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User Interface of Major Oscilliscope Brands? 281

Posted by timothy
from the dots-and-squiggles dept.
teddaw152 writes "I've been tasked with ordering an oscilloscope and a logic analyzer for use in a university physics lab, and have found several models that will likely suit our technical needs from the major manufacturers (Agilent, Tektronix, and LeCroy). However, I personally have only used legacy HP scopes, and thus I have no idea what modern features are must haves and which brand's user interface is the most intuitive. Is there anyone out there that has used modern Tektronix/Agilent/LeCroy scopes side by side and can comment on their thoughts from the purely subjective side?"
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User Interface of Major Oscilliscope Brands?

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  • by eln (21727) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:13PM (#25489607) Homepage

    The most important feature, and I cannot stress this enough, is that the oscilloscope be able to display wavy lines. I once got a discount oscilloscope from a back alley dealer, and all it could display was straight diagonal lines. It was an unmitigated disaster.

    • by Bios_Hakr (68586)

      It's been a while since I've done this. I think we had a wave generator producing a 2600hz signal at -20dbm. Then, in the O-Scope, we set it to some strange display mode. Instead of displaying the waveform, it would display a wavering oval.

      Sorry for the lack of details; it's been 10 years since I tried...

    • by naich (781425) on Friday October 24, 2008 @04:50AM (#25495197) Homepage

      I wanted to quickly check the ref output of a lock-in amp the other day, so I grabbed an expensive digital storage scope, waited for it to boot up, spent 5 minutes going through various menus to try to get it to actually display a waveform, swore like fuckery, gave up trying to get sense out of it and went and found a nice old analogue one that instantly displayed the wavy lines I was after.

      In my environment, 99% of the time I don't need or want a user interface - I just want to see the data.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BlueStrat (756137)

        I wanted to quickly check the ref output of a lock-in amp the other day, so I grabbed an expensive digital storage scope, waited for it to boot up, spent 5 minutes going through various menus to try to get it to actually display a waveform, swore like fuckery, gave up trying to get sense out of it and went and found a nice old analogue one that instantly displayed the wavy lines I was after.

        In my environment, 99% of the time I don't need or want a user interface - I just want to see the data.

        In my 35 years

    • Must be joke (Score:3, Informative)

      by Simonetta (207550)

      Spent a minute trying to understand the above comment... it must be a joke. Straight diagonal lines would be a characteristic of a digital storage scope with serious Analog-to-Digital converter problems.

      Although it wouldn't be used in a university physics lab, I suggest Slashdot readers download a free PC sound-card-oscilloscope program. They are basically *free* Digital Storage Scopes with a limited input frequency of 44KHz to 96KHz depending on the particular sound chip in the PC. Many o

  • Please... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:16PM (#25489659)

    Not another scopes trial!

  • by jeffmeden (135043) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:17PM (#25489673) Homepage Journal

    Are you really going to come to slashdot with a question including

    "I have no idea what modern features are must haves and which brand's user interface is the most intuitive."

    The clear answer to your dilemma is that the task should have fallen on someone else. Who is going to be using these things? If it's you, maybe you are best to stick with legacy HP scopes until you figure out what it is that you want.

    • by vnsnes (301511) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:25PM (#25489785)

      An alternative way out is to take a survey of the people who will actually be using the equipment. Chances are they have a preference one way or another. If they don't have a preference off hand, then present them with a side-by-side comparison and let them chose.

      • by corsec67 (627446) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:32PM (#25489907) Homepage Journal

        Obviously, the most "enterprisey" way to decide is to see what he can get from the sales people of each company.

        If, for example, LeCroy is able to give a 3 day demonstration of the O-scope in Hawaii, and Tektronix is only able to mail a sample for a week, obviously LeCroy is the one to go with.

        (Of the ones in the list, I have only used a small portable Tektronix for monitoring some power from a VFD [wikipedia.org], so I can't say which is the best)

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:29PM (#25489855)

      Brand is definitely not important, but if you don't need the modern features or don't know what they are then why are you upgrading the scope at all?

      I've used scopes from all manufacturers and by far the most important consideration is what is currently being used. You don't sound like you are the one who will be using the scope so ask the guy who will.

      There is nothing more frustrating than having a department full of Tektronix scopes and people who have used those for the last 3 years only to have to battle with an Agilent simply because the buttons are in a different place.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kneo24 (688412)

        There is nothing more frustrating than having a department full of Tektronix scopes and people who have used those for the last 3 years only to have to battle with an Agilent simply because the buttons are in a different place.

        I've ran across similar experiences before too. It's mind boggling how these people, many of which have a degree, can't figure out how to use a different oscilloscope. Not all of them are intuitive to use, but the options and features are generally lain out in a way that you can figure out what to do.

