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Oscilloscopes For Modern Engineers?

kdawson posted more than 4 years ago | from the squiggly-lines dept.

Hardware 337

Every few years someone asks this community for advice on oscilloscopes. Reader dawning writes "I've just graduated with a degree in Computer Engineering (and did a Comp Sci one while I was at it) and I'm finding myself woefully under-equipped to do some great hardware projects. I'm in major need of a good oscilloscope. I'm willing to put down $2,000 for a decent one, but there are several options and they all seem so archaic and limited. I'm happy to use something that must be controlled through a PC if that gives me more measuring features. What would you, my esteemed Slashdot colleagues, get for yourself?"

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An old Tektronix is fine for a modern engineer (3, Interesting)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 4 years ago | (#33132902)

I use an R7704 at home, and a 7633 at the office.

Re:An old Tektronix is fine for a modern engineer (3, Informative)

stevenvi (779021) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133172)

A new Tektronix oscilloscope will work as well. When I was an undergrad my colleagues were convinced that you need analog ones to make proper measurements, but I've had great success using digital ones. I actually prefer them.

Without a definition of what "good" means or what your needs are, I don't think that anyone can give you any sort of advice. I personally would never use one that had to be controlled through a PC. Having to drag a laptop or something all around the electronics of an experiment would be a major pain. (I've only used them in the context of the detector and apparatus signals in physics experiments.)

Re:An old Tektronix is fine for a modern engineer (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133346)

I got a Tektronix 2432 on Ebay for less than $200 with 4 probes. The 2432 is a 300MHz capture scope that is not as well known as other older Tektronix scopes so it can be bought often very cheaply. People confuse it with a 2445 which is older and not a capture scope.

But first, you have to think about what you will do with a scope. I am a computer engineer and use my scope infrequently. When I was working with video I used it more often and when I build my own uController projects I often have to debug my PCB layout. But most times I could use a good multimeter or a counter. Another option is to use the uC itself as a scope. Data logging can be a problem if you want a lot of samples with a uC with limited memory.

But I agree, when you need a scope there is no substitute.

Re:An old Tektronix is fine for a modern engineer (2, Funny)

Dreadflint (936487) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133200)

My Tektronix 585 [] is fine for a modern end table. I got it for free and it still works. :)

Re:An old Tektronix is fine for a modern engineer (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133376)

We have a Yokogawa DL-750 [] at work. Thermocouples, Strain input, Voltage. Up to 1 Ghz sampling rate (on 1 channel). 40GB HD. Should be just under $40k :).

Spark fun [] has quite a few inexpensive ones. They probably have everything else you need for your hardware projects too. Looks like it's a signal generator too. Or for 'on the go' stuff, this pocket one at SparkFun looks good.

Here's a generic one for $65 []

Even the most basic ones at Tektronix start out at over $3k (that I was finding).

But it all depends on what you want to do also. Some small microcontroller stuff or trouble shooting complex circuits.

Re:An old Tektronix is fine for a modern engineer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133424)

Get something made by Lacroy. You can play solitaire on the Waverunner.

Seriously though, a National Instruments DAQ might be right up your alley as long as you're careful about DC components and large voltage spikes. They run around $2000.

Re:An old Tektronix is fine for a modern engineer (1)

Dolphinzilla (199489) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133418)

The more I use the modern digital scopes the more I hate them. yes they have many useful features like storage (although I did have an analog storage scope at a place I use to work) and the ability to make screen snaps and the like, but there is something about that analog phosphor glow that makes me all warm inside :-) and sampling sometimes has its issues !

Heathkit of course, bitch! (2, Funny)

LibertineR (591918) | more than 4 years ago | (#33132914)

Just kidding. Memories...... Built two Heathkid O-Scopes as a child.

As for your question, who the fuck knows?

Re:Heathkit of course, bitch! (2, Funny)

lightneo (1288354) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133096)

ive got a working heathkit o-12 i would be willing to part with for 2 grand!

Buy a cheap digital scope and a good analog scope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33132920)

... which will also be cheap, thanks to eBay.

Digital scopes are all the same, and all crappy, until you spend a LOT of money on them. At $2000 you will not be able to buy a DSO that will be able to replace a good analog scope for serious development/troubleshooting work.

One exception: if you can stretch your budget to get a used TDS3000 or TDS3000B series scope, that would be a good way to go.

