.com

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Making Wireless Truly Wireless: Need For Universal Wireless Power Solution

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The Advantages of Low-Cost, High-Ran

Wireless Transc S

emtech Corporation is a leading supplier of high-quality analog and mixed-signal semiconductor products. Their products are used in some of the most innovative systems and in some of the fastest growing markets in the industry. Semtech’s design team has been designing wireless transceivers for over 15 years—originating out of two companies in Switzerland that were acquired by Semtech six years ago. It wasn’t until this acquisition that Semtech began promoting wireless products. To get a better picture of the wireless division, we spoke with Hardy Schmidbauer, the Director of Wireless Products at Semtech, about their expansive wireless product portfolio, the advantages of using Semtech transceivers as well as the new LoRa technology.

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SPECIAL FEATURE

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Schmidbauer began framing the wireless division by telling us about the “four main families” in Semtech’s wireless portfolio. The first is their low current family, which are very low-current transceivers and transmitters. “We still have the lowest-current transceiver on the market today,” Schmidbauer told us, “we have received currents of less than 3 milliamps.” In that same family, they also have very low-cost, low-current transmitters that are designed to replace saw based resonator transmitters that are used for RKE and garage-door openers.

The true challenge for Semtech is not only providing a quality product, but distinguishing that product in order to make its advantages clear to the consumer. That’s where the SX1232 comes in.

The second family is the high-performance transceivers, which are, according to Schmidbauer, “designed for low-current consumption but they want to achieve the highest performance and differentiation possible.” He went on to tell us that Semtech’s wireless division is completely focused on providing very long-range and very robust performance in their transceivers, but achieving that with a very low received current. The third family is a general-purpose RF front-end for doing OFDM modulations as well as devices integrated with the transceivers to supply output powers up to 2 watts. The final family is based on some new technologies with the LoRa™ modulation to develop IP or reference designs for their customers for large networks as well as localization and ranging. Given that there are numerous transceiver providers out there, the true challenge for Semtech is not only providing a quality product, but distinguishing that product in order to make its advantages clear to the consumer. This is where the SX1232 comes in. Semtech’s recently launched low power, high link transceiver supports FSK and OOK, the traditional type of modulations you would find in ISM band transceivers. In terms of

specifications, it has as good or better than the latest parts on the market, except for the fact that it has 3 to 4 milliamps lower current than most of its competitors. However, according to Schmidbauer, “[Semtech’s] real differentiation is in its next-generation products that we were promoting at this year’s Electronica. With the LoRa modulation, we can achieve 10x range versus existing ISM transceivers today, based on FSK modulations.” Although increasing the range in a receiver while simultaneously lowering the power requirements seems like quite the feat, Semtech’s SX127x family includes a different modulation technique—a spreadspectrum modulation that boasts 20 to 30 dB better sensitivity than traditional FSK transceivers using a comparable BOM. The other benefit to this is that it’s much more robust to interference than FSK and it has a 30 dB advantage in the cochannel performance as well as a 10 to 20 dB advantage in the adjacent channels blocking and selectivity performance. According to Schmidbauer, the BOM for the SX1232 is also very low-cost; “For

Schematic of the SX1232 low power transceiver

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SPECIAL battery lifetime, and improving network capacity. FEATURE Ideal for eliminating repeaters, reducing infrastructure cost, extending

