Multi-Device Synchronization (MDS)

Do you have an application that requires the use of multiple synchronized signal input and signal output channels? Then, you are probably well aware that just stacking a few instruments is often not sufficient.

Full synchronization includes stable and well-defined phase relationships between the various reference clocks, the ability to synchronize the signal outputs at defined times and the alignment of time stamps and sampling rates for the recorded signals. Ideally, you have to use only a single user interface or API to orchestrate the entire instrument assembly.

Zurich Instruments is committed to providing customers with a comprehensive approach and offer the best-in-class scalability of their instruments. LabOne, the Zurich Instruments control software, includes multi-device synchronization (MDS) to fully synchronize up to 8 instruments and let the user access them through a single graphical user interface and API session.

Key Features

  • Clock synchronization of all instruments to one master clock
  • Synchronized time stamps and sampling rates of measurement data
  • Sample-wise synchronization of all output channels
  • MDS module in the LabOne software to measure multiple devices simultaneously
  • AWG linked mode to control the output of several AWG instruments from one single sequencer program with distributed execution 

Example: Multi-channel measurement automation with the Sweeper  

Simultaneous measurement of several input signals facilitates and improves the characterization of multi-port networks. In order to obtain the frequency response of a multi-port network, one port is excited and all other ports including the driven one are measured. Using the sweeper tool of LabOne enhanced by the MDS module, one can measure the complete frequency response of a complex multi-port network in one sweep-run displayed by a single LabOne user interface or LabOne API session which controls several instruments. The figure below shows the frequency response of a 4-port network being measured in a single sweep using two UHFLI lock-in amplifiers synchronized by MDS. 

How does MDS work?

All the involved instruments share the same 10-MHz reference clock to have a common clock speed. In addition to a common clock, all instruments need to be connected in a chain of trigger signals. By starting the MDS, the LabOne software executes the following steps sequentially:

  • Adjust the reference clock of slave instruments to the clock of the master device or an external source    
  • Identify the position of each instrument in the chain of trigger signals 
  • Measure the cable delay between each instrument 
  • Adjust the clock in each instrument while taking into account the cable delays 
  • At the end of the procedure, all the instruments have the same clock time, i.e. synchronous time stamps of individual samples.

    Which applications can benefit from MDS?

    In general, every application requiring multi-channel signal generation and/or detection may benefit from MDS, especially when multi-channel signals must be generated and/or measured synchronously. For instance,

    Which LabOne features are enhanced by MDS?

    • Sweeper: Measurement automation across multiple instruments. Scan a parameter of one instrument and measure the response over multiple channels and instruments fully synchronized to the sweep parameter changes. 
    • DAQ: Measure time domain signals and record images based on trigger signals across multiple instruments with accurate sample alignment.
    • Plotter: Simultaneous display of signals from multiple instruments with timestamp alignment.
    • Spectrum: Comparison of signal spectra from various instruments 

    Which instruments are supported?

    Multiple instruments of the same type can be synchronized using LabOne MDS. Each platform has its own cable configuration for reference clock and trigger signals. 


    Multiple MFLI lock-in amplifiers and/or MFIA impedance analyzers can be synchronized through connecting the 10 MHz clock output of one instrument with the next and so on. At the same time, one instrument serves as master trigger source from which trigger signals are distributed to all other instruments including the master (see below). 

    Port Config Connector
    Trigger In/Out Star BNC
    10 MHz Clock Series BNC


    The HF2LI lock-in amplifier has specific signaling for synchronization which uses RJ45 connectors to share trigger and clock signals (see below). 

    Port Config Connector
    ZSync In/Out Series RJ45


    On the UHF platform, MDS can bring considerable benefits as the instrument has both the AWG and lock-in functionalities. The clock signals are distributed in a star-like fashion with one instrument being the master or alternatively using an external 10 MHz reference clock, while the trigger signals are shared through a loop that includes all instruments (see below).


    Port Config Connector
    Ref/Trigger Loop BNC
    10 MHz Clock Star SMA


    Up to 8 HDAWG Arbitrary Waveform Generators (64 AWG channels) can be synchronized using MDS. The 10/100 MHz clock distribution is done in a star-like fashion by using an external clock source. Timestamp synchronization is achieved through a loop that includes all the instruments and makes use of specific MDS trigger ports (see below). The synchronization of more than 64 channels requires PQSC Programmable Quantum System Controller, please inquire. 

    Port Config Connector
    MDS 1/ 2 Loop SMA
    10/100 MHz Clock Star SMA

    MDS Q&A

    What is the difference between MDS and sharing the same 10-MHz reference clock among multiple instruments?
    MDS goes one step further compared to just having the clocks of different instruments running at the same speed. MDS assures that all the instruments have the same time base, i.e. synchronized time stamps for recording and synchronized AWG output samples.
    Does MDS synchronize oscillator phases across instruments?
    Synchronization of oscillator phases among HDAWG instruments and MF platforms, i.e. MFLI lock-in amplifiers and MFIA impedance analyzers can be done automatically using the MDS module of LabOne. For other platforms, the user has to do this manually. 
    Is MDS identical with External Reference?
    No, External Reference is a feature of lock-in amplifiers to obtain a demodulation frequency from an external signal. This typically involves a Phase-locked Loop (PLL) to map the external frequency to an internal numerical oscillator. When using MDS the clock synchronization allows demodulation on multiple instruments with stable phase relation, however, the relative oscillator phases between instruments need to be manually adjusted each time the frequencies are changed.
    Can MDS synchronize instruments of different types?
    Since each instrument type has its own clock speed, MDS can only synchronize instruments of the same type, e.g. multiple MF platforms (MFLI and MFIA). However, it will be possible to synchronize HDAWG and UHF instruments together.

    MDS Specification

    Number of devices up to 8 up to 4 up to 8 up to 8
    Time precision <10 ns <200 us <1 ns <1 ns

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