Re:Buy a cheap digital scope and a good analog sco (2, Informative)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133366)

Personally I find traditional non-storage analog scopes pretty much useless for digital stuff. Really you can only use them if you can arrange for the signal in question to output a simple pattern that repeats infinitely.

Never used an analog storage scope but from what I hear they aren't exactly great for high speed stuff either.

One exception: if you can stretch your budget to get a used TDS3000 or TDS3000B series scope, that would be a good way to go.
There is one listed on ebay buy it now right now for the original posters budget of $2000 []

outsource it to india (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33132922)

have them take the measurements for you.

itll give you great experience in The Real World.

Bieber (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33132928)

Justin Bieber suggests his rock hard cock spewing creamy white lava would make a good tool.

Re:Bieber (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133302)

Yeah but you'd need an extra electron microscope just to find his cock.

Kazkek (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33132944)

May I suggest you get a DAQ usb card and Labview from National Instruments. Probably some of the best investments you can do. You can do many things with a DAQ card and Labview including building your own digital Oscilloscope.

Re:Kazkek (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133316)

While I'm a gigantic LabVIEW fanboy, those USB DAQs don't have the bandwidth of a real oscilloscope. IIRC, most of those USB ones sample at 50 - 500 kS/s. Your low end digital scope will have a bandwidth of 20 MHz or more.

dumpster diving (2, Insightful)

iveygman (1303733) | more than 4 years ago | (#33132968)

Back in graduate school, my roommate and I would dumpster dive and repair broken ones. More often than not, it's a pretty simple fix.

Re:dumpster diving (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133112)

its funny that electronics engineers throw out their broken electronics.

Re:dumpster diving (3, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133244)

Not really.

If they need it accurate and traceable they'd have to pay a lab to calibrate it after it was fixed. Such a lab would reject it due to it being fixed (and charge a pretty penny with no calibrated scope at the end of the process.) So they're stuck.

(This reminds me of a story my wife tells about a lab PC that had a bad case of infant mortality. The local techs wanted to fix it themselves. She pointed out it was still in warranty - so the thing to do was send it back for fix-or-replace for free, rather than void the warranty and maybe end up with a broken machine and nothing (but wasted engineer time) to show for it.

Fixing a scope adequately for home use is another matter. Then, if you ever need serious accuracy, you can do the same sort of compensation hacks that were done back in the tube days, when stuff drifted all the time and you couldn't just have a lab tune up anything complicated and expect it to stay tuned.

Re:dumpster diving (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133314)

What lab will reject an instrument "due to it being fixed"?! Most contemporary instruments are calibrated without opening the covers, you could literally replace everything inside and just make it emulate the original instrument and no one would be any wiser.

Re:dumpster diving (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133256)

The grad students probably do it so that they can dumpster dive later.

modern engineers solve problems. (2, Funny)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 4 years ago | (#33132972)

Like: How am I going to stop some big mean mother hubbard from tearing me a structurally superfluous new behind?

You, sir, are no engineer.

What do you need it for? Frequency range (3, Funny)

line-bundle (235965) | more than 4 years ago | (#33132982)

Without know what frequency range, voltage range, connectivity requirements (is computer connection USB or serial port?) I cannot help you in your selection.

OTOH you can give me the $2000 and I can give you my blessing.

O-scope experiences. (2, Informative)

gwdoiron (1590237) | more than 4 years ago | (#33132990)

What you should buy depends on what you plan to do, obviously. I've used several of the korean imports (Owon, Rigol) and although the feature set on those is incredible for the price, the units themselves have strange firmware problems that can be maddening when they strike. Also, the knockoff scopes can't seem to get "Automatic" triggering correct (they only sweep 3 or 4 times a second, no matter how fast you crank up the sweep rate, and that can be annoying when you are monitoring a signal), the Tektronix scopes are much better with regard to this feature.

Re:O-scope experiences. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133150)

I have a rigol scope which I use for tinkering with microcontrollers ( looking at serial waveforms, glitches in power, etc ) and low frequency analog circuits. For what I do it's really great. I'd buy another one.

Re:O-scope experiences. (1)

throwaway18 (521472) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133344)

I recommend NOT buying a Hantek USB oscilloscope.

I got a DSO-2250 which sounded good for the money. I would have spent more time reading reviews, this review sums it up [] .