        • by ApharmdB (572578) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @08:24PM (#25491295)
          As a user of many pieces of electronic test equipment I'll say that what I want to do when I'm in the lab is perform my test/experiment. I do not want to spend time learning yet another piece of equipment. I want my test results sooner rather than later and test setup takes long enough as it is. Learning a new piece just takes up valuable time. And no, I don't have the luxury of assigning someone familiar with the equipment to perform my test for me.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Machtyn (759119)
            So,what you are saying is that the person should buy a few sets from each brand for his university. That way, the students get a feel for each brand and will not be slowed down when they get into the workforce.
        • by mollymoo (202721) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @08:36PM (#25491439) Journal

          I've ran across similar experiences before too. It's mind boggling how these people, many of which have a degree, can't figure out how to use a different oscilloscope. Not all of them are intuitive to use, but the options and features are generally lain out in a way that you can figure out what to do.

          Who said they can't? It's just harder. I find it mind boggling that some people think that making something more difficult for no good reason is fine, just so long as you don't make it impossible.

      • by QuantumRiff (120817) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @09:26PM (#25491891)

        I've worked in a university lab, testing and networking our o-scopes (and loading quake on a few of the agilent o-scopes that ran winNT back in the day!!). I would say that the best o-scope you could buy for your money is the one that your biggest employers of your graduates use. Go contact some alumni, some friends a few years out of school, and ask them what they use. Employers love this, and students like to be able to say they are familiar with equipment that employers want.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by P-Nuts (592605)

        Brand is definitely not important, but if you don't need the modern features or don't know what they are then why are you upgrading the scope at all? I've used scopes from all manufacturers and by far the most important consideration is what is currently being used. You don't sound like you are the one who will be using the scope so ask the guy who will.

        There is nothing more frustrating than having a department full of Tektronix scopes and people who have used those for the last 3 years only to have to batt

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:42PM (#25490049)

      As a software developer who's trying to learn about hardware, I find the timing of this question quite valuable, as I have a related question.

      I'm interested in getting an oscope for my home learning. Typical beginner circuits (low power, inductors, breadboard etc).

      Could someone who has more experience in this than I please give some recommendations for a new scope to buy?

      The standard Physics lab ones are expensive (or at least they used to be). I'm a little hesitant to pick one up off of ebay, sight unseen.

      Any recommendations here for a new one within the budget of a home hobbiest?

      Many thanks in advance.

      • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @07:17PM (#25490509) Journal

        User interface is largely irrelevant. As long as the controls you need are there, you can work it out.

        More important is whether the scope has the capacity to display waveforms in the frequency range matching the circuitry you're going to test. It's no good choosing a favorite brand of old 20MHz dual-trace when you want to measure a 2GHz computer circuit, although it may be perfect for most audio or RF engineering (that's where a scope really shines). And check the probes, too -- make sure the ones you're looking at work for the scope and the circuit. You'll need a bit of theory to choose the right ones, so study up.

        • by Cylix (55374)

          Pretty much spot on for what I was thinking.

          Now, I've never had one of those fancy new fangled probes. I tend to pick up all of my gear old and cheap ;)

          Look at your needs, examine your budget and pick something which can fulfill both expectations.

          That said, I haven't never been a fan of tektronix.

      • by petermgreen (876956) <plugwash&p10link,net> on Thursday October 23, 2008 @08:25PM (#25491305) Homepage

        What is your budget?

        Basic osciliscopes can be picked up secondhand pretty cheap either off ebay or at places like HAM meetups as more and more people are upgrading to a digital storage oscilliscope (DSO). I'm not sure if anyone makes them new anymore.

        Most scopes are dual trace. I would avoid single trace scopes because you can't compare imput and output with them. Four trace and above scopes tend to be expensive (i've never actually seen a three trace in person or for sale, I think I may have seen one in a marketing pic once but it may have been a four channel with one of the channels turned off).

        Check the max freqency, if all you plan to do is play with audio frequency and lower circuits any scope is fine but if you want to do microcontroller work then you need something faster.

        If you plan to do any digital/microcontroller work I would strongly reccomend a DSO. There are some cheap chineese DSOs on the market now that are only a few hundred dollars. The max frequency on them isn't great but it's just about high enough for working with pics and similar.

        PC based scopes are another option, i've never liked the things myself though.

      • Most people are better off with inexpensive PC-based scopes at this point (BitScope among dozens of others)... and I say this as someone who (at last count) owns 6 old-school Tek scopes and zero PC-based scopes. Unless you do a lot of HF/VHF work a PC-based digital scope with a bandwidth of 20 MHz or less is fine.

      • by AdamHaun (43173)

        eBay is actually a good place to get electronic test equipment. New gear is targeted at companies that have money to burn. The Agilent and Tektronix web sites will quote you prices that will make your head spin -- entry-level is about a thousand dollars and it goes *way* up from there. You can find older scopes on eBay starting in the $300-$400 range. They won't be as nice, but they'll probably meet your needs if you're just starting out. Look for ones that you can actually see working on the seller's page

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by hughk (248126)

        If you have a fairly good laptop, with, regrettably, Windows then the USB oscilloscope modules are quite good. There the main cost is the D/A converter and the higher the bandwidth, the more it will cost. I have a fairly basic two channel 50MHz model which seems ok for my own use.

