Waveform Generator Teardown Is Nearly Empty

We always enjoy [Kerry Wong]’s insightful teardowns, and recently, he opened up a UTG1042X arbitrary waveform generator. Getting inside was a bit of a challenge since there were no visible screws. Turns out, they were under some stickers. We always dislike that because it is very difficult to get the unit to go back together.

Once open, the case reveals it is almost completely empty. The back panel has a power supply, and the front panel has all the working circuitry. The box seems to be for holding the foot and preventing the device from getting lost on your bench.

The power supply is unremarkable. There are a few odd output voltages. The main board is a bit more interesting, especially after removing the heat sink. There are two channels, but the board isn’t laid out, with a lot of segregation between the two channels. That makes sense with the output sections clustered together and the digital section with the CPU, FPGA, and the DAC in close proximity.

The other side of the board connects to a very simple display board. It would be interesting to compare this to a circa-1980s AWG, which would have been far more complicated.

Making a waveform generator with a microprocessor and a DAC isn’t hard. The hard part is the output stages and maximizing the operating speed.

26 thoughts on “Waveform Generator Teardown Is Nearly Empty

  1. I find this trend quite annoying. A few years ago I was seriously considering to buy a desktop DMM, and those also have those big empty boxes. If someone would ask me, it’s time for the Test & measurement industry to reconsider the form factor of these things. Electronics have advanced significantly over the last 50 years, and what used to be boat anchors you had to push around on carts, can now be put into the form of a handheld device. This is extremely obvious in oscilloscopes (those big clunky things are not being made anymore). I don’t need a scope to be as thin as the micsig tablets. I’m perfectly fine with the form factor of most modern scopes. Change is coming, but it’s slow. For example the Uni-T UTG932E is a usable function generator in about the same form factor as most scopes. I would have bought one If I had not bought one of the chinese DDS based function generators a few months before it was released. Keysight also has a function generator in such a form factor, but I believe it’s geared towards the educational market only.

    Power supplies are another sore point. They also seem to be optimized for minimum front panel area, at the expense of a very deep form factor. I have a limit of around 20cm for the depth of equipment on my desk, and most go over that. Power supplies also have not shrunk as much as other equipment. Linear power supplies often still have a 50Hz (60Hz) transformer, and their relative high power dissipation also necessitates to allocate volume to heatsinks, and maybe a fan.

    And this leads to another (minor) nuisance: Fan noise. Years ago I modified my Rigol DS 1052-E. I put in a bigger 12V fan and ran it at 7 or 8 volts. I’m probably going to modify my Siglent SDS1104X-E to in a similar way.

      1. I have a desktop DMM made by Owon, that I have to hold down when turning it on, because due to bad design of rubber “feet” it moves around on my desk. On the other hand my lightweight chineese AWG has a better design and doesn’t move despite being almost empty inside.

        1. heavy but small and stackable is the way to go imho for bench equipment…
          huge box like before makes no sense, but gear you can easily stack, that is stable and doesn’t move around when you move the leads is the way to go

        2. You can make those yourself very easily. Jut put some concrete in a plastic back and then fit it in any hole you like before it hardens. You can also make a “back rest” for your equipment by putting the bag with concrete behind it. This way your equipment stays lightweight and portable, while it has a heavy backing when used at home. There are also plenty of other easy to make alternatives.

      2. On some things I’ve started using adhesive Velcro strips to hold things in place on my desk. That way I can still move it if I need to but it holds it enough for button pressing. That does have the drawback of the unit sliding easier if I do move it off of the Velcro onto my desktop. Hmm, I wonder if I can get a long roll of Velcro to cover the whole back third of my bench? 🤔

    1. Bench DMMs are the poster child of this… though I am enjoying the shift towards products like the OWON XDM1041. How the heck to you keep that from getting pulled of the shelf though?

