Due to circumstances related to how I applied for, then withdrew, then won this road test, I am not able to post the actual road test in the normal manner.
Instead, I will post my review here and try to recreate all the normal features of an Element 14 road test review.
First, a sincere thank you to Keysight for providing professional licenses for BenchVue spectrum analyzer, DMM, waveform generator, and universal counter applications, and for the 1 year trial license for BenchVue TestFlow.
The professional application licenses were provided based on the Keysigiht test equipment available on my bench. More on that in a moment.
Second, thank you to Element 14 for running Road Test, it is an awesome program, and for pouring so much attention and care into the E14 community. Much appreciated.
Now, about the Keysight equipment on my bench. I have rekindled a fondness for Keysight bench equipment over the last few years, mostly because of the exposure I have had to the product line through Road Test. Although I have been using Keysight equipment, previously Agilent, and previous to that, HP equipment for 38 years (remember the HP 200CD sine wave oscillator with the huge frequency setting dial? That was my first exposure to HP test gear), I had not had much exposure to the product line from about 1995 to 2010. At any rate, through Road Test I once again had opportunity to really get to know some of the newer Keysight instruments.
I was so impressed with the new Agilent/Keysight product line that when I was in the market for a frequency counter a few years ago I upgraded my wish list from an Aim TTi TF960 counter to an Agilent 53230A 350 Mhz dual channel counter. Now the two counters are not in the same performance class, not even close, and the Agilent instrument is about 11 times the price, so why would I even consider it? Well, I stumbled upon the Keysight eBay store, where to my delight, I found factory refurbished Keysight instruments at great discounts, with many instruments available for best offer bids. A 53230A with an ultra high stability OCXO (Oven Controlled Crystal Oscillator) and a 6 GHz microwave input was available. I made an offer that I thought was reasonable and within my budget. Keysight accepted and here we are.
Fast forward to early in December of this year. A rare opportunity came my way to sell some test equipment. I jumped on the opportunity and plowed the proceeds back into the purchase of additional Keysight test equipment. Hopefully before the end of the year I will have a new B2902A 2 channel Source/Measure Unit and a 34470A 7 1/2 digit DMM on my bench. To make these acquisitions work, I sold the Keysight spectrum analyzer on my bench. So, in the spirit of the BenchVue Road Test (4 Keysight instruments generated 4 professional licenses to evaluate) I will be purchasing a professional power supply application license to run the SMU - in the new year when my credit card cools off.
Until then, I will provide my review of the professional versions of the DMM, Waveform Generator, and Frequency Counter applications.
- RoadTest: BenchVue Professional Applications
- Evaluation Type: Independent Products
- Application you used the part in: Automated test of WS2811 based RGB LED strings
- Was everything in the box required?: Yes
- Comparable Products/Other parts you considered: None
- What were the biggest problems encountered?: License activation process is cumbersome, but worked well enough.
|Product Performed to Expectations:||8|
|Specifications were sufficient to design with:||10|
|Demo Software was of good quality:||9|
|Demo was easy to use:||10|
|Support materials were available:||10|
|The price to performance ratio was good:||7|
|Total Score:||53 / 60|
In terms of performing to expectations, I expected to be able to set up an automated test of 4 m strings of WS2811 RGB LEDs using the 33622A arbitrary waveform generator to drive a series of test patterns into the string, then measure string current and voltage using the 34461A. I was able to do this, but with some SCPI programming. Keysight advertises BenchVue as a tool for instrument control that doesn't require programming. Thus my less that 10 out of 10 on performance expectations. For more detail on how I discovered this limitation and how I discovered that it is really easy and kind of fun to embed SCPI code into BenchVue, read the blog entry found here.
BenchVue with TestFlow is sufficient to design the automated tests I was interested in setting up. And I feel that it has sufficient capability to support most automated test sequences I would likely want to create, so 10 out of 10 on specifications.
Generally, the software is of better than good quality. I would say it is very good quality. The user interface is clean, intuitive (to an experienced engineer or technologist), and generally bug free. I encountered one time out crash that I could not reproduce and Keysight support was very quick to respond with an offer to help. For examples of the user interface and a real life example of how the arbitrary generator application can be used to send data streams to the WS2811 LEDs, read this blog post. The only annoyance is that BenchVue, on my computer, loads very slowly and the apps take a long time to start up.
The software was very easy to use. I had to poke around initially to learn how to activate license files, described in this blog post, but figured it out. Even the detour I had to take to embed SCPI instructions was not that bad. Detailed support on each instruction is readily available. Even a novice SCPI programmer like me was able to make rapid progress using the built in support features. The intuitive user interface and the deep SCPI support earned the BenchVue environment 10/10 on ease of use and availability of support material.
My 7 out of 10 rating on price to performance is coming from a hobbyist perspective. In a corporate environment the license fees for the professional applications are of no concern. However, they are not trivial to a hobbyist, or to a consultant with a small business. Nevertheless, the features provided by Test Flow especially may be worth the investment if you do a lot of repetitive testing that would benefit from automation.
This is not the end
I wanted to get this Road Test posted now, even though I have more to add, before the full madness of the holiday season is upon us all. The reason I withdrew my application is that I was very busy at work and did not think I would have time to do a complete review within the standard two month Road Test time frame. I was selected for this RoadTest just as I withdrew my application. rscasny checked with me to see why I withdrew. I decided I could probably get the review in once things calmed down at work. Things did calm down and I began a series of blogs on my experiences with BenchVue professional applications. The core of my review is in this blog post, with important detail provided in the linked blog posts.
I still have to post about my experience with the Apple and Android BenchVue apps (they both work very well), more about learning SCPI programming, some detail on the professional frequency counter application, and, in the new year, a report on my experiences with the power supply pro app once my B2902A SMU arrives.
Look for updates probably in February. I will be away for a good portion of January.
All the best to you and yours,