Installing GPIB-USB Controllers

1. To install the GPIB-USB interface, connect the USB connector from the GPIB-USB interface to a USB port on your computer.

2. Before connecting the GPIB-USB interface to GPIB devices, ensure that the computer and the GPIB devices are at the same ground potential. The GPIB-USB interface connects directly to most GPIB devices without requiring a GPIB cable.

3. If your computer is already running, the operating system automatically detects the GPIB interface. Otherwise, the GPIB interface is detected when you start your computer.

Figure 1. GPIB-USB Interface

Caution: The GPIB-USB hardware does not have isolation built into it. If your system involves different ground potentials, the voltage difference could surge through the GPIB hardware and cause damage. This situation most often occurs when the PC is a laptop running on a battery and the GPIB device is powered by an AC wall connection.

To prevent damage to the GPIB-USB hardware or other components in your system when different ground potentials are involved, do any of the following:

  • Buy a GPIB-120A, which can provide up to 1,600 V electrical isolation between GPIB systems. You can find these at
  • Buy a pair of GPIB-140A units, which extend a GPIB system using fiber optics.

    Because the GPIB signals at each end are transformed into fiber-optic signals, each unit can reside at a different ground potential. You can also find these at

  • Use a USB isolated hub. NI does not sell these, but you can purchase them online or in stores.
  • Change the system Set Up so that all components in the system share the same earth ground to eliminate the possibilities of voltage differential running through the system.

The GPIB hardware installation is now complete.

GPIB Configuration

Use the following video tutorials or the document below to assist you in completing this task:

Configuration in Windows for USB

Configuration in Windows for Ethernet/LXI

Configuration in Linux

Configuration in Mac OS X

The Measurement & Automation Explorer (MAX) utility comes with the NI-488 driver for your GPIB controller. MAX makes GPIB instrument detection and control easy by providing tools that help you search for connecting instruments, and send and receive communication with your device.

Open MAX by clicking on the icon on your desktop or by going to Start»Programs»National Instruments»Measurement & Automation.

Figure 2. MAX Main Menu

To confirm that your GPIB device is connected properly, expand the Devices and Interfaces subdirectory below My System. Then select your GPIB controller. This tutorial uses a USB-GPIB-HS controller. If you are using a PCI, serial, or Ethernet controller/converter, the name may be slightly different. Click on Scan for Instruments.

Figure 3. Scanning for Instruments in MAX

If your GPIB device is SCPI-compliant, the name and address appear in the lower main window of the Properties tab once the instrument scan is complete.

Figure 4. GPIB Device Found

If your device did not appear, refer to GPIB Installation/Configuration Troubleshooter. Also refer to KnowledgeBase 1UO68A5P: "Scan for Instruments" Fails in Measurement & Automation Explorer.

MAX creates the necessary resources for VISA communication with your GPIB instrument. By double-clicking on the identified instrument (in the lower main window of Figure 4), you can access the instrument VISA Properties to change the VISA Resource Name of the device and communicate with it by clicking on Communicate with Instrument (SCPI commands), or Open VISA Test Panel (non-SCPI commands).

Figure 5. Opening VISA Properties Tab

For this example, you entered NIISFBA as your VISA Alias. It is important to choose an alias that you can immediately identify with the intended instrument. This is especially important for large systems featuring many instruments.

Using the VISA Interactive Control to Confirm Communication and More

The VISA Interactive Control (VISAIC) is a standard software utility included with NI GPIB controller products. Using your computer, you can take advantage of this powerful development and debugging tool to interactively communicate (read, write, serial poll, and so on) with your GPIB instruments. With the VISAIC utility, you can speed up application development by learning how to automate measurements with your instruments, uncover GPIB problems, and avoid headaches by identifying malfunctioning instruments. For Windows platforms, the VISAIC utility comes with online help that describes the applicable NI-488 functions and NI-488.2 routines, syntax, error codes, and status variables that offer the debugging information you need to solve problems.

For a detailed discussion on how to use the VISAIC utility and the functions in the examples, refer to the VISA help file and NI-488.2 help file, respectively, that came with your GPIB controller. The following sections assume a basic knowledge of the VISAIC utility and GPIB.

To launch VISAIC, click on Tools»NI-VISA»VISA Interactive Control (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Launch VISAIC

Quickly Determining GPIB Addresses

When VISAIC initially runs, it automatically finds all of the available resources in the system and lists the instrument descriptors for each resource under the appropriate resource type. Figure 7 shows the VISAIC opening window.

Figure 7. VISA Interactive Control

Instruments must be powered on and connected to the GPIB controller to be recognized. If you have two or more instruments on the bus, you can disconnect all instruments except one to determine its address. By isolating each instrument on the bus and repeatedly refreshing (View»Refresh), you can quickly determine the address of each instrument. You also can use the Resource to Find field to query each instrument for an identification (ID) string. ID querying is discussed in the next section.

Establishing Communication With Your Instruments

Once you have determined the GPIB address of your instruments, you can easily establish communications to verify that you can send and receive data to and from the instrument. Because most instruments are compliant with 488.2, you can query the instrument for its identification by sending it the *IDN? command. Instruments typically respond with the manufacturer's name, model name, and various alphanumeric characters that the manufacturer uses to track firmware revisions. To communicate with our instrument at Address 4, follow these instructions:

First, double-click the instrument in the VISAIC that you want to communicate with—in this case, GPIB0 ::14::INSTR.

This opens a VISA Test Panel for your instrument. With this test panel, you can set properties for your instrument communication as well as read and write to the instrument.

Figure 8. VISA Test Panel (viWrite)

From the Input/Output tab, select the *IDN?\n command and click Write. This sends the 488.2 identification command *IDN? to your instrument followed by a \n termination character.

Again under the Input/Output tab, you can change the number of bytes to read to modify the length of your expected response, and then click Read. Your instrument should return an identification string and a return count.

You have just confirmed communication with your instrument. You can repeat this process to confirm communication with all of your connected instruments.

Figure 9. VISA Test Panel (viRead)

An Easy Way to Troubleshoot Instrument, Cable, and Power Problems

Many times, systems are powered down and cables are disconnected from instruments for maintenance or system configuration changes. Unfortunately, engineers sometimes forget to reconnect all the cables and power up all the instruments. Alternatively, system power may be disrupted for a variety of reasons or the actual instrument may begin to malfunction. VISAIC is convenient for verifying that your instruments are still "alive" on the bus. Simply use Refresh (View»Refresh) to check if a particular instrument is listening at its assigned GPIB address. If it is not, then you know to check cables, confirm power, and verify that the instrument is working properly.

If there is a problem, you no longer see your device. This indicates that you should check for loose or disconnected cables, power disruption, or a malfunctioning instrument.

The basic functions and concepts described above may seem simple; however, they can be invaluable in troubleshooting and getting your GPIB system up and running. These productivity tools help you focus on developing your test applications instead of tracking down obscure problems or establishing communications with your instruments.

Once you have completed these steps, you need a fast way to progress from interactive mode to programming mode so you can immediately begin writing your tests without a tedious transition process. The best way to achieve this is by using instrument drivers.

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