For more than a decade, the PXI platform has grown to include some of the highest-performance instrumentation in the industry.
The addition of source measure units (SMUs) and advanced high-speed digital I/O has driven PXI into new application areas including semiconductor chip test. The PXI modular form factor and compact size, combined with NI LabVIEW software, provide a flexible test platform that is well suited to address and meet the challenges faced by semiconductor design and test engineers. Today, companies including ON Semiconductor and Analog Devices turn to PXI and LabVIEW as a complete solution for increasing quality and lowering the cost of test in characterization and production. National Instruments provides more than 300 PXI products alone, with more than 1,500 available from approximately 70 vendors. NI continues to invest in PXI to bring new capabilities to its platforms and better address the needs of its semiconductor customers.
The new NI PXI Semiconductor Suite consists of 10 new products that expand the capabilities of PXI and LabVIEW for software-defined chip test systems. The suite provides digital instrumentation up to 200 MHz, DC parametric measurements down to 10 pA, faster RF tuning times, a high-speed digital signal insertion switch, and the ability to import Waveform Generation Language (WGL) and Standard Test Interface Language (STIL) vector formats directly into PXI.
These instruments double the single-ended clock rates and increase current sensitivity by two orders of magnitude compared to current NI instrumentation. The 10 new products in the PXI Semiconductor Suite are designed to tightly integrate with each other and offer new features including a sequencing engine on the SMU and enhanced timing control for digital I/O, which make them well suited for semiconductor chip test.
Figure 1. The NI PXI Semiconductor Suite consists of new DC, digital, RF, and switching instrumentation, as well as file importing software.
High-Precision DC Instrumentation
Parametric measurements are critical to semiconductor component validation or characterization and require very precise DC instrumentation to accurately measure standby or leakage currents on a device. The PXI Semiconductor Suite meets these requirements with the addition of a new SMU. The NI PXI-4132 high-precision SMU features current resolution down to 10 pA with remote four-wire sensing as well as external guarding on a single output, providing ±100 V capability in a single PXI slot. The SMU offers several advancements, including an onboard hardware sequencing engine for hardware-timed high-speed curve traces and the ability to trigger and synchronize multiple PXI-4132 SMUs over the PXI backplane. The PXI-4132 complements the existing NI PXI-4130 Power SMU, which provides a four-quadrant, 40 W output (±20 V, ±2 A) to deliver high-precision and high-power source measure options for PXI.
Advanced High-Speed Digital Capabilities
Digital instrumentation is another vital component of any semiconductor test system to help characterize digital interfaces both functionally and parametrically as well as control chip operation via common communication protocols including SPI and I2C. The new suite adds several new products with advanced high-speed digital capabilities. The NI PXIe-6544 and NI PXIe-6545 modules add 100 and 200 MHz digital I/O to PXI Express, respectively, with up to 32 channels from 1.2 to 3.3 V, and feature a precision onboard clock with subhertz resolution. The NI PXIe-6547 and NI PXIe-6548 modules deliver additional functionality by offering bidirectional communication on a per-channel, per-cycle basis; real-time bit comparison of acquired data versus expected response; double data rate (DDR) capability up to 400 Mbits/s; and three banks of data delay, so engineers can skew multiple digital I/O lines on a single instrument with respect to each other to stress timing on a chip.
The PXI Semiconductor Suite also contains the first NI high-speed digital signal insertion switch, so engineers can multiplex in-precision DC instrumentation, such as the new PXI-4132 SMU, a digital multimeter (DMM), or power supply, on up to 32 digital I/O lines. An NI PXI/PXIe-2515 switch functions as a pass-through for the new PXI Express digital I/O modules or the existing NI 654x or NI 655x digital instruments to provide per-pin current measurements with clean connectivity to any digital pin.
Many applications in semiconductor test also require the ability to import digital simulation test vectors from common design tools. As part of the new suite, NI has been working with National Instruments Alliance Partner Test System Strategies Inc. (TSSI), a leader in electronic design automation (EDA) pattern conversion, on a new software product called TSSI TD-Scan for National Instruments so engineers can import WGL and STIL vector formats into PXI. The software tool is available from TSSI and is included as a 7-day evaluation package with NI high-speed digital I/O PXI hardware.
Faster RF Measurement Times
Testing high-speed RF components can be time-consuming when considering the requirements needed to sweep through multiple frequencies to fully characterize the performance of a chip. The new NI PXIe-5663E 6.6 GHz vector signal analyzer (VSA) and NI PXIe-5673E 6.6 GHz vector signal generator (VSG) feature fast tuning times using RF List Mode to make multiband RF measurements faster. With deterministic frequency tuning and power adjustments, these modules are uniquely suited for testing wireless and mixed-signal ICs, such as power amplifiers and transceivers.
Table 1. The 10 new products expand measurement capability and add features to existing NI PXI instrumentation.
Software-Defined Semiconductor Chip Test
Software-defined instrumentation using LabVIEW gives semiconductor test engineers an advantage in quickly customizing measurements and building high-performance automated test systems. PXI modular hardware helps engineers incorporate the latest PC technologies such as multicore and PCI Express to further reduce test times. The addition of the PXI Semiconductor Suite expands the capabilities of PXI and LabVIEW to develop a stronger platform for testing many semiconductor components including analog-to-digital converters (ADCs), digital-to-analog converters (DACs), power management ICs (PMICs), wireless ICs (RFICs), and microelectromechanical system (MEMS) devices.
Scott Savage is the market development manager for semiconductor test at National Instruments. He holds a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from Texas A&M University.
Find Tutorials, Example Code, Case Studies, and More Online
National Instruments offers semiconductor test solutions for a variety of chip types including ADCs/DACs, PMICs, RFICs, and MEMS devices. Download example code from NI systems engineers and view case studies from Analog Devices, ON Semiconductor, and other leading semiconductor companies to learn how they have reduced their cost of test with NI LabVIEW software and PXI instrumentation.
This article first appeared in the Q4 09 issue of Instrumentation Newsletter.
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