10X Longer Range than competing solutions 168dB Link Budget when using LoRa

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LoRa™ Frequency Range Link Budget Current max DR LoRa DR Max Sensitivity TX Power anPart FSK transceiver to achieve what we call RX the ‘beauty FSK(kbps) are very interested in the robust performance of our Number (MHz) (dB) (mA) (kbps) (dBm) (dBm) contest sensitivity numbers,’ the -120 something dBm- transceivers.” It seems that Semtech’s production goals SX1272 1020 it requires 158 10 0.3 – 20 -138 without sacrificing + 20 type sensitivities 860 for– FSK, a temperatureof300offering low-cost transceivers controlled crystal oscillator (TCXO) which adds the operational robustness proves that their market SX1273 860 – 1020 150 10 300 1.7 – 20 -103 + 20 significant cost to the BOM.” With Semtech’s new potential is boundless. ■ LoRa technology, 138 they can still use 20- 300 SX1276 – 1020 168a very low-cost 11 0.018 – 20 -148 + 20 30ppm crystal, which has a significant cost advantage SX1277 138 – 1020 158 1.7 – 20 -130 + 20 compared to a TCXO. The long-range ability, 11 coupled 300 For more information about Semtech, visit: with the low-cost BOM, allows Semtech to eliminate SX1278 138 – 510 168 11 300 0.018 – 20 -130 + 20 a lot of the infrastructure costs—the repeaters, www.semtech.com concentrators, aggregators—that are very expensive to www.semtech.com 3 deploy. The elimination of those costs attracts a lot of customers to their products..

Semtech is gearing up for a big year now that the new generation of transceivers is available. By eliminating the infrastructure from metering, the cost is reduced for the utilities and manufacturers, which is a huge benefit for customers. The robustness of the product is also allowing it to gain traction in a lot of different fields. “We’re also now seeing a lot of agricultural applications.” Schmidbauer says, “We are also branching out into the security and alarms markets who Visit www.eeweb.com

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EE Making Wireless Truly Wireless: Need For Universal Wireless Power Solution

Dave Baarman Director Of Advanced Technologies

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Overview of the

RIGOL DSA-1030A Spectrum Analyzer Chris Anderson EMC Engineer Lab Manager

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Features & Price - 9KHZ-3GHZ - ETHERNET, USB, LXI CONNECTIVITY, VGA - MSRP $4999 The first thing you will notice about the DSA-1030A is that it’s very similar to that of other higher-priced analyzers. When you bring the analyzer up, all the frequency settings are readily available for access using the grey softkeys to the right of the display screen. You can use the black buttons at the top of the analyzer to switch your mode, from “Frequency,” to “Amplitude” to “Span.”

Modes and Settings You can very quickly and easily use the grey soft keys to zoom in and out your Span, and got to Zero Span or Full Span — it’s very easy to set. It’s just as easy to set your Trace mode, using the “Setting” menu at the top of the analyzer. One thing that is great about this analyzer, is that if you change your detector or most other settings, you’ll see that the display changes over on the left of side of the display screen. The status indicators are always available; they’re always on the screen, no matter where you are on the instrument.

PRODUCT OVERVIEW If you need a bigger readout, if you have all the markers turned on, for instance, you can use the display buttons on the bottom of the analyzer to change the display to full screen. That will make it a little easier to read. Once you have them set up you don’t necessarily need to see the full spectrum display. If you want to zoom in on a signal that is displayed, you can use the Peak search function (under the “Marker” menu) which will take you to the highest peak signal. You can select “Marker” and set it to center frequency, you can go back to “Span” and zoom in on the signal, or you can even take it to Zero Span.

Conclusion The Rigol DSA-1030A Spectrum Analyzer has a menu and button layout very similar to Agilent’s analyzer. Status indicators are always on the screen, an optional battery pack makes it portable, and it is available at less than half the price of competing analyzers.

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If you need to change your vertical scale settings, you can do so with the “Amplitude” button and the grey soft keys. You can change your units to any that are commonly used. The DSA1030A also comes with a built in pre-Amp, which can help with low-level signals, and also has built-in correction settings. If you have correction files for an antenna, a cable,or really anything -- as long as it’s formatted properly -- the analyzer can bring those in and correct your data live in real time.

Configuring the Analyzer Configuring the DSA-1030A is simple and intuitive. You can access your marker functions through the “Marker” menu on the right side of the analyzer, and see it on the display screen. Using the grey soft keys you can bring up the Marker Table, add markers if you need more, and see all the markers updating in real time.

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