The Boxcar tab provides access to the gated averaging functionality of
the UHF Instrument. Whenever the tab is closed or an additional one of
the same type is needed, clicking the following icon will open a new
instance of the tab.
Table 1: App icon and short description
Boxcar settings and periodic waveform analyzer for fast input signals.
Each Boxcar unit is shown in a separate sub-tab (see Figure 1) that consists of a plot area and three
control tabs on the right-hand side.
Similar to the lock-in amplifier functionality the Boxcar offers a large
reduction of the incoming signal bandwidth sampled with 1.8 GSa/s to a
regime where much lower sampling rates suffice that can easily be
transferred to a PC over USB or Ethernet cable for further analysis and
post processing. For both methods ideally no piece of signal information
is lost during the data reduction but huge parts if the initial signal
are discarded that contain no or a negligible piece of relevant
information. The operation of the lock-in amplifier can most easily be
understood considering the inputs signal in the frequency domain where
the lock-in acts as a sophisticated bandpass filter with adjustable
center frequency and bandwidth (if we generously ignore phase
sensitivity here for the sake of simplicity). In contrast, the Boxcar
does a very similar thing in the time domain where it allows to cut out
only the signal components that contain information. A very common use
case are experiments with pulsed lasers. In particular when duty cycles
are low, the fraction of the time domain signal where there is actual
information can be quite small and so the idea is to record only the
parts when for instance the laser is on.
In classical analog instruments this is typically realized by a switch,
that can by triggered externally, and a subsequent integrator. Most
often the trigger functionality also allows to configure a time delay
and a certain window for as long as the switch shall open up for each
trigger and the signal will be integrated. The signal output from the
integrator is then passed through an adjustable low-pass filter for
further noise reduction.
One of the biggest limitations of analog boxcar instruments is their
trigger re-arm time (caused by the finite time required to erase the
integrator) which is usually several 10 ms long. During that time no
signals can be acquired. For periodic signals this means a limitation to
frequencies of a few 10 kHz when signal loss cannot be afforded,
measurement time needs to be minimized while high SNR is crucial.
The Zurich Instruments Boxcar uses a synchronous detection approach
instead of the traditional triggering method described above. A
reference frequency has to be provided - either from external or an
internal oscillator can be used - instead of a trigger signal and the
Boxcar window is defined in terms of the phases of that reference
Using a synchronous detection scheme in combination with a fixed input
sampling rate of 1.8 GSa/s excludes all commensurate signal frequencies
from proper analysis. The UI provides warnings whenever the reference
frequency is anywhere close to any of these. Potential issues can be
easily quantified by displaying the bin counts in the PWA sub-tab.
Figure 2 shows a detailed
block diagram how signal processing is performed.
The input signal is sampled at a rate of 1.8 GSa/s. Depending on the
phase of the reference oscillator and the set Start Phase and Window
Width each of these samples is added up and output from the Adder after
each period. From there one branch is directly connected to the outPWA
Out PWA Tab)
for a further step of synchronous detection. The other signal path way
is subject to a Moving Average filter that allows to average over an
adjustable number of reference oscillator periods.
The moving average filter provides up to 512 intermittent results. That
means if Averaging Periods is set to 1024 the Output is updated with a
new value every second oscillator period whereas for smaller numbers of
averaging Periods this update is performed on every cycle.
Another big advantage of the Zurich Instruments Boxcar is the graphical
display of the input signal termed Periodic Waveform Analyzer. Each
Boxcar unit is equipped with a PWA unit that can be either bound to the
Boxcar settings or used on any other signal input and oscillator
independently. Figure 3 shows a block diagram
of the PWA.
The user can select from a variety of different input signals, all of
which will be re-sampled - either up or down, where no averaging is
provided - at the input to a sampling rate of 450 MSa/s. Depending on
the phase of the reference oscillator each data sample is associated to
one of 1024 memory units which records the average values and the number
of samples. These 1024 can be spread over the entire 360 degree of the
reference oscillator period or a smaller span by using the Zoom mode.
After an adjustable number of total input samples the entire memory is
transferred to the PC and the memory is reset.
Each shot of data contains 1024 average values and sample counts each
associated to a certain phase window. In case the reference frequency is
sufficiently stable over the course of one shot it makes perfect sense
to switch from the phase domain view to the time domain, which for some
experiments might be the more natural way of consideration.
Select reference oscillator for PWA signal acquisition.
Actual frequency at which the PWA operates based on set oscillator frequency and harmonic scaling factor.
Traffic light showing whether the number of samples acquired is evenly distributed over all bins.
Measurement data can be interpreted in four different modes and displayed over either phase (native), time, frequency (FFT) or harmonics of the base frequency (FFT).
Freq Domain (FFT)
Copy from range
Change PWA start and span according to plot range.
Reset the start and width value to show the full 360 deg.
Defines the start of PWA range in time or phase.
Defines width of PWA range in time or phase.
1 to 2^47
Defines the number of samples acquired of each PWA data set (450 MSa/s).
Acq Time (s)
Estimated time needed for recording of the specified number of samples.