        Real oscilloscopes are wonderful things but they cost a lot and take a lot of space. I love the old Teks/HPs (now Agilents) and they are beautiful pieces of engineering but when buying s/h, it is better to check them out in person

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CharlieG (34950)

        Honest answer? I like the OLD Tektronix scopes - say a 465B - built like a tabk, but still semi portable (not like my old 461a - but then again, my 461 is a mere 40 years old, and still works - good for only 20Mhz however)

        Stay away from the mid 1980s Textronix portable scopes. The company I worked for bought 3 of them - 60Mhz and 100Mhz back when they were new - the CRTs were always (and I mean right out of the box - and after calibration, and back to the factory etc) fuzzy

        I haven't used a "modern" DSO si

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Gordonjcp (186804)

        Could someone who has more experience in this than I please give some recommendations for a new scope to buy?

        Buying a new scope will either break your pocket or break your heart. You're either going to end up with an all-singing-all-dancing oscilloscope wunderkind that costs as much as a car, or you'll end up with a sparkly-new single-trace 15MHz scope that costs as much as a TV.

        No, forget that and get on eBay. Find someone selling a 'scope that lives within a short drive of your house (you don't want to

    • Lighten up, Francis.

      A) He clearly knows what technical aspects he wants.
      Hint:" likely suit our technical needs "

      B) Going to a group asking for opinions on something is a good thing. It show he has little bias, even for what he is currently using.

      3) Perhaps there isn't someone else?

      I mean, really it's the guys first time and he is learning.

      God you're a dick.

      • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @10:06PM (#25492257)

        Let's all lighten up. O-scopes are expensive, and used for so many things that it's impossible for us to say use Brand X Model Y. The question IS really specious and ill conceived at that. That said, I cringe at the thought of buying one for a department in a university or even a researchy corporate job, there are just too many different use cases and needs.

        Plus, the UI is the part I care about the least. In fact Lecroy in the >1GHz range are my favorite scopes, but the UI is terrible.

        What we should offer is a framework of asking better questions about this product. There are more options than a car, and the price is usually higher

        1) What bandwidth range are you looking for? (Note: this is directly correlated with PRICE, so you do not buy more than you need) Do talk to your sales rep, and tell him what kind of signals you're measuring (say USB, SATA, ethernet...whatever). Do not simply assume the nyquist rate for your fundamental, and get that fast of a scope. Even if it worked the way you think it works, you will hurt yourself. Your rep will be happy to explain the architecture of your scope input, and help you find the right frequency.

        2) What kind of probes are important to you/what is your application? Scopes are accessorized, heavily. There are various types of active/passive/differential/current/etc. probes out there, some brands are better than others for a given application. Some diff probes require solder on tips, these can be very, very expensive (but also very handy, depending on what you're doing).

        3) Are you going to be doing compliance measurements/mask measurements/protocol analysis etc? Will you need to add new masks later? Have your rep demo these key features, ask about upgrades, support and expandability. Get him to take a measurement on your devices, make him show you how well it works. Often they don't work as well as you need.

        4) Your corporate/university IT nazi's. All the fancy wizards and auto-testing tools are no good if you are going to be forbidden to have a scope on your corporate network, particularly if those rules are targeted at Windows based tools. Almost all scopes are Win95/98/2k based. Think about the infrastructure you will need to be compliant.

        5) Expandability: for some kinds of measurements you will want to interface your o-scope with some equipment. One other poster here talked about linking to a logic analyzer. Many will interact with matlab/labview/etc. Some need licenses...investigate

        6) UI's can be important, depending on your audience. If I were buying a scope to be used by my lab techs, I would choose one that I could script and wizard through, flashing pictures of what to measure and automatically logging data to the appropriate spot. For me, if it's worth using it's worth learning to use, UI doesn't matter to me.

        Price is an output of these functions. The more you want, the more it costs. Start with what you NEED at a minimum. Use your sales reps, they are engineers, they are knowledgeable. Use your brain and ask dumb questions, and play one vendor's answers against another to figure out what's going on.

        You can also consider leasing equipment, a good way to figure out what works or what doesn't.

    • by KefabiMe (730997)

      The clear answer to your dilemma is that the task should have fallen on someone else. Who is going to be using these things? If it's you, maybe you are best to stick with legacy HP scopes until you figure out what it is that you want.

      Have you never had a situation where something is being bought, and you aren't the one who is paying? I know, situations like that occur rarely. What if my company is paying for my cell phone, and is willing to pay for all the bells and whistles. I only have a phone that can ma

    • Yokogawa. I'm a bit biased because it's what we use at work. We have a "ScopeCorder" which has a 40GB HD that can do real time recording and other stuff.
      http://www.yokogawa.com/tm/dl/tm-dl.htm [yokogawa.com]

      The features that I use most (Unfortunately Windows only):
      Matlab API, I can control it from Matlab. Along with my XPCs
      Remote control. They have a GUI interface that launches and talks over USB or TCP/IP. When the scope is in a 'hazardous environment' and I still have to collect data. You can also take screen shots from

    • by HardCase (14757)

      That someone else should be the guy who's going to use the scope. And if the original questioner is that guy, then oy vey, maybe it's time to hire an oscilloscope consultant.

