[time-nuts] SR620 binary dump

Tom Van Baak tvb at LeapSecond.com
Sat Mar 8 16:12:13 EST 2014

> You make me curious. Any specific issue you're having?
> I haven't tried doing any programming to the SR620 yet, but I have some 
> plans to do it.
> Cheers,
> Magnus

Hi Magnus,

Thanks for asking. Here's an update.

I was curious why time interval or period measurements give slightly different results than frequency measurements on a SR620. Maybe the 5370 too. We often advise people to use time interval mode and not frequency mode. Volker's posting got me to dig further. His frequency-data ADEV plots looked too different from his phase-data ADEV plots. 

It's not just that frequency introduces dead time, but frequency also gives less precise results. But why is this. Ignoring other sources of noise, the 620 interpolator has 2.7 ps numerical granularity (1 / 90 MHz / 4096). It seemed to me that regardless of time interval, period, or frequency mode selection, the identical quantization and noise levels should be evident regardless how one measures an external source(s).

So there are two tempting commands to explore. One is BDMP (binary dump) which avoids ascii conversion and gives raw 64-bit binary values. Some people use it to dramatically increase measurement speed over GPIB. The other is EXPD (x1000 expanded resolution). My plan was to use two different exceptionally pure but drifting 10 MHz sources and see to what extent the 620 could measure/compare them.

The bad news is that EXPD is not allowed with frequencies above 5 digits (>= 1 MHz) so it doesn't apply to 10 MHz inputs. That experiment waits while I make a clean <1 MHz source (e.g., 10 MHz/12 = 833.3333 kHz).

In a true time-stamping counter one continuously counts events and continuously counts time. The 620 isn't continuous but it does have two registers, which the manual refers to as the event or cycle counter and the time interval counter. Better yet, page 97 also refers to them as the "top" and "bottom" counter. Hint, hint.

The binary dump data matches my expectations for period and interval. But for frequency, the 620 does not return the binary values of either the top or bottom counters. Instead it does a fixed point division and returns a scaled top/bottom binary quotient.

The net effect is that the ideal BDMP value for a 1 second 10 MHz measurements would be 0x001C71C71C71C71C. (note 0x1C7 / 4095 = 455 / 4095 = 10 / 90, as in 90 MHz). But you never actually get this hex value with a 10 MHz input. With a couple hundred 1-second measurements I saw only one of three values each time:

    0x1c71c71c721bf3 = 8006399337569267 = 10000000.000027126 Hz
    0x1c71c71c7270c9 = 8006399337590985 = 10000000.000054251 Hz
    0x1c71c71c72c5a0 = 8006399337612704 = 10000000.000081379 Hz

The delta among these values is 21718 or 21719 counts. So the lower ~16-bits isn't really "noise", it's just deterministic quantized residuals from the long-division. And that explains why when the scaled binary values are converted to decimal Hz you get the odd-looking values above. The granularity, or resolution is 27 uHz / 10 MHz = 2.7e-12 = 2.7 ps. Nice, yes?

Of hundreds of samples, they were all +1 +2 and +3 times 2.7 ps above nominal. A +0 would give 10000000.000000000 Hz.

These BDMP readings have (much) greater resolution that what you get with plain strt;*wai;xall? values. What one normally sees over RS232 or GPIB are ascii readings like:


Note these readings are 0, 100, or 200 uHz from nominal; that is, the granularity is 100 uHz / 10 MHz = 1e-11.

Using XREL exposes an additional digit of resolution. Set XREL to 1E7 and then you get ascii readings like:


So not only does XREL give you an extra digit of precision but it also transmits fewer bytes. The granularity in this case is 10 uHz / 10 MHz = 1e-12.

The hope is that XALL, XREL/XALL, and BDMP agree. But each has different truncation, rounding, and granularity rules. My recommendation is that when making high-precision SR620 10 MHz frequency measurements to use XREL to gain back that least dignificant digit otherwise lost to truncation. Over RS2332/GPIB that's "xrel1e7" but you can also do it from the front panel.

I'll try this again with EXPD turned on to see what effect that has. I'll also adjust the interpolator calibration tables.

The code I used to grab and decode the SR620 binary data is at http://leapsecond.com/tools/620bdmp.c

Let me know if you want to jump into this too, or have any corrections/comments.


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