The software for windows is buggy and limited. They seem to have largely rewritten the software between version 6 and version 7 but have just replaced old bugs with different bugs.
The most frustrating bug is that it gets stuck and stops triggering until you close and reopen the software. It's really annoying to have your hands full poking the probes into some equipment and not knowing if you have missed the packet of data you are trying to catch because it wasn't sent or because the scope software didn't work.

The manufacturer claims 8bit sampling and 250 megasamples/second.
Sadly the hardware is noisy and the lowest two bits randomly change. The software has a smoothing option to hide the noise but then you don't get anything like the time resolution you paid for.
If the software was better I could live with that as I mostly look at digital signals.

I still personally favour a PC oscilloscope since I haul a laptop around and might as well make use of it's high resolution screen.
For digital work a 'scope that can capture a one time event to look at at your leisure is far better than an analog scope that needs a repetitive signal to keep refreshing the CRT.

Tek 1012B (3, Insightful)

DoctorNathaniel (459436) | more than 4 years ago | (#33132992)

I'm rather fond of the low-end Tek scopes. The LCD screen is a little slow, and there's only 2 channels, but these are not huge limitations for most basic work. I use these teaching physics and intro electronics to undergraduates - they're easy to use, lightweight, and can store data through USB or pen drives. 100 MHz for about $1200, which is OK for general use.

Re:Tek 1012B (4, Interesting)

marcansoft (727665) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133202)

Or you can get a $370 Rigol DS1052E [] , and software-hack it to enable 100MHz mode. Not quite as good as a Tek, but significantly cheaper and well worth the money, especially if you're on a smaller budget. I recently got one (it's about time I bought a scope) and I've been quite happy with it for my purposes.

Info on the hack here [] .

Re:Tek 1012B (2, Informative)

bushing (20804) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133450)

It's also worth pointing out that Rigol apparently makes some of Agilent's low-end scopes [] for them, so the fact that they aren't a household name doesn't mean all that much.

The Rigol scope has a lot of nice features that you wouldn't expect to find on a cheap scope -- it can take screenshots and store them to a USB thumb drive or print them to a USB printer, you can connect it to your computer to control it or acquire data via USB or RS-232, etc. It actually oversamples at 1 Gigasample/second -- there have been a number of EEVblog shows about it, talking about its performance, the parts that go into it (and the corners they did cut to get the price down!), etc. Google "eevblog rigol" to find the rest of them.

Re:Tek 1012B (1)

RobKow (1787) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133438)

I can second that. I've got a 1012B and I couldn't be happier. It's got hard buttons and knobs for the important stuff, and the menus are easy to use. Plus it's portable if I need to use it in the field (rare).

cheap old used analog and some storage digital (2, Insightful)

TheGratefulNet (143330) | more than 4 years ago | (#33132994)

you need two. you do.

some old analog one, 10 or 50mhz should be cheap and easy.

then some digital storage scope with pc interface. I have a semi-cheap BK 2532 that is a low end but affordable unit for home use. (noisy fan, though).

tektronics is great but at the low end (your range) they all kind of suck. they do! that's why you need analog to 'see' the wave you can't quite see on those cheap a/d converters that $2k and less buys you.

ie, don't expect much from cheap digital on analog wave viewing.

plan to get 1 of each.

See Slashdot circa 2001 (3, Informative)

Qubit (100461) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133002)

Building a Cheap Oscilloscope Using Your PC? []

There are some interesting suggestions there.

I'm thinking that some of the more adventurous open hardware folks might think about working on a completely open hardware scope. I mean, what's better than being able to use open tools to build open projects?

Answering myself... (2, Informative)

Qubit (100461) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133286)

Actually, there's at least company with open hardware oscilloscopes: [] .

Ebay (3, Insightful)

Charliemopps (1157495) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133008)

Got mine on ebay for a ridiculously low price... but like someone else mentioned, what you use it for is rather important.

Re:Ebay (1)

ultracool (883965) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133208)

Yes, definitely ebay! Old analog scopes are just as good as digital scopes (in some cases preferable), but it depends on the application, and you can fix them if they break. If you need a really fast scope or want math functions, then you need a newer one. We have a few digital Tektronix scopes in the lab, and they are just fine. Also, what is handy with newer scopes is that they have USB ports so it's easy to save your data (if you need to).

Re:Ebay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133494)

Older scopes have high maintenance costs. I had a nice 275MHz HP scope a while back. Even though it came calibrated, it had to be re-calibrated on a regular basis. Depending on where you live, this can be expensive or even impossible. The newer digital scopes are far more reliable in this sense.