  • by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:18PM (#25489679) Homepage
    Assuming there still is one in your area, you might ask the folks at your local amateur radio club. They are more likely than the Slashdot crowd to be familiar with the use of oscilliscopes.
  • Agilent was HP (Score:2, Informative)

    by cyberspittle (519754)
    Dude, If you feel comfortable with the old HP, you have to remember that Agilent was spun off of HP back in 2000. Maybe the Agilent one is more to your liking.
    • Re:Agilent was HP (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jasonmantey (832164) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @07:08PM (#25490389) Homepage
      From my experience in a calibration lab for two different major electronics companies in the past few years, I can wholeheartedly say that Agilent products are generally the best of said brands. (Needing recalibration less often, better interfaces (IMO), less glitches in software, better build / support, etc.). That said, they are often the more expensive brand. At an academic research lab, this factor may take the most consideration depending on your funding sources and reliability. FWIW, we viewed most of the Tektronix equipment as junk and would opt to use the Agilent equipment when available (but, "junk" is a relative term).
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        From my experience in a calibration lab for two different major electronics companies in the past few years, I can wholeheartedly say that Agilent products are generally the best of said brands.

        No argument there, but the price tag is usually at least 50% more for similar spec gear. I've used a variety of Agilent and Tek gear before. I actually prefer the interface on the Tek stuff. It's far easier to get to the common features of the tool and the interface is more responsive.

        What it really comes down to is that the OP should go and talk with the engineers who will be using the gear and work out their requirements. Once you know what they need (and they'll be happy to tell you in the right lang

  • I like my LeCroy - in fact it is quite awesome.
  • by Slartibartfast (3395) <ken&jots,org> on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:24PM (#25489771) Homepage Journal

    I saw a LeCroy we have -- about $10K -- that was freaking amazing. Plugs into a network, has USB, can store waveforms, zoom, virtually unlimited capture, freaking AUTOMATICALLY figured out which serial standard was being used to generate the waveform (the first -- and perhaps only -- time that "autoconfigure" really did the job), etc. They're good. Unless Agilent and Tektronix have come a looong way, LeCroy is going to be the one to beat.

    $.02

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Coworker junked his LeCroy for the new Tek DPO4000's. The LeCroy was okay, but the UI was a bit weird and it broke a lot. The only advantage he said it has was you could plug in a keyboard and mouse and put labels on the screen easier.

      On request, Tek added the ability to label traces with the later DPO4000 software, although you have to do it with the on-device wheel.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 23, 2008 @07:35PM (#25490741)
        More recent DPO/MSO4000 software versions (starting with v2.01) support USB keyboards for entering data into fields that support user entry. I don't think we officially mention it in the documentation anywhere but the feature is definitely there. Keyboards are also supported on the DPO3000.
    • by gardyloo (512791) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:56PM (#25490231)

      LeCroy is all right (stuck with them through grad. school), but don't ever try to get the circuits from them in case you have to fix something with it yourself. Your best bet in that case is to find an electronics expert in the area who is willing to share his diagrams with you. LeCroy has been *really* closed-source about releasing their plans.

            My big problem with LeCroy scopes recently is that their knobs seem to gum up (har-har) a lot, and nothing is more frustrating than trying to adjust a DC-offset, only to have the entire trace disappear off the screen because of some dirt in their goddamned sealed knobs. Even getting to the things is an afternoon-long job.

            In terms of dedicated digital scopes, I've also a lot of experience with Agilent (HP) and Tektronix. I'd personally give instek a miss (too much aliasing, not enough capabilities, though the newer ones might be better than the 806C). One of my colleagues, who is knowledgeable about these things, uses nothing but Tektronix, and I have to admit that the ones I've seen lately are awfully nice.

            For cheaper USB-based scopes, TiePies are all right. ECON-series digitizers are all right, too, though maybe not exactly what you're looking for.

           

    • by Compuser (14899)

      If you are buying the cheapest, then Tek. Agilent is not cheap and cheap LeCroys are junk (breaks within a year or so, guaranteed). Also, BK Precision is junk. Dunno about $10K ones but anything you get for under $1K better be Tek. Doubly so if used.

  • by cide1 (126814) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:25PM (#25489787) Homepage
    What range of scope are you looking for? It really depends on which end of the spectrum. In the 100 and 200 MHz range, I think Tektronix blows everyone else out of the water. When you get to the 500 MHz and Gigahertz stuff, I think Tek still has the price advantage, and ease of use, but the competition is a lot closer. All three manufacturers know what the others are offering and price accordingly. I have seen LeCroy ones lock up with a LeCroy rep operating them. On the real high end, the Tektronix logic analyzers can interface with the scopes to give a coherent display of both digital and analog data. The best way to choose is the call the local reps and use a loaner model for a week or so.
  • Advice (Score:5, Informative)

    by albeit unknown (136964) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:26PM (#25489799)

    A few points of advice.

