USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt are two of the most talked about connectivity technologies these days. And it’s for no small reason – USB 3.0 can handle 5 Gbit/s while Thunderbolt can go up to 20 Gbit/s. However, these speeds are in no way the only reason responsible for it’s success. There is a lot happening behind the scenes that significantly had an effect on its success.
Developing a standard
So how does a company begin the process? “It starts like this. Each company developing a standard creates their own interpretation of the spec in USB. In USB 2.0, we worked and made it a lot more testable, which led significantly to its success”, explains Jim.
One of the key issues to be tackled here are of interoperability and compliance. For instance, the USB-IF Interoperability Compliance Test Procedure documents a series of tests used to evaluate USB peripherals, On-The-Go devices, and systems. These tests are also used to evaluate the operation of USB silicon that has been incorporated in ready-to-ship products, reference designs, and prototypes systems. While these were developed before the advent of high-speed products, the full speed tests still apply here. “Interoperability issues and compliant issues are greater where one source compliant solutions are not available. Doing physical layer testing on early products is based on the theory that if the physical layer is correct, everything else is solvable. Every new technology like thunderbolt also follows this same flow”, adds Jim.
USB is penetrating the embedded market in a big way, even in the automotive segment. Low cost, interoperability, and a strong physical layer make it an easy choice.
Endeavours: Compliance test labs
In order to help companies test for compliance and interoperability, compliance test labs offer testing for the different standards. Previously, these test labs were few in number and far in between which resulted in travelling overseas to get testing done. However, they are now opening up in different regions so that people don’t have to travel to the test lab.
Granite River Labs is one if the latest firms to open in India, to offer testing for compliance depending on standards. In fact, there is a macro trend of companies opening up hardware validation labs with silicon companies.
Thunderbolt came up around three years ago and is following the same process. The one setback that it does face is that there is no consortium of companies trying to promote it. Granted that there are HDD manufacturers, and huge firms like Apple and Intel behind it, but not anywhere as big as USB-IF.
While USB is something that you can use for charging a mobile device or for minor data transfer applications, Thunderbolt is the technology to use for large storage RAIDs and multimedia editing. Thunderbolt also shares similar docking parts with the MiniDisplay port.
“Thunderbolt is also a potential technology to work in similar functions to PXI. The limiting factor would be the lack in popularity of Thunderbolt in PCs — it would have to be ubiquitous to be more famous”, explains Jim.
Trends in Test Automation
Everybody wants full automation and standardised testing. In the beginning design engineers wrote our own test by reading the data sheets, but now it’s standardised testing using tools by test vendors like Agilent who have high performance solutions available.
Tools are available to automate the setup, create the test report, document everything and save the report. These tools are typically used for a single scope test bench, where it is run on the scope itself. There are also server based licences available which allows one tool to run on all the scopes.
We have all seen how mobile devices have taken over the pockets of almost every human, but has this had any effect on the test industry? Jim answers to the affirmative, “We do customise apps to monitor test instruments, but it should be noted that this is a security vulnerability. Moreover big companies have firewalls which prevent this functionality from working properly. However there are customers who have found it useful.”
Deign validation for speeds in the gigabit range are coming up. With these advantages, Aerospace and Defence is also getting into these speeds. Moreover, design services companies are seeing the importance of test and measurement for developing future high performance products. The future of the test and measurement industry looks to be pretty good, and the new dedicated test labs opening up in India, like Granite River Labs, are proof of that.