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User Interface of Major Oscilliscope Brands?

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the dots-and-squiggles dept.

Education 281

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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Most important feature (4, Funny)

eln (21727) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489607)

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.

Re:Most important feature (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489727)

Is she illin with the panicillin?
Is she reelin in the panicillin?
Is it feelin with the panicillin?
Are you steelin in the panacillin?

Panka Panka

Is she liable no suitifiable no not on trial but so suitifiable
Is she viable no suitifiable pliable style is so suitifiable
so reliable no suitifiable shes not on file but so suitifiable
im on the dial its so suitifiable its like im liable but more suitifiable

Re:Most important feature (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489979)

If you're going to persist in repeatedly posting this, at least learn to spell penicillin.

And though it makes me shudder, I'm willing to grant poetic license for suitifiable.

Re:Most important feature (0)

Sponge Bath (413667) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490731)

...all it could display was straight diagonal lines.

In nineteen dickety two that's the way we liked it!
Damned hippies and their 'wavy gravy' lines.

Please... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489659)

Not another scopes trial!

Re:Please... (4, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490677)

Stop monkeying around!

Re:Please... (3, Interesting)

Marsala (4168) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490997)

Alright... time to break up this party before it evolves into another bad pun thread.

I'm not trying to troll, I swear (5, Insightful)

jeffmeden (135043) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489673)

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.

Re:I'm not trying to troll, I swear (4, Insightful)

vnsnes (301511) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:I'm not trying to troll, I swear (3, Insightful)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489907)

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 [] , so I can't say which is the best)

Re:I'm not trying to troll, I swear (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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:I'm not trying to troll, I swear (2, Interesting)

Kneo24 (688412) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490099)

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.

Hey, this question is interesting! (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Even hobbier still... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490153)

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

Is that like "House Beautiful"?

My home is quite hobby.

Yeah, well my home is hobbier!

Yeah, well my home is the hobbiest of all!

I think you're looking for "hobbyist".

Re:Even hobbier still... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490321)

Quick! go make fun of the guy who used the word "enterprisey"!

Re:Hey, this question is interesting! (4, Informative)

Nefarious Wheel (628136) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490509)

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.

Re:I'm not trying to troll, I swear (4, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490729)

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.

Re:I'm not trying to troll, I swear (1)

KefabiMe (730997) | more than 5 years ago | (#25491081)

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 make calls because I'm cheap. Should I pass on getting a phone that I can email from and, for example, ssh into company servers from?

Now, Oscilloscopes are fucking awesome, but I don't have money for one. If I was getting one provided for me and the bill is being picked up by someone else, do you suggest I get a legacy HP scope or maybe ask more knowledgeable people which oscilloscopes to buy?

Ask your local amateur radio club (2, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489679)

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.

Re:Ask your local amateur radio club (4, Funny)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489735)

True. They can probably even spell oscilloscope.

Re:Ask your local amateur radio club (4, Funny)

corsec67 (627446) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489753)

Use a high power radio jammer, and that HAM club will find you.

Re:Ask your local amateur radio club (2, Insightful)

Artraze (600366) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489981)

While it's worth trying, I would be somewhat surprised if you would be able to see any particularly modern scopes as people into amateur electronics rarely buy new equipment. Still though, some of the people there might have experience and opinions they can share, but the same holds true with slashdot.

As someone who has worked with a wide variety of scopes (and, to a lesser extent, logic analyzers) I feel largely 'meh' about the UI differences. They all have their quirks and pluses and generally similar features. In recent years I've (personally) leaned more toward Tektronix, but that's mostly because their hardware seems to fit my needs the best and they're pretty cheap (on ebay, see above ;).

By-the-by, if anyone could point me in the direction of a modern scope with 10+ bits of resolution it'd be greatly appreciated. My old Nicolet is starting to look a little dated ;).

Re:Ask your local amateur radio club (3, Insightful)

harrkev (623093) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490407)

A modern scope can cost $5,000 easy for a relatively low-end model. Amateur radio guys can be very frugal, and will often purchase an old analog model, so their opinion would likely be useless. Most hams would pick up a scope for less than $1000, so used Teks would be common, along with minor scope manufacturers from Asia.