    Agilent lets you connect a scope to the logic analyzer and display both waveforms on the same screen.

    I did extensive evaluation on the UIs of Tek, Agilent, and Lecroy when I bought. All were approximately comparable. All had things that were great and some that sucked. You should be able to get a demo from sales and possibly keep it for a month.

    Do you really need / want a logic analyzer? Unless you're doing FPGAs or pure-digital boards with lots of parallel buses, get a Mixed Signal Oscilloscope instead. They'll decode RS-232, SPI, I2C, and so on and display it on-screen. My high-end scope and logic analyzer lack these features and I am kicking myself. I mostly do microcontroller work and an MSO would have been far more usable. I'm not sure if I have ever even used the logic analyzer.

    • I second the Agilents.

      On the lower-end of the Agilent Infiniium DCA series (which, unfortunately, is basically a Win 98 box disguised as a special form of oscilloscope used for measuring data) when you switch from Oscilloscope mode to Eye mask mode and back, you see the "buttons" actually whoosh across the screen. Now THAT's art in science, baby!
  • All old HP scopes were made by the division that is now Agilent. Depending on how old your old HP scopes are, they may resemble newer Agilent scopes the closest. Features have changed a lot in 10, 20, and 30 years on these devices.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Like the old ones didn't run under MS-Windows!

      I like many features of the Agilent scope I use at work, but I cannot believe the stupidity of putting MS-Windows in an instrument. Like updates, do I let it do them (it tries) and risk trashing an expensive device, or do I let it become zombie on the network?

      • personally I'd put a second network card in my PC and put it on a private network.

        Do they provide restore media?

  • I thought the major companies offer a way to evaluate them before committing to buying one. I am pretty sure Tek has such a program. I would look into that first.

    • Re:Evaluation units? (Score:5, Informative)

      by tlhIngan (30335) <slashdot AT worf DOT net> on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:41PM (#25490033)

      I thought the major companies offer a way to evaluate them before committing to buying one. I am pretty sure Tek has such a program. I would look into that first.

      I second this - if you really don't know what to buy, then do the following:

      Find your local Agilent (HP), Tek and LeCroy sales reps and give them a call with your needs, and let them recommend you which line of 'scopes will fit your needs best (do you need mixed signal, digital decode, etc). Then go to their websites and research those scopes to narrow down the models to 1 or 2 at most. (They all make tons of scope models, and each has their own ton of options that can be bought with them. The sales guy will help you narrow down that list.)

      Call up the reps again and ask for a loaner to try them out - they'll normally give you a week or two to play with them. Play with all the scopes and try to do what the people in the lab do. At the end, find out what features you like, which were redundant, and phone the reps again asking to see if a different model may suit your needs better after having used them.

      Lather, rinse, repeat.

      If you're going to be buying many of them, mention it to the sales rep, and also the fact you're buying for university - they'll be more accommodating in loaning you units. One thing they would appreciate is feedback on the units - if something really sucks, they want to know about it

      Once you've got a list of several scopes that will suit your needs, it's discussion time about prices and discounts.

      But do take advantage of the fact that the sales reps will often loan you equipment.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        I would wait till you are ready to purchase before telling them you want it for a university.

        Otherwise you may ahve your choice made for you.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by LatencyKills (1213908)
        Agilent will definitely do loaners. I'm not sure about LeCroy. There are essentially three models of scopes. The lowest tier gets you the scopes you remember - analog, limited digital capability, probably little capture memory - those are about $5k USD or less. The middle tier gets you digital scope, shallow memory, some math functions, typically data rates to about 500Mhz. Those can cost up to about $20k depending on your individual wishes. The top tier can cost $50k or more for some features. They
  • I've only used recent Tek scopes, but their interface is reasonably intuitive if you're used softkeys before. I think most scopes have a fairly similar interface these days, it's just a matter of how "multifunction" you want each individual control...
  • Software? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by SydShamino (547793) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:38PM (#25489997)

    Depending on the resources in your lab, and its purposes, you might find that a software-defined interface is more flexible for your needs. You can add any sort of interface or processing capabilities you want.
    http://sine.ni.com/nips/cds/view/p/lang/en/nid/205615 [ni.com]

    If it's a research lab, something like the above may be just what you want. If it's a teaching lab, and you want students to have access to real knobs and buttons, then my experience is specifically with Tektronix scopes that I use at work. Again, without knowing your price range, there are a wide range of options out there.

