Thunderbolt™ 3 Remote Control of PXI Test Systems


The PXIe-8301 remote control module is the industry’s first solution for laptop control of PXI systems using Thunderbolt 3 technology. With its contemporary connectivity and low cost, the PXIe-8301 makes high-performance control of PXI systems more accessible and affordable to engineers performing benchtop characterization and validation or developing portable automated test systems.


Video Demonstration


Thunderbolt Remote Control of PXI Express Systems

Through MXI-Express technology, PXI Remote Control Modules provide a simple, transparent connection between a PXI chassis and a host machine (for example, a laptop, workstation, rack-mount controller, or desktop PC). To control a PXI chassis from a desktop or rack-mount PC, a PXI Remote Control Module must be placed in the system slot of the PXI chassis and a host interface card must be used in the host PC. This allows the host computer to establish a PCI or PCI Express connection to the chassis using a compatible MXI-Express cable.

When the host machine controlling the PXI chassis is a laptop PC, the PXIe-8301 remote control module must be placed in the system slot of the PXI chassis. The PXIe-8301 and laptop must be connected using a Thunderbolt 3 cable, whether the cable is passive or active. Note that unlike desktop or rack-mount control, laptop control of PXI simply uses a Thunderbolt 3 cable and does not require a host interface card, making it a cost-efficient solution. The PXIe-8301 provides PCI Express Gen 3 connectivity through two Thunderbolt 3 ports to maximize performance and offer up to 2.3 GB/s of sustained data throughput through an active cable. Passive cables are available as well, although they slightly lower the potential throughput of the PXIe-8301 to approximately 2.0 GB/s. The second port on the module allows for daisy chaining of additional Thunderbolt 3 or USB-C devices such as external storage or additional monitors. 

Note: NI does not support using the second port of the PXIe-8301 for daisy chaining to additional chassis. For remote control of multichassis systems, consider using a desktop or rack-mount controller with a PCI or PCI Express host interface card.

Figure 1. The PXIe-8301 provides PCI Express Gen 3 connectivity through two Thunderbolt 3 ports to offer up to 2.3 GB/s of sustained data throughput.


The PXIe-8301 can be used with hosts that include a Thunderbolt port and a native (non-virtualized) operating system that supports a Thunderbolt connection. It is important that the port is specifically Thunderbolt-enabled and is not a generic USB-C port. Often, the Thunderbolt logo is displayed on PC ports that are Thunderbolt 3-enabled, but the best reference will be the PC specifications under the list of ports. Given the backward compatibility of Thunderbolt 3, you can establish a connection between the PXIe-8301 and a host with Thunderbolt 1 or 2 ports using adapters.

Figure 2. Many PC manufacturers will display the Thunderbolt logo next to ports that are specifically Thunderbolt-enabled, although the best place to verify will be in the PC specifications.


Thunderbolt 3 ports are becoming increasingly common on modern laptop and desktop PCs; Intel provides an online tool for tracking products that use Thunderbolt technology. With the introduction of the PXIe-8301, the PXI platform has incorporated this recent commercial technology in such a way to increase the reach of PXI test and measurement systems into high-performance, low-cost, and ultraportable applications.

Figure 3. The PXIe-8301 enables low-cost control of PXI Express systems from laptop computers.