This paper describes a software-synchronized all-optical sampling system that presents synchronous eye diagrams and data patterns as well as calculates accurate Q values without requiring clock recovery. A synchronization algorithm is presented that calculates the offset frequency between the data bit rate and the sampling rate, and as a result, synchronous eye diagrams can be presented. The algorithm is shown to be robust toward poor signal quality and adds less than 100-fs timing drift to the eye diagrams. An extension of the software synchronization algorithm makes it possible to automatically find the pattern length of a periodic data pattern in a data signal. As a result, individual pulses can be investigated and detrimental effects present on the data signal can be identified. Noise averaging can also be applied. To measure accurate Q values without clock recovery, a high sampling rate is required in order to establish the noise statistics of the measured signal before any timing drift occurs. This paper presents a system with a 100-MHz sampling rate that measures accurate Q values at bit rates as high as 160 Gb/s. The high bandwidth of the optical sampling system also contributes to sampling more noise, which in turn results in lower Q values compared with conventional electrical sampling with a lower bandwidth. A theory that estimates the optically sampled Q values as a function of the sampling gate width is proposed and experimentally verified.
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