RF Cafe began life in 1996 as "RF Tools" in an AOL screen name web space totaling
2 MB. Its primary purpose was to provide me with ready access to commonly needed
formulas and reference material while performing my work as an RF system and circuit
design engineer. The World Wide Web (Internet) was largely an unknown entity at
the time and bandwidth was a scarce commodity. Dial-up modems blazed along at 14.4 kbps
while tying up your telephone line, and a nice lady's voice announced "You've Got
Mail" when a new message arrived...
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In case you don't already know, a grown-up's version of the much-ballyhooed
littleBits electronics building block system is available. Instead
of assembling snap-together functional blocks for making LEDs flash or robotic carts,
X-Microwave's system provides
a relatively simple and inexpensive venue for designing and building RF and microwave
circuits based on a selection of component blocks for frequencies ranging from hundreds
of kHz to tens of GHz.
As you can see in the X-Microwave video below,
functional blocks are screwed to a base plate with optimized interconnects providing
low-VSWR, low-loss interfaces between blocks. Package sides, isolation compartment
walls, and lids complete the system package with coaxial connectors at the I/O ports.
The video does not indicate DC supply connections or RF path bends, but the website
documentation shows it. You begin by laying out your complete system using the online
Layout Tool (MLT). An online system simulator (registration required for use)
is provided that is powered by Keysight Technologies'
GenesysSpectrasys using s- and x-parameter files.
Once your design is tested and optimized, the building blocks can either be mounted
directly into a permanent machined enclosure or the block functions can be transferred
to a custom printed circuit microwave substrate and placed in an enclosure. I did
not see any mention of whether license fees apply for use of circuit blocks in a
production environment when transferred to a custom substrate.
Prices for each functional block range from about $10 for a section of transmission
line to $250 for an LO. A 5 GHz
amplifier costs from around $80 to $150. A 1920 MHz bandpass
filter costs $230, but can vary between $25 and $600 depending on your need. The
basic prototyping metal base plate runs $600. Amplifier manufacturers include
RFMD (now Qorvo), and
Hittite (now Analog Devices). Filters manufacturers include Dielectric
Labs and Mini-Circuits. Mixers come from Marki Microwave and Mini-Circuits. Attenuator
pads are from Mini-Circuits. Many of the function blocks must be in-house designs
and list no specific manufacturer. Functional block interconnect 'anchors' are $10
coaxial connectors run from about $10 up to $100.
Machined housings with RF connector and control/power feedthrough
holes range from $80 to $120. A full
Station Kit with performance to 67 GHz with the base plate, test cables,
and probes (connectors) costs $2000.
Example X-Microwave parts list for simple frequency downconverter.
If you have a product concept that requires a relatively simple RF section and
you do not want to spend potentially tens of thousands of dollars buying software
and paying for prototype iterations, and especially if you do not have an experienced
RF circuit and layout designer on staff, X-Microwave could be exactly what you need
for success. University microwave labs could benefit greatly from such a system.
Manufacturers of RF and microwave components - amplifiers, filters, circulators
(none currently in the available parts list), couplers, dividers, oscillators, attenuators,
terminations, etc. - might see this as great opportunity for getting designed into
With enough participation, there might even be an enthusiastic X-Microwave user
base that can establish open source functional blocks like the multinational
X-Microwave Demonstration Video
X-MWblocks (X-Microwave) webcast by Microwave Journal and Keysight
Posted January 18, 2016
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