Understanding Precision Measurement Requirements for Source/Measurement Units (SMUs)

May 18, 2011

  1. Overview
  2. Precision I-V measurements
  3. Cost-effective precision I-V measurement solutions with graphical user interface
  4. Summary
  5. Related Information


One of the big trends in electronics is the drive to make life more convenient than ever before. For example, many new devices are highly integrated and portable; PCs provide higher levels of performance; flat-panel displays are replacing CRT monitors; and energy is becoming "greener" through technologies such as photovoltaic generation. Even with these advances, many consumers are not yet satisfied and are demanding more advanced features, lower power consumption, and lower cost in next-generation devices. Meeting that demand depends on the ability to create new innovations and deploy them in future generations of electronic devices.

As designers and developers pursue the innovations and breakthroughs needed in next-generation devices, electrical measurements become increasingly important. One example is current-versus-voltage (I-V) characterization, which is a basic electrical measurement. It's a fundamental way to discover behavior and characterize semiconductors, components, materials and any type of electronic device.

Traditionally, separate instruments have been used to perform I-V measurements: voltage/current sources, arbitrary waveform generators (AWGs), switches, and voltage/current meters. Integrating these instruments is time consuming, and the ability to perform accurate measurements depends on deep technical knowledge of both the measurement technique and the instrumentation.

Performing I-V measurements accurately and quickly is a critical issue in the rapid development and adoption of new devices and materials. Source/measure units (SMUs) are an excellent solution. An SMU is an integrated instrument that combines the capabilities of a current source, a voltage source, a current meter and a voltmeter along with easy switching between these functions. With this level of integration, SMUs offer high accuracy in both sourcing and measurement. As result, they are a popular choice when performing I-V measurements across various applications and industries. In addition to the typical applications mentioned above, SMUs are also used for applications such as battery drain analysis and the testing of lower-power electronics.

Precision I-V measurements

An I-V measurement is a process of characterizing—or discovering—a device's parameters by providing a stimulus and measuring the reaction. The device may be a single passive component, a semiconductor (diode or transistor), or any kind of material or electrical device.

Precision I-V measurements can be performed with existing SMUs, which are available in analyzer and bench-top types. Typically, device analyzers have been used for advanced semiconductor development. These have excellent measurement performance, I-V and capacitance-versus-voltage (C-V) capabilities, and built-in analysis functions. However, device analyzers are expensive and tend to be overkill for general applications. On the other hand, bench-top SMUs are low-cost and are better suited to general precision I-V measurements.

Consistent with recent technology trends, it is becoming increasingly important to perform accurate, precise measurements quickly and at low cost. Unfortunately, conventional bench-top SMUs have not satisfied recent market needs with respect to performance, usability and cost of ownership.

Cost-effective precision I-V measurement solutions with graphical user interface

The Agilent B2900A series precision source/measure units are compact and cost-effective bench-top SMUs. They provide wide coverage, excellent precision in sourcing and measurement, and best-in-class usability—all at a modest price. For example, the B2900A series provides broad voltage and current sourcing within a single instrument: ±210 V, and ±3 A DC and ±10.5 A pulsed. (In contrast, most SMU vendors must offer multiple instruments to cover such broad voltage and current ranges.) The minimum resolution for both sourcing and measuring is 10 fA and 100 nV—a level of precision previously possible only in expensive analyzer-type SMUs.

In addition, the Agilent B2900A series features an industry-first color graphical display that provides an intuitive interface that dramatically improves productivity for test, debug and characterization. The B2900A models also offer unmatched measurement throughput and support conventional SMU SCPI commands for easy test code migration. These features lower the costs of ownership and migration.

The versatile measurement capabilities of Agilent B2900A series SMUs make them an ideal choice for a variety of I-V measurements. Four models are available: the one-channel B2901A and B2911A; and the two-channel B2902A and B2912A. These SMUs are further distinguished by capabilities such as the number of displayed digits, measurement resolution, minimum timing interval and supported view modes. This range of capabilities makes it easy for customers to select a combination of price and performance that fits their testing needs.


The Agilent B2900A precision source/measure units are the ideal bench-top solution for precision I-V measurements that meet emerging needs in the research and development of next-generation electronic devices. These SMUs provide superior performance and usability unlike existing low cost bench-top units.

The Agilent B2900A series is the latest product in Agilent's expanding SMU lineup, which includes models that were developed to meet specific needs:

  • B1500A semiconductor device analyzer: An all-in-one solution for I-V, C-V and pulse applications for semiconductor devices
  • B1505A power device analyzer/curve tracer: Designed for testing of high-power devices
  • N6781A two-quadrant SMU module for battery drain analysis
  • N6782A two-quadrant SMU module for functional test
  • N6784A four-quadrant general-purpose SMU module
  • E5270B eight-slot precision measurement mainframe
  • E5262A/E5263A two-channel high-speed source monitor unit
  • U2722A/U2723A USB modular SMUs

About Agilent Technologies

Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) is the world's premier measurement company and a technology leader in chemical analysis, life sciences, electronics and communications. The company's 18,500 employees serve customers in more than 100 countries. Agilent had net revenues of $5.4 billion in fiscal 2010. Information about Agilent is available at www.agilent.com.


Press Release: Agilent Technologies Introduces Benchtop Source/Measure Units with Superior Performance, Wide Voltage/Current Ranges for Testing of Semiconductors, Components and Materials
Images: B2900A Images
Videos: B2900A Videos

Janet Smith, Americas
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Iris Ng, Asia
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