I work for a company that makes scopes, so my opinion may be a little biased, but I recommend sorting the manufacturers alphabetically, and then pick the one on the top of the list. ;)

Re:Ask your local amateur radio club (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490917)

One AAA Aardvark's Oscilloscope Works Super Dee-Lux Oscilloscope With Fries, coming right up!

Re:Ask your local amateur radio club (2, Insightful)

aaron alderman (1136207) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490103)

I don't think amateurs are going to fork our $10k+ for a modern oscilloscope. I wouldn't be surprised if there are people in /. land who are scientists (like me) who work in labs (like me) with oscilloscopes (like me).

I tried Linux (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489691)

and it stinks. Go fuck yourselves, nerds!

Re:I tried Linux (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490655)

Go fuck yourselves

... how?

Agilent was HP (3, Informative)

cyberspittle (519754) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489703)

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 (5, Insightful)

jasonmantey (832164) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490389)

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).

I don't know about the others but... (1)

Gat0r30y (957941) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489711)

I like my LeCroy - in fact it is quite awesome.

Re:I don't know about the others but... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25491011)

Lacroix, sweetie?

USB 'scope FTW (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489729)

These may not have all the bells and whistles of the fancy scopes, but they are pretty neat.

Re:USB 'scope FTW (4, Insightful)

Xhris (97992) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490011)

But they only have a 200 kHz input bandwidth!

Re:USB 'scope FTW (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 5 years ago | (#25491103)

Which may be plenty, depending entirely on what it's being used for. It's more than you'd ever need for audible frequency work, but would be woefully inadequate for RF.

Damn, but they're getting good... (3, Informative)

Slartibartfast (3395) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489771)

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.


Re:Damn, but they're getting good... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489825)

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.

Re:Damn, but they're getting good... (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Damn, but they're getting good... (3, Informative)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.


Re:Damn, but they're getting good... (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490755)

Dirt into a sealed knob....

Something is wrong there.

Tektronix seems to be the best in general (4, Informative)

cide1 (126814) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489787)

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.

Re:Tektronix seems to be the best in general (1)

juiceboxfan (990017) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490109)

The best way to choose is the call the local reps and use a loaner model for a week or so.

I second that. If you are planing on buying new (or even if you're not) the local reps for any of the major players will be more than happy to give you a loaner for at least a few days. Maybe even much longer with most major labs not spending as much on capital equipment these days (my assumption).

If you are low budget and looking for used equipment rental companies usually have fully calibrated recent vintage scopes and analyzers for sale at a reasonable price. Just make sure to go with something that supports dumping your data to the network. Even GPIB is better than nothing.

Advice (5, Informative)

albeit unknown (136964) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Advice (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489963)

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!

Re:Advice (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490047)

Here's a Youtube vid [] of a newer Agilent DCA in action, though it's not the model or effects which I described.

Reps are there to help (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489817)

Call the local reps for the various brands and ask them for advice. They'll come in with some units suited to your needs and demo them. You can usually get one to keep for a couple days to a week to try out.

Personal preference? I have a LeCroy Waverunner 104Xi 1Ghz on my desk and it works great and acts as a heater for the colder months.

Agilent ~= Hewlett Packard (2, Interesting)

Phred_Johnston (530218) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489829)

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.

Correct: Agilent ~= Hewlett Packard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489861)

This comment is correct. If you like legacy HP oscilloscopes then stick with Agilent.

Re:Agilent ~= Hewlett Packard (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489919)

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?

Re:Agilent ~= Hewlett Packard (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490809)

I second this. I got an old HP-branded piece of test equipment (from 1999 or 2000 I think) and decided to check out how much something comparable from Agilent would cost new. Turns out they still sell the exact same piece of equipment with the same model number and everything.

