In its day, VXI technology was a definite step forward. Built upon the modular VME computer bus, VME eXtensions for Instrumentation, or VXI, reduced the size and increased the performance of high-end test systems. Instead of bulky rack-and-stack systems, whose instruments were connected by the relatively slow GPIB interface, VXI systems featured modular instrumentation that plugged into a modified VMEbus that provided higher data transfer rates and real-time performance not possible with rack-and stack systems.
The VXIbus has served test & measurement engineers well, but it is more than 30 years old now, and it may be time to move to a more modern platform. Today, more test systems designers are choosing the PCI eXtensions for Instrumentation (PXI) platform when designing new modular test systems or replacing or updating existing test systems. Originally introduced in 1997 by National Instruments, PXI is now supported by nearly 70 companies working under the umbrella of the PXI Systems Alliance (PXISA), which publishes the PXI specification and ensures instrumentation interoperability.
PXI's biggest advantage over VXI is product availability. In the nearly 30 years since VXI was introduced, the Consortium that manages the specification has gone from over 40 companies down to just eleven members. Even Pickering has dropped their VXI line due to key part obsolescence and reduced market requirements. A large number of the products that were available in VXI in the past are now obsolete and are often only available on the used market. That is not to say that VXI is no longer viable. In some specialized applications like Data Acquisition, there are VXI vendors producing new products. In other applications, VXI is mostly recommended for legacy applications and not for new designs.
A second reason to look closer at PXI for your test & and measurement needs is that hardware costs are lower than VXI. Because PXI is based on the PCI bus, which is used in many personal computers, it can take advantage of the advances being made to serve the PC marketplace. Because many of the components used in PXI modules are also used for PCI modules, they cost less because so many more of them are made. This leads to overall reduced costs for PXI modules when compared to VXI modules. PXI systems typically cost one-half to one-third the cost of an equivalent VXI system.
While the availability of PXI switching and instrumentation modules makes the choices relatively easy, there is the issue of migrating test programs from VXI to PXI, specifically in switching applications. The ability to replicate original test configurations to support legacy FRUs (Field Replaceable Units) is important to continue supporting older test programs while planning for future requirements.
To help ease this transition, we have developed PXI switching and simulation modules that closely match the operation of VXI switching modules from Racal, VTI Instruments, Agilent (Keysight), and other manufacturers. And, our policy of supporting our PXI Switching products for 15 to 20 years, or even longer, means that your next-generation test systems will have as long a life as their predecessors. An example of our VXI to PXI can be seen below.
Our PXI modules listed in the table above are in many cases a close equivalent to the VXI modules. Because of the large PCB real estate of C-Size VXI modules, channel counts may be different, and specifications may not be exactly the same. Depending on your application, a different Pickering PXI module may be closer to your requirements than what is shown here. We also have cross-references to other manufacuturer's VXI switching.
Please contact our support team for more assistance in finding the correct module for your requirements.
While PXI is clearly the modular platform of choice when designing new test & measurement systems or upgrading existing systems, you may encounter some issues when doing so. One of them is module real estate. Clearly, a C-size VXI module has a lot more area to mount components, meaning that some VXI modules may have more features or functionality than a PXI module that you might choose to replace it. On the whole, however, VXI module designs are not as dense as today’s PXI module, so this is usually not an issue.
A related issue that you will have to address when migrating to PXI is cabling. VXI modules have a wider front panel (1.188-in.) than PXI modules (0.8-in.), meaning that many of the connectors used in VXI systems cannot be used in a PXI system. So, plan on building or buying new cables or buying adaptors.
If your instruments dissipate a lot of power, you may have cooling issues when migrating to a PXI system. The PXI cooling spec is less stringent than the VXI specifications, and generally, PXI chassis do not have the cooling power of VXI chassis. You may use multiple slots to achieve the necessary cooling.
Software is another area of concern. There is no easy way to migrate test programs. But, given the number of good test-development software packages available for the PC platform, this may not be as big an obstacle as it might appear.
Despite these drawbacks, if you're an automatic test system developer, the question is clear. It's not if, but when you should move to PXI-based systems from VXI. The answer is pretty clear, too. The answer is now.
Let us know your thoughts on moving from VXI to PXI.