    At the low end, the TDS5054B series has an interface likely identical to that of your old scope; they did a reasonable job of replicating the older style of analog interface but added on some processing utilities.
    http://www.tek.com/products/oscilloscopes/tds5000b/ [tek.com]

    I've used a scope the DPO400 series as well. I found it's interface to be rather, well, different at first, with all the options not in the places I'd usually expect them to be with my other Tek scopes. But I eventually grew used to it and found it all perfectly fine - except that the probe connections for some reason don't allow use of our current probes. They work fine on all other scopes, and I see no reason why they molded the plastic on this scope to exclude them.
    http://www.tek.com/products/oscilloscopes/dpo4000/ [tek.com]

    Finally, at the high end, you have something like the DSA8200. This scope runs windows, which you can get to to do some data analysis, but the scope itself is controlled through the Tek application. It looks and behaves like a piece of software; there are buttons on the front for some features, but they are just macro buttons to execute the commands; it's often faster to just use a mouse since the buttons only offer limited functionality.
    http://www.tek.com/products/oscilloscopes/dsa8200/ [tek.com]

    Note how the Tek scopes are all mostly more expensive than the NI scope, with more limited flexiblity in the interface. Again, if I knew what bandwidth you needed or what your budget was or the purpose of your lab, I could give better recommendations.

    • Re:Software? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 23, 2008 @07:23PM (#25490587)

      I would like to add a few ideas to the above. I work at a facility that actually uses these things.

      We have some TDS5104B's. They're great scopes, don't get me wrong, but the Windows interface might throw you. I won't go through all the downsides of a Windows OS on a scope, because they're pretty much the downsides of the Windows OS on anything, but the upsides are:
      * You can run things like Labview and Matlab right on the scope, and there are libraries that let you talk to the scope itself and control it;
      * You can remotely operate the scope via standard VNC programs; and
      * You can run programs on the scope that you would otherwise need another computer to do.

      As an example, I've been able to download new firmware code to a board via an Altera Stand-Alone Programmer program and a USBBlaster, and watch the result on the scope from my office down the hall from the lab. Another engineer rigged the scope, an Ethernet-equipped function generator, and Matlab on the scope to make a homebrew Bode plotter.

      That all said, the TDS5000 series is old and not likely to be sold by Tek too much longer. The model we have, the 5104, is no longer available. There are other models.

      The DPO4000 series is comparable to the TDS5000s, except they're half as big, don't run Windows, and can decode serial (e.g. SPI, I2C, or UART) data for you (and let you trigger on those serial patterns with an add-on chip). For our next scopes, we're looking at the MSO4000 series, which are DPO4000s with 16 logic inputs as well, so you can see everything on both the analog and digital sides of an ADC, for example.

      The DSA8200 is insanely expensive ($150k or so once you buy the probes) and probably not something you want to let students near. If you aren't designing things like 3.125 Gb/s data links (e.g. SATA or XAUI), these are a waste of money.

      The thing is... 90% of the time, we don't need anything that fancy. Which is why we got about half our engineers Tektronix TPS2024s [tek.com]. They're small, simple, portable (battery or wall powered) digital scopes, 200 MHz, with 4 isolated channels. Isolated channels are great in that you can use them to look at differential signals without needing a special differential probe or needing to rig two channels together and use the math channel to take the difference (which you can't trigger on). They also have CompactFlash slots which can be used to grab waveform and setting data and copy it to your computer as CSV files. I have mine set to save everything to CF when I press the PRINT button.

      For even smaller work, Agilent has some neat two-channel handheld scopes, their U1600A series [agilent.com]. I saw some in their demo trailer this week, and the screens were nice and fast, unlike older handheld scopes and scope/meters.

  • LeCroy (Score:2, Informative)

    The LeCroy (Wavemaster, 1 Gigasamples) I use in my lab has a touchscreen (but have to turn it off when my supervisor is around because he likes to point out things).

    It runs Windows 2000 and takes a cup of coffee to boot up but runs nicely.

    We tried Agilent scopes (we were able to try-before-buy) and found them easier to use, more compact, less bloat that the LeCroy.

    I think its hard to go wrong with modern oscilloscopes.

    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @07:01PM (#25490293)

      I think its hard to go wrong with modern oscilloscopes.

      Well, at my University, about 25 years ago, they started a energy saving plan, and turned off the heat in the classrooms and labs at night. Being that computer/electronics geeks tend to be nocturnal, we were freezing our balls off. So we scrounged up every available big old Tektronix honkers, vintage HP wave generators, anything with TUBES gathering dust in corners somewhere in the department.

      We had the place up to sauna temperature.

      So, do not neglect the tube factor. Plus, audiophiles claim that tubes are better anyway.

      And plan to spend more for your connecting cables, as for the oscilloscope. Big, fat, "Monster" ones, made out of iridium, platinum tipped.

      I think I really miss those old Tektronix tubies ... they made a real *whack* when you turned them on, and you could look through the perforated cover to see the tubes light up.

  • What do you need? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kneo24 (688412) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @06:42PM (#25490045) Homepage

    Must haves? What? Besides being able to show a sine, square, and sawtooth waveform, what more are you looking for? Even the legacy oscilloscopes from HP that I've used has had a lot of the modern features that you see on the newer ones today. Sure, the newer ones do certain things more nicely, but there honestly isn't a huge difference, unless you're looking for things like color, USB support for capturing waveforms, super accurate frequency readings, etc... What you need to do is figure out what specifically is going to be needed with whatever projects you're doing.