50 MHz RIGOL DS-1052e (1)

Speare (84249) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133010)

Unless you're doing very fast microelectronics, or lots of logic analysis work requiring the triggering at certain bus addresses, this unit should serve hobby level work. It's got PC connectivity, screenshots or CSV file capture to a thumb-drive, and can be found for less than $400.

Re:50 MHz RIGOL DS-1052e (1)

marcansoft (727665) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133216)

And you can software-hack it [] into a 100MHz DS1102E, the hardware is the same.

Converter kit (1)

jvillain (546827) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133012)

Depending on what you are using it for it may vary. But a good answer is to buy one of those probe kits that has an AD converter and then plugs into your computer. The computer becomes the oscilloscope via software. There a lot of ups to that like logging and being able to print the output etc. Much cheaper than buying a full oscilloscope and if you plug it into a laptop it is portable.

Rigol logic analyzer/scope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133014)

Look up the specs for a Rigol 1052D. It's a 16 channel logic analyzer and 2 channel analog scope. It's not a bad scope and is cheap. I also have an old Tektronix TDS1012. The Tek is nice as it's a 100Mhz scope, but when doing complex digital debugging, the Rigol is very helpful.

Get a Digital Radio (2, Interesting)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133018)

Probably the best deal would be to get a digital radio. If you can live with ~150Ms/s (a tad slow, but hey), then a cheap thing to do would be to get a digital radio (SDR) system. Say Mercury SDR. Those things typically have a good, 16 bit 100+Ms/s ADC front end, feeding into an FPGA that can do a lot of processing goodies, with low noise, and you should be able to hook up a Tek 7k plugin as a front-end after a few tweaks (simply to get going). You can get everything for $700. You have open source software, full documentation, and you can put a lot of very interesting signal processing on the FPGA. Keeping sampler's speed limitations in mind, you can otherwise easily match performance of many lower-end spectrum analyzers, and $20k+ scopes.

There are no $2k digital scopes with any decent feature set to speak of, even second-hand ones.

If you're into tweaking analog, then a Tektronix 7k mainframe with proper plugins gives you everything you may need. Heck, you can even get a simple logic analyzer for those. With *analog* zoom, no less.

Re:Get a Digital Radio (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133414)

He said he wanted a scope, not a multi-year R&D project.

Scopemeter 199C (2, Insightful)

mpoulton (689851) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133030)

I am lucky enough to have a Scopemeter 199C. It rules. If you can possibly swing the cost, I'd highly recommend it. This model has remained Fluke's top of the line portable DSO for almost a decade, and the price has not changed for years. Portability is a great advantage for all sorts of applications, and the scope itself includes a full complement of great features including spectrum analysis, cross-channel math functions, and full DMM capabilities separate from the scope hardware. The computer interface and software is nice too. Probes and accessories are extremely expensive though, so keep that in mind.

Re:Scopemeter 199C (1)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133114)

I would second Fluke as a general brand, last I looked they had some sweet portable scopes. All I have is a fluke 87, old meter, but works nicely. My first scope was a heathkit someone else built. second one was a tube type (hey, it was cheap, dual, and HF) tek. I now have a somewhat newer dual trace tek. have had to fix it twice tho. dual trace has unexpected advantages... makes it easy to compare and find the problem when one side goes down ;)

Re:Scopemeter 199C (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133142)

Many years ago Fluke advertised with the unfortunate slogan "It's a Fluke. It works." It was unfortunate because a lot of signs were changed to "It's a fluke it works."

Go pro....or go home... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133032)

Why go affordable when you can get an Agilent or Yokogawa scopecorder for like ten times your budget... really get some use out of it... and get killed by your wife in the process when you have to mortgage the house and sell the car to afford it!

TI-Nspire (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133046)

You know, the TI-Nspire can mimic some of the functions of an oscilloscope and is vastly cheaper.

I've a crazy Egyptian friend who teaches (He retired from engineering and decided to give something back, after making $$$ from royalties with regards to DSL modems) who wrote a paper on using the TI-Nspire to replace an oscilloscope with regard to Lissajous figures (An abridged version was published in NCTM and you can see it at without paying).