Indicates whether the number of samples collected per bin or the amplitude exceeds the numerical limit. Reduce number of samples and/or change frequency.
Infinite Acq Time
The signal source of this unit (Boxcar) is not producing any data. Once it is configured and enabled, this field will indicate the duration of a single measurement.
0 to 100%
Show state of the PWA acquisition in percent.
3dB bandwidth in Hz.
Maximum number of displayed harmonics.
Select signal to be displayed.
Table 3: Boxcar tab: Boxcar sub-tab
ON / OFF
Enable the BOXCAR unit
Select Signal Input used for the boxcar analysis.
Selection of the oscillator used for the boxcar analysis.
Oscillator frequency used for the boxcar analysis.
Too high frequency
Frequency for the boxcar is above or equal 450 MHz. Sticky flag cleared by restarting the boxcar. The boxcar output may not be reliable any more.
Copy from cursors
Take cursor values to define Window Start and Window span values.
Show Gate Opening
ON / OFF
Show gate opening on the PWA plot.
Selects the mode to specify the start of the boxcar averaging gate opening. The phase (deg) is the native mode for the device.
Native definition of the boxcar averaging gate start as phase.
Definition of the boxcar averaging gate start as time. Due to the conversion to phase on the device a small uncertainty window exists.
0 to 360
Boxcar averaging gate opening start in degrees. It can be converted to time assuming 360 equals to a full period of the driving oscillator.
Start Time (s)
0 to period
Boxcar averaging gate opening start in seconds based on one oscillator frequency period equals 360 degrees. Boxcar must be disabled to edit input field.
Selects the mode to specify the width of the boxcar averaging gate opening. The time (s) is the native mode for the device.
Definition of the averaging gate width as phase.
Native definition of the averaging gate width as time.
Definition of the averaging gate width in samples.
0 to 360
Boxcar averaging gate opening width in degrees based on one oscillator frequency period equals 360 degrees. Boxcar must be disabled to edit input field.
555 ps to period
Boxcar averaging gate opening width in seconds. It can be converted to phase assuming 360 equals to a full period of the driving oscillator.
Boxcar averaging gate opening width in samples at 1.8 GHz rate.
Too large gate width
Boxcar averaging gate opening width is more than one cycle of the signal and should be reduced.
Copy from cursor
Copy from cursor
Take cursor value to define Baseline Start value.
Selects the mode to specify the start of the boxcar baseline suppression gate opening. The phase (deg) is the native mode for the device.
Native definition of the boxcar baseline suppression gate start as phase.
Definition of the boxcar baseline suppression gate start as time.
Definition of the boxcar baseline suppression gate start relative to the gate opening start as phase.
Definition of the boxcar baseline suppression gate start relative to the gate opening start as time.
0 to 360
Boxcar baseline suppression gate opening start in degrees based on one oscillator frequency period equals 360 degrees.
0 to period
Boxcar baseline suppression gate opening start in seconds based on one oscillator frequency period equals 360 degrees.
0 to 360
Boxcar baseline suppression gate opening start in degrees relative to Gate Start.
0 to period
Boxcar baseline suppression gate opening start in seconds relative to Gate Start.
ON / OFF
Enable Baseline Suppression
1 to 2^20
Number of periods to average. The output will be refreshed up to 512 times during the specified number of periods. This setting has no effect on Output PWAs.
10 µHz to 7 MHz
The 3 dB signal bandwidth of the Boxcar Averager is determined by the oscillation frequency and the Number of Averaging Periods set. Note: internally the boxcar signal is sampled at a rate of 14 MSa/s and the signal bandwidth of the auxiliary output is 7 MHz.
Rate Limit (Sa/s)
1 to 14.06 MSa/s
Rate Limit for Boxcar output data sent to PC. This value does not affect the Aux Output for which the effective rate is given by min(14 MSa/s , Frequency / max(1, Averaging Periods/512)).
1 to 14.06 MSa/s
Display of the currently effective rate used for data transfer to the PC given by min(14 MSa/s , Frequency / max(1, Averaging Periods/512)). This value is read-only.
Rate Limit (Sa/s) or Rate (Sa/s)
Switches between display of Rate Limit or Rate
Rate Limit (Sa/s)
Display of the Rate Limit which defines the maximal transfer rate.
Display of the currently active transfer rate.
Integer value, ideally 0
Indicates, in powers of 2, the number of averager outputs sent to the PC while Averaging Periods Boxcar integrations are obtained. Positive integer values indicate oversampling. Negative integer values indicate undersampling.
Examples for oversampling values: 0 : 2^0 = 1 averager output is sent to the PC during Averaging Periods Boxcar integrations. 2 : 2^2 = 4 averager outputs are sent to the PC during Averaging Periods Boxcar integrations. -1 : 2^-1 = 0.5, only every other Averaging Periods Boxcar integrations an averager output is sent to the PC.
The current boxcar output.
Value Overflow flag
Overflow detected. Sticky flag cleared by restarting the boxcar. The boxcar output may not be reliable any more.
Data lost during streaming to PC. Sticky flag cleared by restarting the boxcar.