I can also second the posters who suggest getting a rep to demo and/or loan you a unit. These guys realize they're selling expensive equipment that they make a lot of money on (especially to companies/labs who are buying multiple units) and they'll bend over backwards just to get you to buy their equipment rather than somebody else's. It's not like most electronics where companies don't really give a shit about you unless you're buying hundreds/thousands of units -- just requesting a quote on any piece of gear Agilent sells will get you a phone call from an eager salesperson, even if you're just an individual and if you're a company or a university, they'll do whatever it takes to sell to you.

Evaluation units? (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489869)

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? (5, Informative)

tlhIngan (30335) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:Evaluation units? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490867)

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.

Tek scopes (1)

dev_alac (536560) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489885)

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...

Used all 3.... (1)

Meterman (622546) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489891)

What are you measuring? How fast, amplitude, triggering requiremnts? Having used HP, LeCroy and TI. My least favorite is the LeCroy. Poor visibility of cursors, and trigger level. Flexible but challenging trigger modes. The acceleration & sampleing on the knobs is horrible, 1/2 the time, values go down when turning up due to slow knob sampling (aliasing). Works properly when it counts for critical measurement though. We also use an old HP logic analyser, old slow UI but easy to use and does the job.

This AC's Experience (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489911)

I work in a power lab with both LeCroy Wavepros and Tektronix 5000's. Not sure if these two models are technically comparable, but I can say I like the LeCroys much better:

The GUI is better organized. It's much easier for a new user to be able to just sit down and be able to figure out how to setup the display so they get what they need. Theres a learning curve with the Tek scope.

Speed. The Tek scopes are painfully slow to respond when you change a setting. The LeCroy on the other hand feels like it's instantaneous. This is especially true if you want to use the scope by connecting to it remotely (via ethernet control). The Tek scopes feel like there practically useless for this purpose.

Use of external code. The LeCroys have the ability to take code you've written (in something like Matlab say) to process your data real time which is very handy. I'm not sure if later versions of Tek scopes have this ability or not.

none of the above (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489921)

Use a PC and software to create a virtual oscilloscope. No need for expensive standalone instruments:

Go with Tektronix (1)

Shawn888 (1392647) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489923)

I have used various scopes in the past, and Tektronix scopes have always been my preference. As far as which particular model you get depends on what your needs are. The scope I used last was a Tektronix TDS2000, and it worked great.

agilent and tek (1)

hellercom (1282802) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489947)

Im using both Agilent and Tek scopes and they are my choice.

Agilent imuo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489955)

Agilent is the new HP, all of HPs electronic and instrumentation buisness units were spun off into Agilent.

They are pretty much the go to brand for scopes and what not in the industry.

Doesn't mean you have to buy from them, just use their features as a baseline then get what you think you want. (At minimum make sure it has the standard sweet of communication ports, specifically GPIB/Ethernet. IEEE standard com protocols and stuff will allow for fully automated setups.)

Most companies will let you borrow a unit for a couple weeks to play around with.

When it come the instruments, focus more on the service side of things. The big name brands will likely have better service.

Talk to your local rep (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25489965)

...and ask him to bring you a demo model.

Some useful features (1)

Xhris (97992) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489967)

I needed to uses some digital oscilloscopes for this first time for about 10 years a couple of years back - they were certainly a big set up from the old analog CROs we use in prac at Uni. Features I really liked are:
  - Multiple inputs (at least 2) and ability to do sum/difference etc on the two signals. Vital it looking at differential signals
    - Ability to save output as a bitmap and some way of accessing the dump - the ones I was using used floppies but I guess that is rapidly becoming unusable
    - Remote (http) access. Not useful if these are for playing with directly but great if you want to setup some experiment and monitoring it in comfort.
  - Persistent mode - Basically the screen does not blank bits. This is great for looking at long term stability of a signal. You can monitor a clock signal, say, and check it has no glitches over a few hours.

Maybe all digital oscilloscopes do this - I just wander down to the digital lab and pinch the closest one off the shelf...

