What Is the Difference between NI and Ettus Research USRP Devices?

Overview

USRP devices are industry-leading commercial off-the-shelf software defined radios (SDRs). Thousands of engineers around the world use USRP SDRs to rapidly design, prototype, and deploy wireless systems. They are marketed and sold under two different brand names: NI and Ettus Research. This paper compares NI USRP SDRs, such as the USRP-2954, with Ettus Research USRP SDRs, such as the USRP N320.

Contents

Introduction

The key differences between NI and Ettus Research USRP SDRs are shown in the following summary chart:


Table 1.
Key Differences between Ettus Research SDRs and NI SDRs

Hardware

NI and Ettus Research USRP SDRs have two main hardware differences: how the hardware is delivered and which Ettus hardware is included and marketed in the NI catalog.

1.  Preassembled versus modular delivery

One of the main differences between NI and Ettus Research SDRs is how the hardware is delivered. NI USRP SDRs are sold preassembled inside an enclosure, whereas the Ettus Research USRP SDRs are sold modularly as kits with the RF daughterboard and motherboard sold separately. For example, the USRP-2945 from NI is the same hardware as an X310 motherboard plus a TwinRX daughterboard from Ettus Research. Refer to Table 2 to compare the equivalent USRP models from NI and Ettus Research:

NI Part Number Ettus Research Part Number
n/a B200mini/B205mini
USRP-2900 B200
USRP-2901 B210
USRP-2920 N210 + WBX
USRP-2921 N210 + XCVR2450
USRP-2922 N210 + SBX
USRP-2930 N210 + WBX + GPSDO
USRP-2932 N210 + SBX + GPSDO
n/a N310
n/a N320/N321
USRP-2974 USRP-2974
USRP-2940 X310 + WBX
USRP-2942 X310 + SBX
USRP-2943 X310 + CBX
USRP-2944 X310 + UBX
USRP-2945 X310 + TwinRx
USRP-2950 X310 + WBX + GPSDO
USRP-2952 X310 + SBX + GSPDO
USRP-2953 X310 + CBX + GSPDO
USRP-2954 X310 + UBX + GPSDO
USRP-2955 X310 + TwinRx + GPSDO

n/a

E310 / E311 / E313 / E320

 


Table 2.
NI versus Ettus Research SDR Model Numbers

One of the benefits of a preassembled USRP SDR is that, prior to shipping, the device undergoes production testing as an assembled unit; but, when it is sold as a kit, each component is tested individually. However, the benefit of purchasing the motherboard and daughterboard separately is that some combinations are not available as a single, preassembled device from NI.

2.  Catalog

All NI USRP SDRs have a hardware equivalent in the Ettus Research catalog, but not all Ettus Research SDRs have a hardware equivalent in the NI catalog. For example, the networked N Series SDRs and the embedded E Series SDRs are not available under the NI brand.

Software

One difference between NI and Ettus Research USRP SDRs is driver support. All NI USRP SDRs are supported by NI-USRP, which is a driver you can use to program your USRP with LabVIEW 20XX and/or LabVIEW NXG, depending on your hardware model. LabVIEW is a graphical design environment that can be used to interface with the USRP SDR for configuration and streaming. For models with a programmable FPGA and/or real-time processor, you can use LabVIEW to program the host, real-time target, and FPGA using a single design environment.

The abstracted design environment helps accelerate the design of wireless systems and makes FPGA programming accessible to those without HDL design expertise. If you have third-party IP that you want to incorporate, such as MathWorks MATLAB® or VHDL code, you can import this IP directly from LabVIEW. To provide a higher level starting point and accelerate your application design, NI also offers LabVIEW Communications application frameworks for LTE, 802.11, and MIMO.

All Ettus Research USRP SDRs and NI USRP SDRs are supported by the USRP Hardware Driver, which is published by NI’s R&D organization under open-source licenses. This driver facilitates application development on USRP hardware in C/C++ and offers cross-platform support for multiple industry-standard development environments and frameworks, such as RFNoC, GNU Radio, HDL Coder, and MathWorks MATLAB and Simulink®. As dual-licensed software, the USRP Hardware Driver is available under the open-source GNU General Public License version 3 (GPLv3) and an alternative, less-restrictive license for volume OEM customers deploying Ettus Research hardware.

Though NI USRP SDRs are natively supported by the USRP Hardware Driver, you can also provision Ettus Research USRP SDRs with an NI equivalent to use the LabVIEW workflow. View an example.

Despite the USRP Hardware Driver’s native support of all NI USRP SDRs, the FPGA image shipped with the unit may not be compatible with the latest version of the driver. Please check the firmware and FPGA image of each device to ensure that the USRP Hardware Driver works properly.

See Table 3 for a summary of the supported software.

  USRP Hardware Driver NI-USRP
OS Windows
Linux
Mac OS
Windows

NI Linux Real-Time 

Programming Languages―Host

GNU Radio
C/C++
MATLAB/Simulink
Python  
LabVIEW 20XX
LabVIEW NXG
 

Programming Languages―FPGA

VHDL
Verilog
RFNoC (Open Source FPGA Framework)
LabVIEW FPGA
LabVIEW NXG 
 


Table 3.
Comparison of NI and Ettus Research Driver Software Support

Support

The last key difference between Ettus Research and NI is the level of technical support you can receive because that level depends on which software workflow you use.
 
If you are using an NI USRP SDR with the NI-USRP driver, you can take advantage of NI’s extensive customer support infrastructure in the Standard Service Program (SSP), which includes access to technical support engineers via phone and email.

If you are working with the USRP Hardware Driver, which is typically preferred by Ettus Research USRP users because it incorporates open-source software, you can receive support via the open community and through email at support@ettus.com. You also have access to an extensive online knowledgebase.

Summary

Although the two brands seem distinct, the USRP SDRs under the Ettus Research brand and the NI brand are more alike than different. In both cases, the hardware is the same, and in most cases, both sets of hardware are supported by both the NI-USRP driver and the USRP Hardware Driver.