Istanbul-based startup ERA Instruments has launched a crowd-funding campaign to bring its ERASynth RF Signal Generator into mass production.
"ERA Instruments, a startup based in Istanbul, is utilizing state-of-the-art PLL/VCO technology to create ERASynth, an RF Signal generator with low phase noise and impressive output frequency range."
"Designed to appeal to everyone from hackers and students to professors and professional engineers, the ERASynth’s specifications are undeniably impressive."
"Remarkably, the ERASynth from ERA Instruments uses a multi-loop PLL architecture to provide continuous frequency coverage from 250 kHz to 15 GHz in 1 Hz steps. "
"Unlike many competing products, ERASynth is not based on a single fractional PLL but on a PLL with multiple loop to provide continuous frequency coverage from 250 kHz to 15 GHz"
"...offers WiFi and a multiloop integer-N PLL for better performance and reduced noise."
ERASynth is a high quality portable signal generator at a price point affordable by everyone including makers, students, universities, research labs, and start-ups.
|1. Mini-USB for Serial Access||10. Ultralow Noise Ultrahigh PSRR RF LDO|
|2. Wi-Fi Module (ESP8266)||11. Ultralow Phase Noise PFD|
|3. Wi-Fi Antenna Connector||12. Wideband PLL with VCO|
|4. Micro-USB Input for Power||13. 10 MHz Reference Output|
|5. Trigger Input||14. 10 MHz Reference Input|
|6. Step-down Switcher||15. ±0.5ppm TCXO|
|7. Step-up Switcher||16. Ultralow Phase Noise VCXO|
|8. Attenuators for Level Control||17. Tunable Reference Generator|
|9. RF Output (50 Ω)||18. Arduino Due MCU|
Low cost, USB-controlled RF signal generators are available from a multitude of vendors. These signal generators usually include a single fractional PLL IC with integrated VCO. Examples of such PLL ICs are: ADF435x and ADF5355 series from ADI, LMX series from TI, MAX2870 from Maxim, and STuW series from STMicro. These signal generators are mostly a close replica of the eval board of the PLL/VCO IC and they are usually limited in terms of performance. ERASynth architecture provides several built-in features that overcome these limitations.
While fractional-N PLLs are great for generating frequencies with fine frequency resolution, they suffer from a phenomenon called “integer boundary spurs” (IB spurs). IB spurs are visible at the output of a frac-N PLL IC when the output frequency is close to an integer multiple of the reference frequency. For example, generating an RF output of 6000.01 GHz from a 100 MHz reference will result in IB spurs as large as -30 dBc. This level of performance may be acceptable for some specific application, but generally it is unacceptable for signal generators. ERASynth’s multi-loop architecture eliminates IB spurs by varying the reference in fine steps while keeping the main loop in integer-N mode. This architecture not only diminishes IB spurs but also helps reduce phase noise. PLL IC’s phase noise floors are usually lower by 2-3 dB in integer-N mode compared to frac-N mode.
ERASynth rev2 (turquiose) vs ADF5355 Eval Board (yellow) @ 6.14401418 GHz. ERASynth rev2 uses ADF4356 as the main PLL.
On top of the dual loop PLL that generates the RF output, ERASynth adds another PLL to minimize the reference phase noise. While many competitors use low-cost TCXOs in the range of a few tens of MHz, ERASynth uses a 100 MHz VCXO with a very low phase noise floor. This VCXO is stabilized with a ±0.5 ppm TCXO or ±25ppb OCXO depending on the model. The VCXO may also be locked to an external 10 MHz reference.