Re:Some useful features (3, Interesting)

ixnaay (662250) | more than 5 years ago | (#25491007)

I use tektronix scopes pretty much daily. Almost all of their new stuff, except for the very low end, is Windows based, which, besides the regular negative slashdot bias against windows, can be a real pain when you work in a closed lab with special security rules. Windows (and Unix) boxes are severely tied down in most security sensitive situations, and these scopes either require you to run as admin, or as a non-admin you lose a lot of functionality.

One of our brilliant IT security folks installed a program called Device-Lock on my Tek scope the other day. This was configured to completely disabled all I/O (except mouse/keyboard) on the scope, which is kind of funny considering the purpose of a scope. We got this fixed, after a long and entertaining conversation with security.

This issue doesn't apply to the submitter most likely, but anyone else reading and looking for advice, take into account rules regarding OS security at your work / school when looking at a new scope. Frequently I will look for one of the older scopes running proprietary OSes (like the old HPs) to avoid the hassle entirely. To answer your original question, you really need to define requirements before your start picking out scopes. It's like buying a vehicle with your only criteria being it's color.

Software? (3, Insightful)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 5 years ago | (#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. []

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. []

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. []

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. []

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? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490171)

no... just no. Software scopes are complete trash unless you're running on a completely ridiculous computer.

Re:Software? (2, Insightful)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490375)

You mean like the "completely ridiculous" three-year-old Dell on my desktop, that was $800 new, which can stream via PCI Express at very usable speeds?

You do know that processing power in off-the-shelf PCs has grown tremendously in the last decade, right? Half of the other "box" scopes on the market probably run an embedded OS on a process anyway, making most of their features also "software".

Re:Software? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490915)

IF it has PCI eXpress, it will be fast enough.

Re:Software? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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 [] . 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 [] . I saw some in their demo trailer this week, and the screens were nice and fast, unlike older handheld scopes and scope/meters.

LeCroy (2, Informative)

aaron alderman (1136207) | more than 5 years ago | (#25489999)

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.

Modern oscilloscopes == no heat (4, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 5 years ago | (#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? (3, Insightful)

Kneo24 (688412) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490045)

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.) [] 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:What do you need? (2, Informative)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490443)

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 having to do that extra work yourself.

Re:What do you need? (1)

Askjeffro (787652) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490703)

If the user has limited uses for the scope, what a good analysis will show that is most low end scopes are OEMed anyway therefore likely to be nearly identical to one another. (That is, a CM, or contract manufacturer, is making the scope for Tek or NI, etc.)

When approaching the high end, scope manufacturers do begin to differentiate from one another, but it looks like this buyer is not informed enough to enable the SD community to truly assist.

I will add that one more important thing to consider is if there are desires for long term service, because those companies do offer substantial difference in customer service levels.

Final add: Agilent is successor to HP, so will find many of the same features and similar setups in an Agilent scope if you are used to HP.

My experience: Tektronix are pretty good (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490063)

I'm a EE and at several companies I've worked at, the Engineers all seem to like the Tektronix TDS2024. You can find them for about $2000. They sample at 200MHz and can trigger off of both digital or analog signals. The user interface is pretty intuitive and you can save wave diagrams to a USB. It might be a bit overkill from what you are looking for, but they work pretty well. I've seen higher-end models that get a lot more expensive, but it all depends on what you are looking for.

Go with LeCroy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490107)

I work with these oscilloscopes every day, and I've had far and away the best experience with LeCroy.

LeCroy's scopes all have touch screens and all run Windows XP Embedded. While that does mean they occasionally crash, it also means that it's easy to move a screenshot onto a memory stick (Tek scopes usually make you dial a wheel to enter filenames), their triggering options are incredible (these are big-dollar addons with the others), and the UIs, because of the touchscreens, provide more complexity and are still easier to use.

My biggest problem with the Tek scopes is that their "zoom" feature causes aliasing. We once spent the better part of the day trying to figure out why zooming in on the waveform showed ringing. Turns out the ringing was completely due to a too-low sample rate, something that the LeCroys automatically handle.

LeCroy also has much, MUCH more responsive people than Agilent. Every time I've had a problem with an Agilent piece of equipment, their answer is "oh, we can solve that if you buy this $3000 piece of software" or "sorry, that power supply is an older one, just send us $1500 for a new one," so I try to avoid Agilent. If you need REALLY FAST acquisition, their oscilloscopes usually are tops in that spec, but otherwise they're pretty tough to work with.