I don't know what you are going to use it for, but you might consider the idea and see if it can work for you (TI-Nspire or TI-Nspire CAS) as $150 or so it is a lot better than $2000

Don't settle for USB scopes (2, Informative)

gardyloo (512791) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133052)

The USB scopes are maddeningly horrible at triggering, at sample rates, and at aliasing. You're much, MUCH better off going with a stand-alone scope (LeCroy, Tektronix, Agilent) than any of the ones run by PC. LeCroy doesn't seem to provide much in the way of repair schematics, but Tektronix and Agilent are pretty good in that respect. I'd spring for one of the nicer Agilent/HP or Tektronix scopes, frankly, or even a LeCroy, but never something which is limited to being run by PC solely.

What are you looking for? (2, Informative)

Cylix (55374) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133054)

This is a bit light on the requirements, but there wasn't exactly a defined need.

So generally speaking you should form some criteria.

Number of inputs, frequency spectrum, what comparative features do you need.

Next, if you are willing to purchase something used and have it tuned/repaired there can be considerable savings. Up one level from this is a direct refurbishing company that guarantees a functional and re-tuned unit.

Now, we all enjoy new and shiny toys, but the trick is being honest with yourself.If it's going to be used for hobby grade activities then don't fall into the trap of wanting the same things you might use at the office. While I would like some of the severs I actually have at work I would not spend the several thousand it would take to actually purchase one of them.

That said I would generally avoid ebay because most refurb shops will sale you the same thing on their site without the wait.

Re:What are you looking for? (1)

Gavin Scott (15916) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133290)

Indeed, "I need a scope" is very much like asking "I need a computer".

Can you tell us anything more about what sort of projects you want to work on? The problem is that a lot of modern technology now involves signal frequencies that are high enough that the test equipment needed to deal with it is both obscenely expensive and very special purpose.

Some years ago Agilent made a very sexy combination logic analyzer and scope for around $5K (IIRC) which I was lusting after for quite a while. These days their stuff has become mostly unfordable though, and the low end (you can get a dual trace 200MHz scope for 2K list price from them) really seems expensive for what you get. If you have a quarter million dollars to spend they can totally hook you up though.

Oscilloscopes are an area where advances in technology have not made them cheap and ubiquitous, and for the hobbyist the situation seems to be much worse than it was in the past, unless you can live with the 100Mhz world in which case there seem to be a fair number of options.

I suspect your best bet will be to look for something used.


USBee (2, Informative)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133056)

USBee [] has usb-based, software-driven oscilloscopes and logic analyzers to plug up with your computer. Not exactly the old, free-standing devices, but it might work for you. The price looks about right, too.

Re:USBee (1)

delusrexpert (578176) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133426)

Second this got one works great don't waste your time just go for the DX model.

Check out Lecroy (1)

EmagGeek (574360) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133062)

Much better UI than Tek, by a longshot. Far more functional.

I don't know about the $2k price range. We have a fleet of WaveRunners that run around $15k to start, but I imagine some of the UI is the same.

Re:Check out Lecroy (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133474)

Afaict Lecroy are generally regarded as the top brand in scopes but with a price tag to match with agilent (former HP) and tek taking up the middle of the range and the far eastern vendors covering the crappy end of the market.

Ebay is your friend (1)

SrJsignal (753163) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133066)

First, pick a realistic frequency range, decide what other stuff you care about.
Don't forget about probes, nice ones can be expensize, don't spend your budget then find out you need $500 in probes. Again, this depends on your frequency range.
Then, a good place to start is ebay, remember, old and working is the same as new and working +5lbs per decade of age. (old test equipment is heavy!)

Some of the new Agilent scopes are sweet, we've rented some at my office (esp if you pony up for the 15" LCD) personally, having one that requires a computer is a PITA.
Decent Agilents []

Good luck.

My take (5, Insightful)

Andrew Sterian (182) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133070)

Don't skimp. Get a good one, name brand (Tek, Agilent, LeCroy, etc.) at least 100 MHz bandwidth (the higher the better), 4 channels if you can afford it, some way to get data off the scope and onto a USB drive/network. Everything else is fluff and you can pay for it if you want, but I'd say the above are non-negotiable.

Don't even think about a PC-based scope. A scope is a standalone instrument, always has been, always will be.

Re:My take (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133252)

i agree.

i do power electronics and a four channel scope gives you a much better idea of what's going on and cause/effect relationships.

i use a two channel scope. i get to borrow my coworkers 4 channel scope sometimes. when i upgrade, it'll definitely be a four channel scope.

