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ERASynth

Open-Source, Arduino-Compatible RF Signal Generator with Wi-Fi Connectivity

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ERASynth is a portable analog signal generator that can generate RF frequencies from 250 kHz to 15 GHz. By utilizing an advanced multiloop PLL architecture that minimizes spurious and phase noise, ERASynth provides a clean RF output that can be used as a:

- Stimulus source for RF testing
- LO source for down-conversion or up-conversion
- Clock source for data converters
- Test signal source for software defined radio (SDR)

More details can be found on https://www.crowdsupply.com/era-instruments/erasynth

Finally, an affordable signal generator for everyone!

ERASynth is a high quality portable signal generator at a price point affordable by everyone including makers, students, universities, research labs, and start-ups.

  • Makers/Hackers: RF signal generators are expensive pieces of test equipment typically only accessible by pro engineers. ERASynth removes the cost barriers and makes quality RF signal synthesis accessible to everyone, especially budget-conscious makers.
  • Students: ERASynth is for everyone who wants to learn how signal generators work. Since it is open source with open schematics, students or anyone who is curious about the inner details of signal synthesis can learn from ERASynth.
  • Professionals: Professional engineers will find ERASynth is a very good alternative to many of their existing signal generators.
  • Professors/Researchers/Start-ups: With all the cuts in research funds, who can afford to spend tens of thousands on signal generators?
  • Anyone else : ERASynth is for anyone interested in RF testing. Below is a short list of application areas where users can take advantage of ERASynth:
    • General purpose RF testing. For example, to measure the gain of an amplifier, ERASynth can be used as the source.
    • Test signal source for SDR. People who are using any of the many SDR platforms can use ERASynth as the test signal source for testing and calibration of their SDR devices.
    • An agile LO source for up and down-converters.
    • Clock source for ADCs and DACs. When equipped with an optional OCXO, ERASynth’s jitter performance exceeds the requirements of state-of-the-art giga-sample data-converters.

    Features & Specifications

  • Architecture: Multiloop Integer-N PLL driven by a tunable reference. No fractional-N or integer boundary spurs
  • Frequency Range:
    • ERASynth: 10 MHz to 6 GHz
    • ERASynth+: 250 kHz to 15 GHz
  • Amplitude Range: -60 to +15 dBm
  • Phase Noise: typical phase noise @ 1 GHz output and 10 kHz offset
    • ERASynth: -120 dBc/Hz
    • ERASynth+: -125 dBc/Hz
  • Frequency Switching Time: 100 µs
  • Reference: Ultra-low noise 100 MHz VCXO locked to a
    • ±0.5 ppm TCXO for ERASynth
    • ±25 ppb OCXO for ERASynth+
  • MCU: Arduino Due board with BGA package Atmel Microcontroller (ATSAM3X8EA-CU)
  • Interfaces:
    • Wi-Fi interface for web-based GUI access
    • Serial-USB (mini USB) for serial access
    • Micro USB for power input
    • Trigger Input (SMA) for triggered sweep
    • REF In (SMA) for external reference input
    • REF Out (SMA) for 10 MHz reference output
    • RF Out
  • Dimensions: 10 cm x 14.5 cm x 2 cm
  • Weight: < 350 g (12.5 oz)
  • Power Input: 5 to 12 V
  • Power Consumption:
    • < 6 W for ERASynth
    • < 7 W for ERASynth+
  • Enclosure: Precision-milled, nickel-plated aluminum case
  • Open Source: Schematics, embedded Arduino code, Web GUI source code, and RS-232 command set

ERASynth Eliminates Integer Boundary Spurs and Improves Phase Noise

While fractional-N PLLs are great for generating frequencies with fine frequency resolution, they suffer from a phenomenon called “integer boundary spurs” (IB spurs).


ERASynth Control Panel

The control GUI is purely web-based (thanks to ESP8266), hence we will not provide any app for ERASynth. There are several reasons for that. Firstly, web GUI is platform independent. Secondly, it is more reasonable to support one web app instead of so many apps on different platforms. Lastly, the web GUI is very responsive and mimics apps very closely. It is almost like an app, looks and feels like an app.



  • 1 × Arduino Due MCU (ATSAM3X8EA-CU) BGA version of ATSAM3X8E-A
  • 1 × LTC6945 Clock and Timer ICs / Frequency Synthesizers
  • 1 × ESP8266
  • 1 × ADF4356BCPZ PLL with integrated VCO
  • 1 × HMC830 Application Specific ICs / Telecom ICs

View all 9 components

  • Implementing Analog Modulation Functionality in ERASynth

    edensrock06/15/2017 at 20:55 0 comments

    One of the most frequently asked questions about ERASynth was about availability of analog modulation functionality. When we designed ERASynth’s current revision, we payed attention to do it such that basic analog modulation types could be implemented by software. We were planning to leave to users, but since we received so many questions, we decided to work on it. We have implemented basic AM and pulse. For now we can say: AM rates up to 10 kHz for external input and AM rates up to 2 kHz when using internal generator can be generated with ERASynth. Please watch the video below to see a quick demo:


    FM Functionality and Diagnostics in ERASynth

    We’ve finally added FM functionality to ERASynth.