I have one other, kind of odd, recommendation. Buy LeCroy scopes but Tek probes. The LeCroy probes are irritating to work with because they require you to push REALLY hard to get the caps onto them, plus their grounding clips are so short they usually can't reach a ground without a test lead clipped in, which defeats the low-inductance.

Good luck!

Minesweeper (1)

MSDos-486 (779223) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490121)

Most of the newer scopes, the ones you are looking to get,we have at my work all run Windows. So you can play Minesweeper on them.

Wrong question... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490133)

Your question is simply wrong. Pick the scope that has the features you need.
Your question is like asking which religion is better luthernism or catholism. The answer has started wars.
Todays scopes all have user interfaces that are PITAs. Too many menus with too many features.
In most cases, you will never use more than 3 or 4 of these features. On rare occasion, you will need one of the advanced features, the manual won't be around and you won't remember how to use the feature. When this happens, take your brain out of it's hat box, put back in your skull and play. Regardless of the UI, you will eventually find out how to use the feature. If you can't figure it out, ask a Ham or a hardware hacker to help...they will know.

Thoughts from a recent scope buyer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490235)

From someone who just bought a new scope, the Tek DPO3000 series blows away anything i've used before (Tek, HP scopes and LA's).

The scope has a very large sample buffer with a screen and controls to make it very usable. The ability to decode I2C, SPI, RS-232, RS-485, CAN and LIN make my life many times easier for what i do, embedded development.

As for the Logic analyzer, i agree with one of the above posters, unless you are working with very complex digital systems with very high speed parallel buses (think DDR3) i would look at mixed signal scopes...if you need say 8 channels, i would recommend using 2 x 4 channel mixed signal scopes and a software suite such as national instruments labView. this would give you the capabilities of a 8 channel logic analyzer with much greater flexibility. If you really need to look at a 32 pin parallel bus, then obviously the logic analyzer is your only option. I can't offer much advice on such units as i never use them.

Tektronix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490361)

We (university accelerator physics lab) have dozens of Tek scopes in the 2000, 3000, 5000, and 7000 series. We have a lot of custom software that uses GPIB and the National Instruments libraries to talk and collect data from the scopes. Researchers generally like to change the settings using the scope knobs directly, and then use the computer for taking repetitive data.

Anyways, we've been very happy and are almost completely a Tektronix-only shop.

Silly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490503)

My wife calls them "silly scopes."

Just bought a scope at work (1)

DavidWeight (1075593) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490567)

I've just bought a new scope at work, we had Agilent and Tektronix to play around with for a couple of weeks, so might be of some help. We were looking at MSOs, combination scopes and logic analysers which I can throughly recommend if you don't need all the triggering on a full logic analyser. The Agilent scope was simple to use, its all menu based with quick access to the most common features off the front, but its worth getting a tek scope in to play with the Wave Inspector technology, allows you to pan through long samples really quickly. Its worth getting a bigger sample memory, especially if you have transient events to find. Personally, I found the ability to decode I2C, serial data etc on the fly useful in debugging, but it depends on your needs. Oh, and the 12.1" screen on the agilent scopes is a pleasure to use.

I'd attempt to compose a serious answer... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490581)

...but I'm currently busy beating my head against the desk after reading yet another story about how someone has been "tasked" with something.

Seriously. Just fucking stop it.

more info (1)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490649)

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.

Re:more info (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490975)

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.

Tektronix bread and butter (2, Insightful)

avoisin (105703) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490719)

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 easier to look at record lengths. I personally use that feature a lot when I've got high speed stuff over a long time (like SPI transactions compared against analog signals moving around)

Most of the Agilent/Lecroy stuff don't have these two big items (those are my big payoffs).

Also, although I can't speak to Agilent/Lecroy, I know that we release updated firmware on a very regular basis, and have no plans to stop. We continue to improve the UI, performance, applications, etc., long after the product is released. Many of the changes are often directly from user feedback (internal and external).

