A Picture is Worth a Thousand ... Equations

At the recent IEEE International Microwave Symposium, I got into a discussion where someone asked, “With all the computer power at our disposal, why do we still use the Smith chart?” My first reply was, “Do you actually design with it; calculating the component values from the arcs on the graph paper?” Of course, the answer was, “No, I just use it to see what’s happening.” The summary of the discussion was that we really don’t use the Smith chart in its full implementation, but it remains a powerful design aid. The Smith chart’s staying power demonstrates that a lot of information can be presented visually. The same can be said for almost any graph or instrument dis-play—The shape of a waveform on an oscilloscope can tell us whether an amplifier is clipping, a spectrum analyzer display can show us harmonic and spurious responses at a glance, an eye diagram can quickly show the general signal-to-noise performance of a datacom system.
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