A Look Inside Device Test Labs

By: Ben Anton

Device testing involves ensuring the quality and/or interoperability of a product. In order for devices to achieve certification from a company or standards organization, the device must pass compliance tests, which ensure it will work with other certified products. Nearly all companies require conforming one's product to stated specifications and protocols to ensure compatibility with products from other manufacturers. Test procedures for ensuring compatibility are developed in partnership with the industry leaders and standards organizations which guide enabling technology. Examples of those standards organizations range from Bluetooth technology to USB to Wi-Fi technologies.

Standards Compliance
Most compliance testing is the product of standards organizations that create test specifications and logo certification guidelines to ensure accuracy and fairness for all product developers. Standards organizations are of the utmost importance throughout the product certification process. Standards compliance groups consist of at least two individuals, companies or organizations coming together to advance a technology.

Common standards compliance tests include USB testing, PCI testing, SATA testing and Wi-Fi testing. Having the device tested at a third-part test lab offers an unbiased, accurate and private testing solution. Testing facilities are driven by the interest of member companies, and as the technologies progress, so do the tests that are offered.

Testing Labs
Device test labs offer test and measurement and can benefit developers in various product life cycle stages. Using a third party test lab offers neutrality and often offers cutting-edge testing methods. A benefit of using a test lab is that a trending problem can be observed and addressed. Testing labs provide valuable feedback to the developers creating the products and the consortia creating the standards. It is generally cost effective to work with a test lab, as developing an in-house test lab requires costly equipment that requires frequent updating and dedicated staff proficient in device testing.

Labs can typically test for interoperability and conformance. Interoperability and conformance are often used interchangeably; however, there is a slight difference between the two terms. Interoperability illustrates that current devices can work together while conformance adds confidence that future devices will also work.

Look beyond the general scope of a test lab's capabilities and consider discussing customized solutions to meet company or organization needs. As with any company offering a service, a test facility is only as strong as its project and engineering team. Be sure to work with specifically trained test engineers who have knowledge of your technology to attain quality performance and satisfaction.

The Device Testing Process
During the product development stage, having access to the most affordable and competitive testing fixtures will improve work efficiency for product development. For example, for the PCI Express test, there are specific device test tools designed for PCI testing. These types of testing tools are user friendly and can be as simple as plugging the PCI card directly into the motherboard for testing.

In the initial stage of testing, the client works with the test lab to agree on testing methods, timing and project scope. Client communications should be open and frequent, and all results, configurations and bugs should be recorded confidentially. Testing can be conducted for both device hardware and software.

In early stages of product development, it is necessary to find and fix defects in the device to allow it to perform as it should. Debugging can be a complex process in systems with components that are highly reliant on each other. Combating one bug can lead to bugs emerging elsewhere. Consulting with an engineer with debugging skills is valuable to the product developer.

Debuggers are testing tools that enable the test lab to monitor the execution of a program, stop-it, re-start it, change memory values and in some cases, go backward in time. To debug electronic hardware such as computer hardware, low-level software and firmware, automated testing tools like oscilloscopes, logic analyzers, in-circuit emulators (ICEs), generators and programmable temperature and humidity chambers are used.

Test Cycle Completion
Upon completion of the test cycle, the developer should expect a comprehensive summary report. Before information is captured in a database, it should be reviewed and approved by the testing lead and/or project manager under strict security control.

Once a device reaches all benchmarks and passes all checkpoints, certification can be established. Whether testing a desktop computer, notebook, multi-media device, wireless device, storage product, peripheral or software application, working with a trusted third party test lab throughout product development ensures quality testing and moves the product along through the development cycle.

Logo Programs
Adding a certified logo to a product provides consumers with confidence that the product will function as it should. A product can be perceived as more valuable when it bears a logo, as testing is typically required for logo use. New technologies require educating the industry leaders, retailers and consumers about the value of the logo.

~Ben Anton, 2009

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Ben Anton is a frequent writer for Allion Test Labs.
Testing tools for USB, PCI, SATA, HDMI and more are available from Allion Test Labs, a television and device test lab located in the U.S. and around the world.

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