    This is what I use at work. (Specifically the TDS2000B.) [tek.com] I have no complaints with it. I've found this to be intuitive to use. It's simple and robust for what it is. Other people around me have to use the TDS1000B, and really the only difference is the lack of a multicolor display, USB support, and only 2 channels. I haven't had any issues showing our "trained monkeys" (pre-testers who have zero training or education in electronics) on how to use these oscilloscopes.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by SydShamino (547793)

      It probably depends on how you look at your use of the scope. If you define your need as "look at the signal" then it probably hasn't changed much. But if you define your need as, say "determine if the rise and fall time of these signals are in spec, and check the channel to channel skew", then you'll find that you can do a lot more with a modern scope.

      Both boxes and PC plug-in scopes offer processing capabilities to do that sort of analysis. That's probably what you wanted anyway; you're just used to ha

  • Same comment as on virtually every Ask Slashdot since the beginning of time: we really need more info. Does "university physics lab" mean a research lab, or a teaching lab? If the latter, then ease of use and durability extremely important. You want a UI that's easy and simple. On the scopes we use in our teaching labs, we tend to have a lot of problems with the BNC connectors getting damaged because students don't understand how to put on and take off the connectors.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      He just wants some tips on different interfaces.
      I would suggest a scope you can hook to a projector.

      I probably shouldn't say anything, not having used a scope professionally in 10+ years.
      For all I know the are now holograms and can detect the frequency of the universe..and use a moon rock needle.

  • I'll start with the open admission that I've worked on Tektronix scope platforms, including software UI development, for the last 7 years or so. That said, our scopes really are the best! Here's why.

    Many of the Tek scopes, especially the lower bandwidth ones, really shy away from loads of options menus to get at items. We still have the knob-per-channel ideas, and I know from user testing that's always heavily favored.

    Recently (last 2 years) we've also gotten into the pan/zoom knob that makes it far, far

  • Do you need a $2,000 oscilloscope or a $200,000 oscilloscope?

    How many channels? What bandwidth? What characteristics will you be looking at?

    I've found LeCroy to have the best interface for "power users" on their high end scopes.
    For general usage any major manufacturer will be fine.

    Intended usage is really important here, find out what you'll be doing with it.

    I will warn you that some of the high-end Agilents are all but useless without a mouse hooked up and that's a PITA plus eats bench space. S
  • by firmamentalfalcon (1187583) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @07:49PM (#25490899)

    Do what my TA's do. Create a Wheatstone bridge and have your students ride an exercise bike until current balances out. The speed's your curve.

  • Missing criterion (Score:5, Informative)

    by earlymon (1116185) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @07:53PM (#25490955) Homepage Journal

    Everyone expressing an opinion based on experience is dead right, teddaw152 - I've used all three and can say I see no BS.

    But you're missing a most important criterion - how easy will it be to offload your data, because I don't care what you think your requirement is or will be, you're going to need this badly - or the next user will.

    For any given model of features/performance/price tickling your fancy, insist to see the full configuration used to offload data to a PC.

    I'm dead serious, full configuration. Do not ever accept rep claims of way-easy-all-our-customers-do-it, do not accept quick looks at user manuals showing code slices that make it all so obvious.

    Do not accept that USB, GPIB, or Ethernet obviously imply that you can do this.

    Do require code that:
    1. Is in a language that your site will support long term
    2. Allows for external configuration of the scope
    3. Allows for external software trigger of recording
    4. Allows for data acquisition by a PC
    5. Allows for usable data, post acquisition

    PLEASE USE THIS DEFINITION ONLY FOR THE WORDS "Allows for" IN THE ABOVE:
    1. Full source code in your selected language
    2. Full clarity of hardware interface required - price, performance and gotchas
    3. You get a peer review of this

    For "usable data" this damn well means that the data feed of (usually) start-time, stop-time, delta-time and Y values or X-Y pairs can not only be read in, they can be easily read in, easily put into another format, and easily absorbed by other post-processing software.

    And for god's sake, make sure that status register and SRQ handling - in software - is clearly explained, and that you get routines for SRQ handling, and THE RULES FOR WHEN TO USE SRQs or NOT (typical GPIB issue).

    I disclose that I have inside info on the brands you consider so I can only give these hints on approaching the problem. I cannot be trusted to be objective - due to associations - on saying which brands/models excel on this.

    But I can be trusted to tell you this - your rep for any given brand will shuck and jive a *little* (and that really is an OK thing, it's a people skill), and he/she will give you assurances out the yin-yang (that's their job) - but they fucking-a well know what you're asking and will give you the straight dope if you are friendly while being persistent.

    Please believe me, if you overlook this criterion now, you're almost guaranteed to screw the next guys after you - I don't believe you'd want that if you had a choice.

    Cheers, best luck.

    • by earlymon (1116185)

      PS - Remember - if "it's easy, everyone does that" or "you bet, it's designed for it" that clear source code should just be commonly available.

      And it isn't.

      Trust me, that tells you something. Hope this helps.

  • I am still using a 1961 Tektronix Scope. There is something special about using a piece of equipment that was being used before I was born.

