When working with electronics hardware, you’ll of course need a multimeter, then likely an oscilloscope. Beyond that you might need to invest in a logic analyzer, waveform generator, and protocol analysis tools. Or you could instead obtain a Five Wire.
This device features five distinct tools, including LiveLogic, which acts as a sort of 2-channel logic oscilloscope running at 400 MHz, (9 ch)logic analyzer, protocol tool, waveform source, and (9 ch) logic source. In other words, a multi-use digital toolbox crammed into one PC-based analysis unit. Of note here is that the actual low-level signal processing and output is done by an FPGA onboard the unit itself, while the computer is only used as an interface.
Getting Started and “Drop” Test
I recently received one of these devices to try out, and my first impression (see the unboxing video below) was that it seems to be a well-built piece of equipment. Also, I really like the extra knobs and buttons that let you scroll through and zoom in on a signal without your mouse. After installing the software off of the included thumb drive, everything connected up easily.
One thing to note here is that it needs its included AC adapter to be connected in addition to its USB link to the computer, and that it won’t appear to be live until the Five Wire program is actually loaded. This was a bit concerning after accidentally banging the unit on my desk when I wasn’t aware of this fact, and nothing seemed to happen when it was subsequently connected. Once I got this detail figured out its shining LEDs served as anecdotal proof that it can at least take a moderate impact.
The Five Wire’s manual comes with a small demo program, which takes you through generating a signal, while analyzing it with your live logic inputs. This illustrates a nice feature of the device, in that multiple tools can be used simultaneously; you’ll just need enough screen real estate to stack everything as needed. Notably, signals in its LiveLogic tool are captured with included 10x oscilloscope probes, which can measure voltages up to 16VDC.
Inventor and Engineer Mike Hagen
After fiddling with my unit for a bit, I got in touch with Mike Hagen, the inventor of Five Wire, and an engineer with 35 years of experience, much of it spend working with logic analyzers. Hagen bills the Five Wire unit as a test tool that is easy to pick up, yet has a full-featured toolset for when you’re ready to dive deeper.
He first offered this — or more accurately a similar — product in 2012, and for a variety of reasons, he eventually put the product on hold. In late 2018, however, he re-launched this device with revamped hardware and software, meaning that lots of bugs have been squashed and features already added to the system.
More Hands-On with Five Wire
As someone who has never used a traditional logic analyzer, I can say with certainty that a beginner with some general electronics knowledge can indeed pick it up. I used the live logic function and waveform source, and even delved into the logic analyzer without much trouble. Hagen was nice enough to explain some of the finer points of using the device to me, but I imagine with more fiddling (or previous experience) things would have come even faster.
One interesting point Hagen mentioned is that since the provided 10X probes allow you to measure up to 16V DC, it could easily be used with 12V automotive applications. My background in factory automation makes me think that LiveLogic could also be very useful in that environment, as it’s approachable for someone that would need to see what a sensor is doing on a low level, but isn’t necessarily going to be troubleshooting microcontroller outputs directly. You’d of course need different probes to deal with the typical 24V control signals used in industry, which would presumably be possible with its input configuration.
Five Wire is definitely an interesting device, and I’m excited to delve into more of the low-level signal observations that are possible with this suite of tools. If you’ve been looking for a space-saving logic tool, and/or an analysis device that you can travel with, it’s worth a look. For an even more in-depth discussion on its pros/cons/user experience, you might also check out the review on Embeded Artistry.