Re:My take (2, Insightful)

scribblej (195445) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133324)

I disagree about "Don't skimp". I've got a 100MHz 2-channel scope from Owon in China, and it is great. Only set me back $300. I could buy ten of them for the price of a single Tek. I also have an old analog Tek but it never gets used.

Re:My take (1)

Capt. Skinny (969540) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133490)

I could probably buy ten Hundai sedans for the price of a Ferrari, but that doesn't mean I would be satisfied with any of them.

Re:My take (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133434)

"Don't even think about a PC-based scope. A scope is a standalone instrument, always has been, always will be."

I hate to break it to you but most scopes already are PC-based.

Re:My take (3, Informative)

schwep (173358) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133496)

I agree with Andrew. I like having a stand alone instrument that data can be sent to the PC. It really depends on what you're going to be doing as to what you should buy... For $2k you can get a great deal on a used one (like from ebay) but you'll need to do some research first.

Dave does some good reviews here: []

lol "CompEng" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133082)

Pay an EE to build one for you.

Lecroy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133086)

If I had two grand I'd buy a Lecroy WaveAce. Meanwhile I enjoy my Fluke Scopemeter.

Handheld (4, Informative)

aero2600-5 (797736) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133098)

I used to be a certified electronics calibration technician, and I've never noticed a difference between the analog and the digital.

If $2k is your budget, and not having any idea what you're going to be using it for, I highly recommend a handheld Fluke. They were just as reliable as the old analog ones, but with more features.

This is the model I'm referring to:

Fluke 125 []
Official Fluke 125 page []


Fluke is overpriced and underfeatured (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133486)

Why would you drop $2k on a 40MHz 2-ch monochrome scope? Especially given that the USB cable for it is $167?

$2150 [] get you a Tek TDS2014B - 4-ch 100MHz benchtop DSO with USB access.
handheld scopes generally have fewer channels, fewer trigger types, and smaller displays.

I think software/firmware people really need at least 4-ch. You can use it to look at the signals for SPI or the USB data + clock and I2C signals plus another channel can really help in multi-master setups. Sure you could save all that stuff for the logic analyzer, but LAs are expensive and a chore to configure. Scopes are relatively straight forward and good enough for more serial signals if you get a moderately fast one (100MHz or more). Save the LAs for nasty things like big buses. Dedicated I2C, SPI and USB debuggers are worthwhile if you get serious as they are not terribly expensive ($150-300 each for low speed versions). Although if you're doing USB on a microcontroller and think you have a signal integrity or power issue a scope is your best friend!

$2000 should buy you some very nice hardware (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133108)

I don't know about the exact designs that you have in mind, but I wouldn't want to work on anything that goes much above 10 Mhz as tolerances are so much lower and things get so much harder to design and debug.

You shouldn't need a really high sample rate, and usually 20-40 Mhz of bandwidth on 2-4 channels is plenty.

I've used two really nice digital scopes, by Agilent and by Tektronix, while in school. Both companies have entry-level models that are right in your range, around $1,100. [] []

I've also used a high-end Agilent scope that included a 20(?) channel digital logic analyzer and a 4-channel analog scope and ran visualization software on a built in intel PC running windows.
While this was great for some projects, most of the time it was overkill and I much preferred the "simple" Tektronix scope that didn't have to boot up windows before it was ready to go :)

Don't overlook "old" analog scopes. They work just as good as the latest and greates for most uses, and can be found for a lot less.

Before you buy, try to get a better understanding of your actual needs. How many channels are you actually going to capture at any given time? What's the maximum signal frequency that you'll be working with?

Linux (1)

kb1ikn (866009) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133116)

Before you go spend some money, take a look at some of the ham radio utilities provided for free (with the cost of interfacing hardware) on your favorite distribution. Some other hardware considerations is the ability to export waveforms to csv, png, etc. I prefer Tektronix scopes. I would even consider a leasing program with a local vendor. A function generator and programmable power supply (Agilent) with an IEEE GPIB port might be helpful in the future.

Best solution (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133130)

Get a job someplace that has all the toys you want to play with.

PicoScope (1)

Skewray (896393) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133132)

We've been using a PicoScope (from the UK) at recently and it seems to work okay. Operates through the USB port.

DSO Nano (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133138)

While not the most powerful, the oscilloscope I use the most is a DSO nano
It only has one channel, and only samples up to 1MHz, but it is literally built with a cell phone chassis, so it is tiny.