    When it comes to microwave synthesizers, there are several ways of implementing analog modulation functions. These are very nicely outlined in the article “Implementing Modulation Functions in Microwave Frequency Synthesizers” by Chenakin.

    During the past week, It has explored different methods of FM signal generation. Please watch the following video for a quick demo. We also show the “Diagnostics” feature of ERASynth in the video.


  • Why Arduino Due?

    edensrock06/15/2017 at 20:52 0 comments

    We selected Arduino Due for ERASynth for a number of reasons: Its processing power, number of available hard SPI LE pins, availability of a many GPIO pins, and its natural integration with the ubiquitous Wi-Fi module ESP8266.

    Powerful MCU

    When we started the design of ERASynth, we could use any of the many open source projects for the control of our signal generator project. We evaluated our options and realized Arduino Due had the enough horsepower to support all of the calculations. CPU power was an important metric for us, because we had set out to create an agile signal generator. When you are aiming to achieve frequency-switching speeds under 100 µs, you do not have a lot to waste on the calculations. With its 84MHz ATSAM3XE, Arduino Due was the perfect choice for ERASynth.

    Number of Hard LE Pins

    Serial Peripheral Interface (SPI) is a serial protocol that uses four lanes for duplex communication between a master and a slave device. When it comes to PLL synthesizers, SPI is now the industry standard. Almost all of the state-of-the-art PLL ICs provide three or more pins for configuration by a host microcontroller using the SPI protocol. The naming on the pins can vary but the functionality stays the same. Here is a list of the SPI pin names encountered in PLL datasheets:

    • Master Out Slave In: MOSI, DATA, SDATA, SDO, SDIO
    • Master In Slave Out: MISO, SDI, SDIO, MUXOUT
    • Clock: CLK, SCLK, SCK
    • Slave Select: SS, CS, LE, SEN, CSB

    Current revision of ERASynth made use of four different PLL ICs: ADF4002, HMC830, ADF4356 and LTC6945. The final prototype will use ADF4002 and LMX2594. All of these ICs require SPI communication for programming. Arduino Due provides one SPI bus with three hard LE pins. Hence, one can program up to three separate PLL ICs using the Arduino Due. Three hard LE pins are sufficient for most purposes. In the case where there are more than three slave devices (as in the case of ERASynth rev2), soft LE pins can be used. Soft LE pins are normal GPIO pins used for slave selection. There is a significant amount of delay associated with soft LE pins, i.e., SPI transactions using hard LE pins are much faster compared to soft LE transactions. For an ultra-fast RF synthesizer as ERASynth, availability of hard LE pins in Arduino Due were advantageous. We used all three hard LE pins for the ICs for which speed was crucial. HMC830 (tunable reference generator), ADF4356 (main VCO), and LTC6945 (main PLL) were programmed using the hard LE pins. Here is a screen short of the SPI transactions for a frequency of 4 GHz:

    SPI transactions for a frequency change command in ERASynth

    As you can see in the figure above, one frequency change command requires 16 bytes of SPI transaction. We were able send 16 bytes in less than 30 µs.

    A Plethora GPIO Pins

    Wideband and high dynamic range RF circuits utilize many control elements such as switches and attenuators to provide the wide bandwidth and dynamic range. In the design of ERASynth, there are multiple switches and several attenuators requiring more than 20 GPIO pins. Luckily, Arduino Due provides more than enough GPIO pins.

    Natural Integration of ESP8266:

    One of the defining features of ERASynth is its Wi-Fi connectivity thanks to the on-board Wi-Fi module ESP8266. Before starting the design of ERASynth, we did not have any prior experience in using ESP8266. We were able to get started quickly as there were lots of code available. Arduino made our job very simple. Getting ESP8266 into action was just a matter of loading a new library. Using Arduino IDE, we can program ESP8266’s flash without even opening the ERASynth enclosure. We are using the same mini-USB port to program both ATSAM3XE’s flash and ESP8266’s flash. This was all possible thanks to strong community behind Arduino and ESP8266. Programming ESP8266 using the Arduino IDE is not a trivial achievement considering Dave Jones published a video for it just recently.

    What did we improve?...

    Read more »

  • Testing the ERASynth Architecture with LMX2594

    edensrock06/07/2017 at 09:48 0 comments

    As we mentioned in the previous updates, we are going to use LMX2594 in our final prototype. TI has just released the LMX2594 a few months ago. There is a relative small risk in using a newly released IC in the design. We wanted to mitigate that risk. We ordered two copies of the eval board (LMX2594EVM) and gathered a test setup to mimic ERASynth’s architecture. We needed two copies because ERASynth’s design uses one PLL for the reference generation loop and another PLL for the main synthesizer.