|_||ERA Instruments ERASynth||ERA Instruments ERASynth+||Vaunix LMS-602D||DS Instruments SG6000LD||Windfreak SynthHD|
|Architecture||Int-N Driven by Frac-N||Int-N Driven by Frac-N||?||Frac-N||Frac-N|
|Frequency Range||10 MHz to 6 GHz||250 kHz to 15 GHz||1.5 to 6 GHz||25 to 6000 MHz and 6 to 12 GHz||54 MHz to 13.6 GHz|
|Frequency Resolution||1 Hz||1 Hz||100 Hz||~3 kHz||0.1Hz|
|Max Frequency Error||6 Hz||0 Hz||?*||~3 kHz||0 Hz|
|Amplitude Range||-60 to +15 dBm||-60 to +15 dBm||-40 to +10 dBm||typical +11 dBm with 31.5dB attenuator||?*|
|Phase Noise at 1 GHz and 10 kHz offset||-120 dBc/Hz||-125 dBc/Hz||-97 dBc/Hz||-91 dBc/Hz (*)||-100 dBc/Hz|
|Frequency Switching Time||100 µs||100 µs||100 µs||?*||4 ms|
|Subharmonics||None||None||None||over 6 to 12 GHz||over 6.8 to 13.6 GHz|
|Reference||100 MHz VCXO locked to a ±0.5 ppm TCXO||100 MHz VCXO locked to a ±25 ppb OCXO||±2 ppm||±2.5 ppm 10 MHz TCXO||±2.5 ppm 10/27 MHz TCXO|
|REF IN/REF OUT Connectors||Yes||Yes||Only REF IN. REF OUT is optional||Only REF IN||Only REF IN|
|Trigger Input||Yes||Yes||optional ($400 USD)||No||Yes|
|Enclosure||Milled aluminum||Milled aluminum||Milled aluminum||Extruded aluminum||Extruded aluminum|
|Power Input||5 to 12 V||5 to 12 V||5 V||5 V||6 V|
|Power Input Connector||micro USB||micro USB||mini USB||micro USB||power jack|
|Open Source||Schematics, firmware and GUI||Schematics, firmware and GUI||Nothing||Nothing||LabVIEW GUI|
|GUI platform||Platform independent web-based GUI||Platform independent web-based GUI||Windows||Windows||Windows and Linux|
*? = Unknown. Not included on product data-sheets.
|-||ERA Instruments ERASynth||ERA Instruments ERASynth+||Rigol DSG830||Stanford Resarch SG386||Keysight N5171B EXA|
|Architecture||Int-N Driven by Frac-N||Int-N Driven by Frac-N||Int-N Driven by DDS?||Rational Approximation Frequency Synthesis||Proprietry Frac-N ASIC|
|Frequency Range||10 MHz to 6 GHz||250 kHz to 15 GHz||9 kHz to 3 GHz||DC to 6 GHz||9 kHz to 6 GHz|
|Frequency Resolution||1 Hz||1 Hz||0.01 Hz||1 µHz||0.001 Hz|
|Amplitude Range||-60 to +15 dBm||-60 to +15 dBm||-110 to +13 dBm||-110 to +16.5 dBm||-140 to +18 dBm|
|Level Control||Open Loop||Open Loop||Closed Loop ALC||Closed Loop ALC||Closed Loop ALC|
|Calibration over Temperature||Only at Room Temp||Only at Room Temp||0 to 50°C||0 to 45°C||0 to 50°C|
|Phase Noise at 1 GHz, 10 kHz offset||-120 dBc/Hz||-125 dBc/Hz||-104 dBc/Hz||-114 dBc/Hz||-122 dBc/Hz|
|Frequency Switching Time||100 µs||100 µs||<10000 µs||8000 µs||<5000 µs standard, <800 µs optional|
|Harmonics||-10 dBc typical||-10 dBc typical||<-30 dBc||<-35 dBc||<-35 dBc|
|Reference||100 MHz VCXO locked to a ±0.5 ppm TCXO||100 MHz VCXO locked to a ±25 ppb OCXO||±2 ppm TCXO or optional ±5 ppb OCXO||±2 ppb OCXO||±1 ppm TCXO or optional ±5 ppb OCXO|
|Modulation||None||None||AM/FM/FM and optional pulse||AM/FM/FM/pulse||optional AM/FM/FM/pulse|
ERASynth is a complex hardware project that requires a good supply chain. We here at ERA instruments have the required expertise and connections to bring this product to market. We have established the following local partners:
Elektro AŞ: Elektro is ADI’s and Murata’s Turkey representative. They have already given us tremendous support during the prototype phase of ERASynth. We will try to procure most of the main ICs from them.
Ekom Ltd: Ekom is Digikey’s Turkey representative and provides biweekly shipments from Digikey’s headquarters to Istanbul. We can usually procure components available on Digikey in less than a week.
Nettek Ltd: Nettek has over 40 years of experience in CNC milling. Our prototype cases were designed and produced by them. We will utilize Nettek for mass production.
Hitech Corp: Hitech is a premium manufacturer of printed circuit coards. Hi-Tech is well-known for their express delivery and friendly support. We will utilize their PCB manufacturing expertise for our mass production.