Another nice part is the Tektronix instruments are very well plugged in driver wise to communicate with them. We've got IVI drivers for labview/teststand, as well as a host of others.

What some of the other posters said is true as well - what really defines what you should get isn't always the UI, but the bandwidth and other features that you need. If you just need slow speed (~10 MHz) then a cheap solution might be just fine.

Our designs do have their flaws, but usability is rarely one I hear of.

Re:Tektronix bread and butter (1)

scotthal (1392689) | more than 5 years ago | (#25491023)

I'll start with the open admission that I've worked on Tektronix scope platforms; in fact, i designed & implemented most of the embedded math+measurement code that runs on the high-end real-time & sampling scopes Tektronix has shipped in the past decade... and then i got laid off. UI (user interface) - I'd rank LeCroy as #1, Agilent as #2, & Tektronix (a distant) #3 PI- (programmatic interface) - I'd go with Agilent as #1; Tek vs LeCroy is a wash. Accuracy/fidelity - well, i'd go with Tektronix; pictures may not be as pretty, user interface may not be intuitive (it assumes the user actually knows what they want), but the underlying hardware yields real::good data. My biased opinion

Tek Earth grounds their signal return (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25490721)

Tektronics Earth Grounds their signal ground.

This makes for a Safer but much less functional scope. You need 2 channels to measure a voltage relative to a non earth ground.

LeCroy best bang for Capital Buck (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490751)

Hands down, LeCroy is the best bank for the buck you'll see out there right now. The UIs are elegant, intuitive, and feature rich. They will come demo the scope and even loan you one if you ask nicely.

Check them out. We have tons of Tek Scopes collecting dust because we all fight over the LeCroys. Hah..

You need better requirements (1)

theLOUDroom (556455) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490895)

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. Scopes with touch screens are much better. Lower end scopes generally have all the buttons they need to be useful.

No Need for Oscilloscopes (3, Funny)

firmamentalfalcon (1187583) | more than 5 years ago | (#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 (5, Informative)

earlymon (1116185) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490955)

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

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.

Re:Missing criterion (1)

earlymon (1116185) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490999)

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.

go with LeCroy (1)

mycroft822 (822167) | more than 5 years ago | (#25490971)

I've used several models of all three brands in my career and as a student. Of all the scopes, I liked the LeCroys best. They seemed to have better performance and more features than the others, but I know that is highly dependent on how much money you fork out for the scope.

The Student Button (1)

Dallin (1080903) | more than 5 years ago | (#25491031)

The Student Button is absolutely essential if it is for undergraduate student use. On the oscilloscopes at my university, it is labelled "Auto Set". It doesn't always do what you want or expect it to, but it has certainly saved me a number of times.

You insensitive Clod! (1)

stox (131684) | more than 5 years ago | (#25491039)

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.

Re:You insensitive Clod! (1)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 5 years ago | (#25491253)

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).

You're an idiot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25491153)

I have the answer for you, but I'm not going to tell you.

I've been tasked with

No, you're an idiot who has been given a task.

"Task" is not a verb.

Re:You're an idiot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#25491277)

Pretty much every dictionary in the world disagrees with you. "Task" is a noun, adjective and verb.

Backend matters too. (1)

Stormbringer (3643) | more than 5 years ago | (#25491165)

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, and that unit was a self-contained instrument. I keep a lowly refurbished Tektronix 465 on hand for analog work for just that reason.

The logic analyzer is the harder problem (1)

Animats (122034) | more than 5 years ago | (#25491201)

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 [] for use with such capture devices. Take a look at this [] for some USB-based interface hardware. They also offer some units that can emulate a scope in hardware. For a real entry-level product, see this low end unit. [] There's a demo video.

Cost goes up with data rate and channels captured. If you need to look at 10GHz signals, it's going to cost you. 10 MHz, quite cheap.

What do you want a logic analyzer for, anyway?

if I may jihack (1)

Lord Ender (156273) | more than 5 years ago | (#25491211)

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?

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