    Test Setup

    After establishing the necessary RF/DC/Control connections using appropriate cables, we powered up both of the eval boards using a low-cost switch-mode power supply (Gophert CPS-3205). LMX2594 requires only a single voltage rail of 3.3 V and draws about 400 mA. We disabled the on-board TCXOs of each board and supplied a reference of 100 MHz from the E8257D to the first LMX2594EVM (the reference generation loop). Normally signal generators are not as clean as crystal oscillators, but E8257D was sufficiently clean at 100 MHz. We fed the output of the first LMX2594EVM to the reference input of the second LMX2594EVM. Here is a block diagram and an actual photo of the test setup:

    We drove one LMX2594 with another LMX2594 for ultra-low spurious.

    Photo of the Test Setup

    As the block diagram shows above, PFD comparison frequency of ERASynth’s main loop will be around 270 MHz in the final prototype. This is a relatively high comparison frequency but LMX2594 can do it. In integer-N mode, LMX2594’s PFD rate can be set up to 400 MHz but there is a limit on the N divider (N ≥ 28), that is why we selected PFD rate as ~270 MHz.

    Test Results

    We measured a phase noise of -112.7 dB at 3 GHz, 10 kHz offset using our PSA spectrum analyzer. This value is a couple of dBs higher that what we were expecting. Obviously, there is some (about 3 dB) phase noise contribution from PSA’s tuning local oscillator. For exact measurement of such a low phase noise, we would need a signal source analyzer (SSA), which is a very expensive test gear. We took the phase noise graph shown in our campaign page with an SSA (courtesy of İTÜ’s VSLI lab).

    We must say TI has done a great job in LMX2594. We went the extra mile in our second prototype just to get a phase noise of -120 dBc/Hz at 1 GHz. We had to drive ADF4356 with HMC830 while using LTC6945 as the external PFD. The people at the clock and synthesizers division of TI were able to squeeze even more performance into a single chip. What is more fascinating is that you can even feed this chip (LMX2594) with a switch-mode power supply.

    Conclusion

    Using two LMX2594 eval boards, we were able to verify the performance of ERASynth’s final revision to the best capability of our test equipment.

  • Use of a DDS in the LF Path

    edensrock06/02/2017 at 21:34 0 comments

    We decided to use a DDS for the low frequency (LF) path. ERASynth’s current prototype does not have the LF extension. For the final revision, we were pondering our options: DDS or adjustable divider. There are several adjustable dividers on the market by different vendors and they are cost-effective compared to DDS ICs. Dividers generate waveforms with digital circuitry; their outputs are rich in harmonics. In addition, they tend to consume more power than DDS ICs.

    DDS ICs also generate waveforms with digital means, but they have a built-in DAC to convert the digital waveform to analog domain. After evaluating AD9913 –a 250 MSPS DDS IC by Analog Devices– we decided to use it for the LF path. With AD9913, we can easily go down to 250 kHz or even below. AD9913 provides significant power savings since it consumes no more than 70 mW in single tone mode. It also provides better overall harmonics performance compared to divider ICs


  • Harmonics Levels of ERASynth

    edensrock06/01/2017 at 16:55 0 comments

    We have received many questions regarding ERASynth’s harmonics spec, which is -10dBc in the campaign page. Many people were wondering why ERASynth’s harmonic levels were not as good as its phase noise or lock-time. There are several reasons:

    The harmonics stem from the signal generation mechanism and we cannot do much but use a lot filters if we want to reject them. ERASynth uses highly integrated PLL ICs that have built-in VCOs. These types of ICs usually contain an octave VCO in the GHz range and generate the lower frequencies by dividing the fundamental VCO down. For example, our second revision used ADF4356 by Analog Devices. ADF4356 has a fundamental VCO range of 3.4 to 6.8 GHz. Frequencies below 3.4 GHz are generated by utilizing digital dividers, which produce square-like waveforms. Bench top equipment also generate low frequencies by using digital dividers, but they also provide a lot of filtering by using switched filter banks after the dividers. Switched filter banks are expensive and bulky. In fact, a filter bank to improve the harmonics level of ERASynth to bench-top levels would probably cost more than several times ERASynth itself.

    You cannot improve phase noise (at close offsets) using an external filter but you can improve harmonics. Harmonics can be easily rejected with external filters. Many RF people have a variety of connectorized filters (usually by Mini-circuits) in their labs. When there is a test requiring stringent harmonic rejection levels, they use external filters (even with bench-top equipment). For example if you want to measure SFDR of a high resolution ADC (>12 bits), you have to use an external filter to make sure that measurement is not limited by the signal generator. That is the reason why some bench-top equipment manufacturers provide options for enhanced harmonic rejection. For example, option E8257D-1EH by Keysight improves the E8257D’s harmonics by more than 25 dB. But it costs $5304.