Radarsan AŞ: Radarsan, loacated in Teknopark İstanbul, is owned and operated by a friend of ours. We will use Radarsan services for assembly of ERASynth PCBs.
We have already taped out second revision of the PCB. We tested it thoroughly. We will tape out the final revision of the board during the campaign run. It will fix a few existing bugs. We will also upgrade the main PLL to a newly released IC that has industry leading phase noise floor. Our phase noise target was -120 dBc/Hz at 1 GHz and 10 kHz offset in the second revision. With this new IC, we are targeting another 5 dB improvement over the second revision. So, the -125 dBc/Hz phase noise specification given in the comparison charts is preliminary and requires testing and validation.
|May 04||PCB rev3 SCH Design|
|May 24||PCB rev3 layout|
|May 31||Procurement of rev3 BOM|
|May 31||PCB rev3 production|
|June 07||PCB rev 3 assembly|
|June 16||Rev3 test & debug|
|June 23||Rev3 mechanical design|
|June 28||Final PCB production|
|August 03||Procurement of components for mass manufacturing|
|August 03||Mass production of mechanical enclosure|
|August 10||Production assembly|
|August 31||Ship to Crowd Supply|
|September 21||Ship to backers|
ERASynths will be shipping from Crowd Supply’s warehouse in Portland, Oregon USA. We can’t pre-pay VAT, so if you are living in a country that collects VAT upon import, you will likely have to pay that and deal with customs clearance. International shipments will be fulfilled with Priority Mail, which is why the shipping fee is $35 USD for all international shipments (excluding Turkey). This fee does not include any applicable taxes, duties, etc. For more information about ordering, paying, and shipping please visit this Crowd Supply Guide page.
Hardware projects are vulnerable to several risks and challenges. ERASynth is a relatively complicated hardware project with over a hundred unique parts in its BOM. There are several risks involved:
RF components are not general purpose parts. They are not manufactured in massive amounts like general purpose chips. Hence, stocks may get depleted suddenly. If a part used by ERASynth becomes depleted and there are alternatives, we use the alternatives. If there are no foot-print compatible alternatives, then we don’t have a lot to do other than waiting for it to become available again. Unfortunately, lead-times for RF components are usually long (up to 25 weeks). In the design of ERASynth, we tried to use the most readily available parts, but we can never be certain there will be no shortages.
Nowadays, with all the mergers and acquisitions in the global IC market, components can become obsolete overnight. We have had experiences where a component that is available at the start of the PCB design becomes obsolete in a few weeks later as we finish the PCB design. We designed ERASynth to use the most up-to-date parts possible in order to minimize obsolescence risk.
Q: How do you keep the output clean with an on-board Wi-Fi module? Doesn’t the WLAN signal radiated by the Wi-Fi module leak to RF output?
A: This questions is covered in our second campaign update.
Q: Do you plan to provide an app to control the ERASynth, or is it going to be purely web-based?
A: The control GUI is purely web-based, 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. A demo and several screen shots of the web GUI may be found in our first campaign update.
Q: What is phase noise and why is it important?
A: Phase noise is a metric that quantifies the phase fluctuations of a sine wave in frequency domain. Ideally, a sine wave in time domain is a single line in the frequency domain. However, non-idealities in the components spread the line around and make it look more like a skirt. When looking from signal synthesis perspective, phase noise is the most important parameter. Achieving low phase noise is a challenging undertaking, especially with a low budget. To have a low phase noise signal in the multi-GHz range, you first need to start with a low phase noise reference. There are some ultra-low phase noise OCXOs on the market but these are generally very expensive (some of them are more expensive than ERASynth itself). ERASynth uses a multiple loop architecture to minimize the phase noise without breaking the bank. More details about ERASynth’s architecture may be found on the campaign page above.
Q: Can you give some example applications where I can take advantage of ERASynth?
A: ERASynth can be used just like any bench-top signal generator. Some of the many applications can be listed as:
Q: Can you give more information on the current revision of the ERASynth? What are the differences between current revision and the upcoming one?
A: ERASynth rev2 is the current revision. We obtained almost all of the data shown on the campaign page by testing the rev2 board. Rev3 is the upcoming board, it will feature a newly release PLL that has an incredible phase noise floor. We will also add an OCXO to rev3 board.
Q: Where can I find the source codes? What is the license?
A: We will make the sources available on Git-Hub once the campaign ends. We haven’t decided on the license yet.