Function and Waveform Generators

Function generators are resourceful and vital pieces of electronic test equipment used to generate waveforms over a wide range of frequencies. Waveforms often include sine waves, sawtooth and triangular waveforms, square waves, and pulse. These generators, which can provide an array of signals, vary both in the features they offer as well as in their cost. They also vary by type, so remember to consider how you plan to use the function generator when selecting a unit.

What Type of Function Generator Do I Need?

Function generators can be found in various forms. When shopping, think about the intended use to help you to find the right waveform type for your needs. It is also important to factor your budget into your decision-making process.

  • Software-Only Function Generators: These signal generators are typically the most affordable type, making them a suitable option for students and for those with a restricted income. Software-only function generators are the most limited intheir frequency capabilities and generally span only the audio range.
  • Black Boxes: Black boxes are more expensive than software-only function generators are but are still relatively affordable. These generators offer portability and low power output and are ideal for those looking to operate with laptop computers.
  • Instrumentation Buses: Some arbitrary waveform generators are designed to plug into various buses. These signal generators are ideal for custom measurement systems that have a firm purpose.
  • Benchtop Generators: These signal generators are self-contained and offer needed controls and display. These machines range in price, with more expensive units offering more extensive features.

What Features Do Function and Waveform Generators Offer?

Function and waveform generators come equipped with several features. While many features are inclusive of all units, others are specifically based on the model.

  • Variable Symmetry: This feature lets users adjust the waveform's symmetry, thus changing the duty cycle of square waves and transforming triangle waves into ramp waveforms.
  • AM and FM Operation: Opt for a signal generator that comes equipped withAM, FM, and FSK modulation.
  • Display Screen: A display screen allows users to see the arbitrary waveform and doing so helps to prevent errors from occurring.

What Should I Look for When Buying a Function and Waveform Generator?

There are many aspects to consider when purchasing a function and waveform generator. If you are searching for one for general use, consider the following:

  • Output Amplitude: Common output amplitude is 10 to 20 volts peak-to-peak. If more output voltage or current is required, consider purchasing an amplifier or a specialized function generator.
  • High or Low Frequency: High and low frequencies vary between generators, as does signal stability. When searching, take intended the application into consideration. Some applications require extremely low-frequency variations or frequency accuracy. Other higher-end models can operate at higher frequencies, up to 20 or 30 MHz.
  • Rise/Fall Times: Rapidrise and fall times are crucial when working with pulses and square waves, so look for function generators that allow you to set the slope of the rising and falling portions of a pulse for increased versatility.