    • by pecosdave (536896)

      I'm in the Johnson Space Center building 30M 3rd floor. Which building and room are you in? With equipment like that I know you just HAVE to be around here somewhere. (well, you could be military).

      • by stox (131684)

        Good guess, but I got it from Teletype R&D when I was an engineer there. They sold all sorts of cool stuff to employees when they shut down Skokie. It was used in the original development of the ASR-33. I also got the last Bell System Flag to fly over the Teletype Plant.

  • Your ability to read and measure low-level signals will depend on a low noise floor in your 'scope. How low-level will your lab be interested in displaying? Make sure the devices you're considering aren't displaying significant switching noise and sampling artifacts in those ranges. My unpleasant surprise (admittedly, a decade old -- things will have hopefully improved by now) was a digital Tektronix where the lowest ranges, right where I was trying to look at input stages, were too grassy for my purposes,

  • Picking a logic analyzer is a harder problem. A logic analyzer is a device for collecting and reducing many channels of parallel digital data coming in from a device under test. The data reduction part is a hard problem. There's a vast amount of data coming in, and you need to find the interesting/important/wrong stuff. It's really a form of log analysis.

    Some logic analyzers are just input devices to PCs. There's an open source logic analyzer program [sourceforge.net] for use with such capture devices. Take a look a

  • I'm an electronics hobbyist, and I mostly play with DC stuff... but occasionally I would really like to see the waveform of some components.

    Is there a really cheap scope I could get to do this? Every time I have looked in the past they start at $200 or so. Are there any basic scopes for under $100?

    • Look on eBay. Good Tek scope from the 1980's sell for just over $100. I bought a dual channel 100Mhz scope for about $120.

  • Why don't you determine what your going to use it for, then contact the different manufacturers with your requirements, ask what they suggest for your application and budget. Then have them send you demo units. You can compare them, hands on, for a week or two. They may even send a rep by and walk you through using the scope.
  • Seriously. I mean, I understand why people ask certain questions here. Namely, those computer related. Lots of those types here. But, asking such a question as you have just underlines that your department has tasked exactly the wrong person for the job. Tell them this and do something, if anything, that your qualified for.

  • Make sure you get the physicists scopes that measure current going in the opposite direction.

    /ducks, electrical engineer vs. physicists humor..

    But seriously, you can't got wrong with Tek scopes they are everywhere, a good interface to learn, but not cheap. As far as analyzers, really depends on your needs and once again budget...

    I feel like the norm is Tek scopes, Agilent (HP) analyzers, counters, supplies...Not that it's the best, just what I've used and seen throughout the years.

    Just find your local sal

  • Due Diligence (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vorwerk (543034) on Thursday October 23, 2008 @09:09PM (#25491725)

    I highly doubt that you will find ...

    (1) *qualified* people who've used oscilloscopes from all three of these manufacturers
    (2) *and* who are willing to take the time to write out a lengthy reply to your questions.

    You are, however, likely to find people who've used 1 brand (largely because their employers/universities had a contract with a specific supplier). So you may get some firm opinions about one company or another, but probably not much unbiased consensus.

    So, the only way to form a complete, impartial comparison is for you to try out the scopes yourself; contact an authorized dealer for each of the major manufacturers, and ask to try out the models in your price range.

    Doing your own due diligence is the only way that you'll be able to answer your questions to any high degree of satisfaction. This isn't an example of where you should trust random comments from the interwebz to help you do your job.

  • by Black Cardinal (19996) on Friday October 24, 2008 @02:13AM (#25494323) Homepage

    I use oscilloscopes almost daily in my job as an EE, and I've found that I very much prefer the scopes that don't use Windows in any shape or form to the ones that do. If a scope requires a mouse, it's really a portable computer with an integrated DAC subsystem. You have to wait for it to boot up and shut down, and you have to have the flat space necessary to drive the mouse (or use a trackball). They are also generally less responsive to input and take longer to change modes than an embedded-system style scope.

    My current desk unit is a Tektronix MSO 4054, which is ideal for what I do. Everything is adjusted using good old-fashioned knobs and buttons on the front panel. I also use several higher-end Teks that run Windows and various Agilent scopes, both from the 54600-series and the Infinium series.

    It's true that the Windows-based scopes can often run other software and do more detailed analysis of data. However, I prefer to use the scope to acquire data, store it on a USB drive and then do that analysis at my desk later using my main computer.

    In our corporate environment, having oscilloscopes on the network is frowned upon by our IT.

    My dislike for oscilloscopes that run Windows is shared by most of my EE and technician colleagues. Non-EE types (physicists, MEs) seem to like the Windows interface because they use the scopes less often and they feel more at home with a PC-like interface.

    In another vein, I despise touch screens. This is simply my personal preference, as I realize that many people like the way they link the data on screen to actions. I just hate fingerprints, and the tactile feedback provided by real buttons and knobs is far superior in my mind.

C makes it easy for you to shoot yourself in the foot. C++ makes that harder, but when you do, it blows away your whole leg. -- Bjarne Stroustrup

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