Thursday, December 13, 2007

Vendor books about testing - National Instruments

Back in October I posted about recent test system manuals Keithley and Agilent had written. In a post last month I mentioned that NI had also put out a manual that I would eventually review as well. Here it is.

First Thoughts
NI is very good at marketing. They interact well with customers, get knowledgeable sales people embedded with key industries, and support their hardware and software. So when I say they excel at marketing it is truly meant as a compliment. Yet this proficiency also hurts them. Read on and you'll see.

There are four sections and 14 chapters divided amongst the sections. The first is just an introduction, the second discusses test system guidelines, the third goes over improving a system, and the last one consists of case studies.

Section 1
This single chapter reads more like a position paper for NI being the best ever than an introduction to a test system guide. Pity. For example, on just a single page (1-5) the author referenced three different marketing white papers. My hopes for the manual diminished.

Section 2
There were two saving graces to this section. Chapter five has a good overview of different buses, and chapter seven reviews the PXI standard. Otherwise it is more marketing than substance.

Section 3
These three chapters were somewhat of a revelation. The marketing was minimized in favor of looking at 1) ways to speed up a test, 2) measurement accuracy, and 3) system longevity. Cool.

Section 4
I liked the first chapter in the manual. Describing software-defined radio testing, it was short & too the point. But the other three case studies were all but useless. Okay, so Microsoft used LV and a PXI chassis to test the XBox - why not spend a few pages and describe the test architecture or obstacles that were overcome in the design. Each case study reads like an extended press release.

Unfortunately, this testing manual is more like the Agilent manual (bad) than the Keithley manual (good). It pushes a theme of "NI products are the best thing since sliced bread." The only time it mentions Agilent is to take them to task for the lack of support of IEEE1394 (VEE isn't mentioned at all). The manual could have used a good editor - the exact same graph, bandwidth as a function of latency, shows up an improbable FIVE times under different titles.

In other words, if it wasn't for section 3 I would write off the whole manual as a waste of space on my hard drive.

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