The GPIB Interface Guide

The GPIB Interface Guide

History of GPIB

General Purpose Interface Bus, or GPIB has been formally standardized since 1975 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), at which point they assigned it the standard IEEE number 488 (later IEEE 488.1 and IEEE 488.2). GPIB has been around longer than that though, with its original inception by Hewlett Packard in the 1960s. It was originally designed as a data bus for testing and measurment instruments. Pretty soon, GPIB was being used in early personal computers in the late 70s and early 80s to connect peripherals.

Since the inception of serial and parallel connections, and eventually USB, GPIB connections have been mainly reserved for industrial and scientific instruments.


There is an obvious problem in connecting modern devices with any instrument that uses GPIB. Since GPIB is not a standard connector on modern PCs, there are a number of adapters and interfaces that allow the communication of GPIB instruments and general purpose computers.

USB to GPIB: Perhaps the most common method of connecting a modern computer with a GPIB instrument, the USB to GPIB turns your USB port into a GPIB port. Since GPIB's transfer speed maxes out at a relatively low rate (8 Mb/s), you don't have to worry about the USB port being the bottleneck. GPIB will almost always be the bottleneck. USB, however, does have the problem of a length limitation. USB is only guaranteed to work over about 16 feet.

Ethernet to GPIB: This is a very convenient way to control GPIB instruments from a computer. The GPIB instrument is connected to the computer through the network. The main factor that makes this solution more convenient for GPIB instrument operators is the ability to control a GPIB device remotely, which USB does not offer.

GPIB PCI: For controlling GPIB instruments from a dedicated PC, a PCI card is probably the best option. With USB, the connection is usually a temporary one. This is a cost effective solution if your PC will stay permanently connected. Since GPIB's distance limitation is 20 meters (65.6 ft.), PCI is a good solution for semi-remote applications.

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