GPIB gateway is a device that allows you to remotely control / talk-to test instruments (as well as ancient printers/plotters, etc) that uses the most popular protocol. It’s so popular and timeless that even new test instrument finds a way to support it. This protocol just wouldn’t die.
It’s usually a good idea to stick with GPIB if you have an automation setup that involves at least ONE piece of test instrument on GPIB. A ethernet port (LXI) on a modern test gear is fine, but you don’t really want to complicate your code managing network connectivity checks for each IP-based instrument and make sure they work together. With GPIB, you can chain 14 instruments with one gateway so you don’t have to worry about network problems if you can connect to any one of the device on the chain.
Here’s a nice GPIB tutorial document if you’d like to get into the nitty-gritty:
E2050A is my favorite GPIB gateway due to its compact size. It’s good enough for most purposes, since I don’t really have any instruments that need or support the extra speed from 488.2. The biggest annoyance is that E2050A does not have DHCP, but uses an an ancient BOOTP instead. This means for modern networks, you might as well give it a static IP.
E5810A is the newer revision of E2050A, with the same internal interfaces. That means all software, including Agilent I/O Suite, fully supports E2050A as a E5810A. E5810A comes with a few minor improvements
- it adds a web interface (not very useful other than upgrading firmware)
- supports 488.2, which means 9x faster GPIB communication if the instrument supports it
- DHCP: automatically acquiring IP address
Unfortunately, E5810A is a bigger, partly because the power supply is built-in, and it comes with a LCD screen. Nonetheless, I opened up the unit and the inside has a lot of empty spaces.
Telnet is supported for both E5810A and E2050A. For E2050A, telnet is the only way you can get inside the unit and change the configuration such as IP address and interface name. Telnet is pretty easy to use, just get the free, open-source Putty if your Windows does not come with command line telnet anymore.
There’s a E5810B, but in my opinion, it’s pointless because all it adds is a USB interface and a front switch. If people want a USB interface, they would have bought the much smaller GPIB<->USB module (and also much cheaper new compared to a new E5810B). It’s just a way for Agilent to discontinue support for the earlier models to price differentiate from the units circulating in the used market.
The major downside of USB interfaces is that it requires driver support, which is OS dependent. Keysight can choose to drop support at anytime. You can always fire up a virtual machine to use old software talking to a hardware using TCP/IP, but not reliably with USB (sometimes you get glitches and timing issues). Since Ethernet is better than USB for interfacing GPIB instruments in practically every way, adding a USB interface to a Ethernet GPIB gateway is like bundling garbage.
I’ve tried other gateways such as NI and Tektronix. There are not many NI gateways floating around and I’ve only encountered even fewer Tek gateways. Unless you have poorly written software that hard-codes to NI or Tek stack, I wouldn’t even bother installing NI/Tek GPIB stack as it can confuse some poorly designed software if the 3 stacks are not configured properly to work together peacefully. Just stick with the GPIB stack from the brand that you can easily get used units for cheap.
Be very careful about NI GPIB-ENET: it does not support anything after Windows XP at all, and there’s no way NI will bother to go back and fix it. For this I wouldn’t even want to touch any GPIB gateways done by NI since they are not as thoughtful about backward compatibility compared to HP/Agilent/Keysight.
ICS was popular a while ago making cheap GPIB controllers/converters. However, they don’t work with Agilent’s I/O suite or NI/Tek stack directly, so you are stuck with using it like a serial port. Given that the price of a used HP/Agilent’s GPIB gateway is cheaper than a new ICS gizmo, there’s no point getting ICS stuff anymore.
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