Unlock the Potential of Your Oscilloscope

Think about your cell phone. It’s fast, easy to use and multi-functional (at least millions of iPhone users think so). You can accomplish a wide range of tasks just by touches on the screen. It can be used for limitless applications. And you reach for it continually every day. Modern oscilloscopes operate in much the same way.

At its core, an oscilloscope detects and illustrates the changes in an electrical signal over time, giving myriad insights into how an electrical device is operating. Today’s best oscilloscopes (scopes) are jam-packed with features that make them the most essential, wonderfully versatile tool on your bench. Knowing what a scope can do and how it does it saves time, money, and even the costs of additional equipment.

To say that oscilloscopes are used for a wide range of applications is an understatement.

A scope can do all that?

To say that oscilloscopes are used for a wide range of applications is an understatement.

Automotive technicians use them to diagnose electrical problems in car systems and components, from ignition processes to infotainment centers. Oscilloscopes are part of every university lab, used to teach students about electronics fundamentals. Cell phone manufacturers use them to test the integrity of their signals. Military and aviation sectors use them to test radar communications, and R&D engineers use scopes to design and test new technologies. They are used routinely for USB and CAN protocol compliance testing when outputs must meet specific standards.

Oscilloscopes are also essential to today’s medicine, from monitoring patients’ heartbeats (electrocardiograms) and brain waves to testing a growing number of medical devices. Oscilloscopes have even been used to measure the pressure and oscillation of large sprinkler designs for farming applications. Maybe it’s time to think of scopes a little more creatively.

Infinite Options / Faster, Smarter, Easier

To see the kinds of capabilities that power today’s complex electronic applications, let’s take a closer look at a leading model. Keysight’s InifiniiVision 3000T X-Series, available in 100 MHz – 1 GHz, DSO and MSO models, has built-in features that make it fast, precise and flexible.

As with many devices, recent innovations allow more functions to be automated. So, you do less; the scope does more. One area that embodies this transformation is the 3000T series’ 8.5-inch capacitive touchscreen. With gesture support and large, easy-to-touch targets, the graphical interface is easy and natural to operate, saving time and increasing productivity. The alphanumeric pad can be used for quick annotation, to place waveforms or cursors in exact positions, and drag docking panels across the screen to see more measurement information.

You can also isolate signals in seconds with what Keysight calls “Zone Touch Triggering.” If you see an anomaly on the screen, you can trigger on it simply by drawing a box around the area to isolate it, then chose “must intersect” or “must not intersect.” That’s it. The scope does the rest for you. A 1,000,000 wfms/s update rate allows you to see extreme signal detail while you quickly modulate and characterize signals with built-in WaveGen 20 MHz ARB.

With integrated 6-in-1 instrument integration, options like a logic analyzer that adds 16 digital channels, serial protocol analysis, and a function/arbitrary waveform generator, expand the capacity of the scope, allowing you to find the root cause and solve analog, digital, and frequency domain issues.

Making the right choice / Choosing the right model

All of these features are impressive. But when purchasing an oscilloscope, you should first consider your applications and probes you’ll need. Then you’ll need to determine the right bandwidth, signal integrity, sample rate, and channel inputs to meet those needs. When deciding which scope will best meet your requirements, it’s important to consider the following:

  • Bandwidth – The frequency range the oscilloscope can measure accurately, typically ranging from 50 MHz to 100 GHz.
  • Sample Rate – The number of samples the oscilloscope can acquire per second. The greater the samples per second, the more clearly and accurately the waveform is displayed.
  • Signal Integrity – The oscilloscope’s ability to represent the waveform accurately.
  • Channels – The input to the oscilloscope, which can be analog or digital, typically 2 to 4 analog channels per oscilloscope.
  • Probe Compatibility – A probe is the tool used connect the oscilloscope to your device under test. There are a large variety of passive and active probes, each made for specific use cases. You want an oscilloscope that is compatible with the type of probe needed for your specific tests.
  • Applications – Signal analysis, protocol decode, and compliance test software can reduce the time it takes to identify and capture design errors. Analysis software can help locate and evaluate jitter, perform Fourier transforms, create eye diagrams, and even identify and quantify crosstalk. Not all oscilloscopes are compatible with every application.

Faster go-to-market

Once you’re an expert scope user, choose your model wisely, and are well versed with its capabilities, you’ll enjoy numerous benefits. A scope with fast update rates, deep memory features like a capacitive touchscreen and software options, can speed product time-to-market. Having multiple instruments in one mainframe lowers your cost of ownership, allowing you to do more with less. And instruments like the 3000T X series can be upgraded so they’re future-proof and your investment Is protected.

Apart from all these business advantages, are the freedom and creativity that a scope can bring. The only limit is your imagination.

Want tips on buying your next scope? Check out Keysight’s “How to Select Your Next Oscilloscope” white paper, And, if you have a unique scope application, we’d like to hear from you. Contact TestEquity and share your story as part of our Ultimate Engineer initiative.

Curious to find out what it takes to be the Ultimate Engineer?  Check out TestEquity’s Ultimate Engineer interactive infographic