Digilent Completes Tiny Test Equipment Trilogy With Analog Discovery 3
Designers have an all-new tool for portable testing that only requires a USB cable and a computer.
Digilent has released the next entry in its Discovery series of compact and multifunctional test equipment: the Analog Discovery 3 (AD3). The AD3 builds off its predecessor, the Analog Discovery 2 (AD2), by improving the raw performance and putting more test ability in a single device, removing the need for bulky test equipment when desk space comes at a premium.
The latest entry in the Discovery series, the Analog Discovery 3, combines the functionality of several pieces of test equipment into one USB-connected device. Image used courtesy of Digilent
While certainly popular in education due to its compact but flexible nature, the AD2 is quite popular among researchers, hobbyists, and professional engineers who need a lot of functionality in a small package. And while the performance of the Discovery series may not match that of dedicated benchtop test equipment, its price point and versatility make it a valuable tool.
This article will delve into the technical specifications of the AD3 (since it’s been seven years since the release of the AD2!) to explore how this device may provide engineers with a powerful and portable lab-in-a-box.
Turn Your Computer Into a Lab
Likely the greatest benefit of the AD3 is the number of instruments stored in a single package. The AD3 includes a digital oscilloscope, logic analyzer, waveform generator, pattern generator, power supplies, and many more features enabled by the WaveForms software.
Under the hood, the AD3 operates with a system-wide sample rate of 125 MS/s (a 25% increase over the AD2). The bandwidth on the input and output ports is certainly acceptable when kept stock (9 MHz @ -3 dB) but can be boosted by using the Digilent BNC adapter for higher frequency applications (30+ MHz for the oscilloscope, 12 MHz for the function generator).
Paired with a PC and supplementary equipment, the AD2 has seen use in university research labs such as the one pictured, where the AD2 was used to measure ECG signals. Image used courtesy of the IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Circuits and Systems
Both the oscilloscope and function generators are equipped with 14-bit resolution, providing vertical sensitivity down to 500 µV/div. In addition, the 16-channel logic analyzer allows digital signals to be monitored at 125 MS/s with built-in protocol support for JTAG, SPI, I2C, and many more. Finally, the integrated adjustable power supplies can now supply up to 800 mA, ensuring that projects will have enough power for a majority of applications.
What the AD3 lacks in pure processing speed and bandwidth, it makes up for in versatility, according to Digilent. Whether in a university lab, industrial research facility, or debugging in the field, the AD3 offers unique features that make it a useful tool for many engineers.
The software-enabled features of the AD3 make it a powerful and versatile tool for use in the field, where resources outside a computer may be limited. Image used courtesy of Digilent
While it isn’t practical to take an entire lab to debug a device in a remote location, if you forget to bring a crucial piece of test gear, you could lose a considerable amount of time. As a USB device, the AD3 makes the packing list for field tests much shorter, requiring only the AD3, a computer, and any peripherals that may be needed.
An All-in-One, Versatile Tool
In addition to the specs listed here, the AD3 has several other instruments built-in that are enabled through the WaveForms software (spectrum and network analyzer, as an example!), highlighting its versatility as a piece of test equipment. The Analog Discovery 3 is available from Digilent starting June 14th. Any additional peripherals, such as audio or BNC adapters, can personalize the AD3 to specific use cases.
While the AD3 may not sport the fastest sampling rate, the highest frequency output waveforms, or industry-leading power output, it does perform the remarkable task of integrating numerous basic lab features into one USB-connected device. Because of that, the AD3 seems to be useful even for those who have racks of test equipment at their disposal.
In addition, following the general availability of the AD3, as the electronics community begins to leverage the C/C++ and Python scripting abilities, the AD3 may be the simplest solution for automated testing for students, hobbyists, and designers looking to save on desk space.