    It would only be fair if we compared ERASynth to competitors in its own league. Many of our competitors utilize ADF5355 or equivalent PLL ICs to go up to 13.6 GHz in frequency. Since the signal generation mechanism is the same, we believe competitor harmonic levels are comparable to ERASynth. However, when it comes to sub-harmonics, ERASynth’s final revision will surpass competitors. We are using LMX2594 by Texas Instruments in ERASynth’s final revision. LMX2594’s fundamental VCO range is 7.5 to 15 GHz. Unlike competitors, we do not need any doublers to generate the upper frequencies. Contrary to harmonics, subharmonics may cause problems.

    Lastly, harmonics are not always a bad thing. They are even helpful in some situations. For example, when driving a mixer, the more square-wave-like LO is, the lower the mixer’s noise figure. When driving an ADC or DAC as a clock source, the more square-wave-like the clock is, the better the slew rate. The better the slew rate, the better the jitter is. The better the jitter, the better the ADC or DAC is.

    The typical -10dBc spec on the campaign page has some margin in it. We haven't fully characterized the harmonic levels, it will be better at some frequencies depending on the power level. Here are some measurements from our current prototype:

    Harmonic level @6GHz_10dBm
    Harmonic level @4GHz_10dBm

    Harmonic level @1GHz_10dBm

  • ERASynth vs Rigol DSG3030 vs Agilent E8257D

    edensrock05/31/2017 at 12:46 0 comments

    If we were to name one area where ERASynth truly excels at, it would be the pedestal phase noise. (phase noise at offsets from 1kHz to 100kHz)

    A signal generator’s pedestal phase noise has different impacts on the system depending on the application. For example, when used as a local oscillator in a receiver application, pedestal phase noise degrades the receiver sensitivity. When used as a clock source in a data converter, pedestal phase noise (together with close-in phase noise) determines the jitter, which ultimately effects the converters dynamic performance.

    We carried out a test to compare ERASynth to a couple of bench-top signal generators available in our lab. Here is the result:

    The graph above is obtained using this setup.


  • Amplitude Accuracy of Calibrated ERASynth

    edensrock05/30/2017 at 20:00 0 comments

    Open-loop Calibration:

    It has been developed a search algorithm for finding the optimal attenuator settings for a given power level. It is used U2001A USB power-meter by Agilent for calibrating the prototype. This power-meter works from 10MHz to 6GHz and measures power levels between -60 to +20 dBm. We have ordered a new power-meter that will measure up to 26.5 GHz, it is on its way to Turkey. Once we get our new power-meter, we will be able to calibration beyond 6 GHz. After the calibration, amplitude uncertainty is below 0.5 dB and setting resolution is 0.1 dB.

    Quick demo of REF IN:

    We also show a quick demo of REF input, showing a 1 GHz signal move on the spectrum analyzer when REF input is switched between internal and external.


  • Isolation of RF Output from on-board Wi-Fi Module

    edensrock05/30/2017 at 19:58 0 comments

    We received some questions regarding the WLAN signals coupling to the RF output. Some people were concerned that phase noise would increase with WLAN module (ESP8266) active. Our tests show that there is no need to worry about WLAN. First of all, whether you use the on-board WLAN or not, WLAN signals are all around us. Secondly, we have taken very serious measures to cope with all kinds of couplings and leakages on the board. As you can see in the detailed PCB picture on the campaign page, ERASynth PCB is partitioned to protect sensitive areas from the outside world and from the other noisy areas on the board itself (such as switch-mode regulators, MCU etc…). There is a tremendous amount of filtering on every supply and control line. The picture below shows ERASynth’s RF output connected to a spectrum analyzer while the WLAN module is activated.

    As you can clearly see in the picture above, on-board WLAN signals are suppressed more than enough. With that said, if you are still uncomfortable with the WLAN interface, you can disable it completely using the serial interface.

  • It's more than an App

    edensrock05/17/2017 at 11:59 0 comments

    Quick demo of the web GUI

    ERASynth's web GUI is almost complete. We had some problems with the WLAN module ESP8266. For some reason, the server on ESP8266 was too slow with some of the browsers. It was very fast on IE/Edge and very slow on Firefox and Chrome. Similar issues have been observed by other users of ESP8266 in the open source community. We had to debug this issue for a long time, now the web GUI is incredibly fast as you will see in the demo video below. It is almost an app, it feels like an app. Actually it is better because it works on all modern web browsers.


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Djani Bodlovic wrote 12/02/2017 at 15:46 point

Long time no update on Crowd....

Any news?

Hope that ERASynth+ can land bellow my xmas tree on time :D

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