USB-powered spectrum analyzers aren’t new and some are truly tiny -- just a bit bigger than a flash drive. Some have surprisingly good performance over very wide frequency ranges. The least expensive of these “instruments in a stick” is less than $100. However, every once in a while one comes along that reshuffles the deck, and the latest is the RSA306 from Tektronix. While I rarely extol the virtues of any signal product in these blogs, this one has some features that make it very interesting and suited for applications that are way beyond what instruments like this are typically used for.
First the price, which is $3,490. This includes the company’s SignalVu-PC signal analysis software, which is arguably one of the most versatile and comprehensive such tools available. True, other spectrum manufacturers offer similar software – but not for tiny USB-powered analyzers like this one and not for free. The Tek RSA306 measures 7.5 x 5 x 1.2in. weighs 1.3lb., covers 9kHz to 6.2GHz, has a measurement range of -160 to +20dBm, a real-time IF bandwidth of 40MHz, displayed average noise level (DANL) as low as -163dBm/Hz (from 5MHz to 1GHz), and SSB phase noise of -92dBc/Hz (100kHz offset) at 1GHz. Its nearest competitor has about the same size and cost and has very good performance, but lacks almost all of its software-derived capability.
The RSA306 also has 17 automated measurements and employs the company’s patented Digital Phosphor (DPX) technology used in its high-end instruments that is unexcelled in capturing elusive events. However, performance parameters are just one part of this story.
The other is that it comes with the company’s SignalVu-PC signal analysis software,
As its name implies, SignalVu-PC runs on Window machines, and provides real-time signal processing of the spectrum and spectrogram and captures signals as short as 100μs in duration. There are 27 standard modulation types; and modulation analysis, standards support, pulse measurements, and frequency settling are optional. Mapping capability with azimuth direction information is also optional, making the combo useful for locating interference. You can construct a mapped measurement showing where the antenna was pointed for each test.
In short, the RSA306 and SignalVu have the chops to be used in applications such as interference hunting, spectrum monitoring, and a variety of defense applications, along with the more common receiver and transmitter testing in the field, and can even be used without “sacrifice” on the bench.
Barry Manz is president of Manz Communications, Inc., a technical media relations agency he founded in 1987. He has since worked with more than 100 companies in the RF and microwave, defense, test and measurement, semiconductor, embedded systems, lightwave, and other markets. Barry writes articles for print and online trade publications, as well as white papers, application notes, symposium papers, technical references guides, and Web content. He is also a contributing editor for the Journal of Electronic Defense, editor of Military Microwave Digest, co-founder of MilCOTS Digest magazine, and was editor in chief of Microwaves & RF magazine.
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