      Honestly I mostly want a better and more realistic series of usb or ethernet-connected instruments.
      There has to be a market for people who have lots of screen space and not much bench space, and want to spend more than $25 amazon quality but don’t need a $1500 Agilent monstrosity.
      Something from ~$1-200, I would applaud vendors if they didn’t even bother to make their own UI and just made a plugin for Sigrok or something…

      I have been wishing for a simple reasonably priced meter with a computer interface for years, and at this point I have given up and am starting to draw out a front-end and enclosure for an 8-channel ADC dev kit. (ADS8588SEVM-PDK)

      1. I mounted a couple of my scopes on monitor arms. I had to do some surgery on them to add VESA mounts but it’s working really well for me. I even have one of them mounted with the arm upside-down hanging from an overhead shelf so it’s just totally hovering over the bench. Zero footprint, ha!

    2. There’s a 28GHz scope for our lab at work that’s <5yrs old and that thing's an absolute beast. We 'do' have a cart for it as it probably weighs like 50 lbs. It does have a ~12-16" touchscreen on the front of it but we normally just use the hooked up mouse and keyboard. I believe it's running a version of win7 or at least what looks like from that gen OS's (pre 8/10 nonsense). I also would bet it's closer to a 1kW of power as it it puts out more heat than some space heaters. Additionally, it cost more than what I paid for my house and some of the probes are more expensive than my car.

  2. It’s not a new trend.
    Back in the days when Siemens was shipping ‘386 servers they came with a massive case (about 1 meter tall) which was mostly empty. Asking sales dpt I got the answer that customers wanted to see steel, otherwise they wouldn’t accept it as “a server”.

    1. Back in the days of 386 servers, hard drives were often 5.25″ full height form factor, especially the high capacity, ‘high speed’ ones, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect to be able to add a few to a server, especially if the server had a SCSI Host adapter so a lot of that empty space was probably meant to be storage and backup devices.

    1. My dad was the lead engineer on designing this, and as a result I have several in varying degrees of functionality. It was the first decent AWG and it was quite a technical challenge. He was pretty proud of it. If yours is still working, it has a pretty good easter egg, where it plays the hallelujah chorus in four part harmony (although only mono output, but it can drive a speaker.)

  3. This is using the standard 2U, half width case used by so many test equipment manufacturers. It allows you to mount two of them in a 2U space in a rack. Using this thing on a desktop is not really the form factor the vendor actually intends for you to use it in. They include feet so it can be used that way but most of the products in this form factor will get mounted in some sort of automated test rack. Two reasons why the inside is so empty: one, these housings are easily ordered in that form factor since other test equipment manufacturers may actually need the space and two, this can be a drop in replacement for an older waveform generator that has the same size housing without requiring someone to rewire the rack for longer cables or use extensions.

    TL;DR, it looks like this because everyone else does the same thing.

    1. Also, the stickers cover up the mounting holes for the rack mount kit. If you have to take the stickers off, they’ll likely just be thrown away. If you ever get the unit calibrated, the stickers will be removed anyway and replaced with tamper seals. I guess they just include them for aesthetics but those stickers won’t last more than a year if this equipment is used in a professional lab or production facility.

    2. That makes some sense. I think a lot of hobbyists never get to see what is done “in the industry” and so they don’t see the purpose-built test racks out there.

      Just being weird for a minute, though, it’d be fun to be able to get test equipment in a modular synth formfactor. Instead of the display being in the unit, video over ethernet so you can have a good sized monitor and tile a bunch of instruments. I’d miss having bezel buttons and spinny knobs right by the region of interest though.

      1. Rack mounted gear often gets networked. HP-IB / GPIB / IEEE-488 back to a standard PC.
        Display results on monitor, or use ethernet to gather / distribute readings as required.

        In an assembly line, you can have 30+ workbenches being fed the same reference signal. Pass / fail test results are collated in a central database.

        1. Old HP test and measurement stuff was often sold with option001, which had just a blank faceplate with an off/on switch. The assumption was that it would never be used on a bench, just in ATE environments with control via GPIB/ethernet. If you have a decent labview or pyvisa setup you can get some pretty sweet older stuff for cheap because no hobbyists want headless T&M.

  4. In case of this particular AWG it should be fairly easy to bend some sheet metal or 3D-print a case to snap the front and back on to and make it an order of magnitude thinner. But I assume that the case is so large so that it can be stacked with other test equipment.

    (Disclaimer: haven’t watched the video, probably repeating what the author said.)

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