FuckeR (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133152)

Unless you're dealing with 1MHz+, go Analog (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133164)

I got a 40MHz analog (non-storage) Iwatsu (SS-5705) oscilloscope. I've still got two years until my BSEE, but this thing has more than sufficed for my audio-frequency hobbyist work with sound synthesis. Bad example, maybe, but I'm just saying; keep it simple!

Good Site for Buying Oscilliscopes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133176)

For a good deal try Goodwill stores, their online auction site: [] , they regularly have scopes there for not very much

What types of measurements do you intend to do? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133190)

You mentioned hardware projects, but specifically what types of measurements are you intending to do? Based on your requirements of accuracy, voltage range, signal conditioning needs, and signal frequencies, you can determine whether you in fact need to drop $2,000 on a benchtop scope or you could use data acquisition devices.

There are data acquisition devices for less than a $1,000 that cover a lot of measurement needs (up to 1 or 2 MS/s, 16 bit analog input resolution) and way more flexiblity, but without knowing your requirements, it'd be tough to recommend something.

Not a scope, but a good logic analyzer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133194)

The utility of logic analyzers in development is not to be underestimated. The logic port is an excellent, affordable USB based logic analyzer. We've used it in the production and debugging of commercial hardware for several years now.

As far as Scopes go, a basic Tek one will often suffice for most development work. When the Dot-Com bubble was bursting it was possible to pick them up at a good price from failing companies. Its probably still possible if you live in an area with a lot of (failing) companies.

NI Data Acquisition (1)

toppavak (943659) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133196)

National Instruments makes a series of nice data acquisition cards [] in PCI, PCIe and USB form factors. For ~$2k you can get a board with 16-bit resolution, 1.25 MS/s (split between input channels), 2-4 analog outputs (16-bit, 2.86 MS/s), 24-48 1 MHz DIOs. The DAQ drivers are pretty well documented and easy to pull into custom code plus includes basic display and data-logging software in the form of LabVIEW SignalExpress. The main reason to go for one of these over a faster sampling O-scope is the output ports and potential for device control and testing using one piece of hardware if that's something you'd be interested in.

Re:NI Data Acquisition (1)

tibit (1762298) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133336)

Many DAQ cards are notorious for their aliasing problems. You'll be lucky if you find a 2nd order lowpass before the ADC. I've seen cards with 250kHz sampling rate (at 16 bits) that are significantly sensitive (think 30dB down) to stuff at 10MHz. Those are very good -- that is if you want to find cables that have good (low) common mode to differential mode conversion ratios.

It depends on what you're designing. (5, Informative)

gmarsh (839707) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133204)

I'm an EE who does electronics design for a living, and I've done audio, SMPS, digital, FPGA, you name it. And in each case, the "best scope to use" was different:

- For analog work, or for simple microcontroller debugging, something like a USBee will work great.

- If you're doing higher speed analog, lower-frequency RF or switching power supply design, I'm a huge fan of the Tektronix DPO series. I use a TDS3032.

- For digital work (debugging serial/parallel interfaces and whatnot) I use an old 100MHz "Mega Zoom" HP logic analyzer.

- If I'm doing a design with a big FPGA, bringing lots of extra signals to the FPGA during layout time and using something like Chipscope Pro (on Xilinx FPGAs) to watch what's going on has been extremely handy. No test equipment required!

Go for a NI DAQ if you want hardcore awesomeness (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133212)

Psh, don't go for all of those toys, get something worth your while, get a National Instruments DAQ, It'll run you alot, but if you just graduated you might be able to get an educational discount, and they've got tons of features (and are very robust/long lasting)

regular scopes are so limited in the ways you can analyze the data, with a daq, you can input and output, analog or digital, and write it to a spreadsheet for later, or even save jpges of the waveforms, it's wayyyyy better for engineering type analysis and all sorts of other nifty things, plus they're super accurate ( for most projecty stuff )

Get a used Analog Scope (2, Interesting)

Old time hacker (302793) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133228)

I picked up a used Tektronix 7904 for under $100. Of course, the four probes that I needed cost rather more than the scope, but that's life. The 7904 (with the modules that I have) is a 350MHz unit -- which is great for doing radio work. This setup could easily have cost $10k new.

Buy one of these online and the shipping will kill you. You need to find someone local who wants to get rid of one.

Has anyone tested these? (1)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133236)

Re:Has anyone tested these? (1)

iksbob (947407) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133458)

I've built and used the DIY kit. It's a fun, functional project to build but falls short for anything but the most basic o-scope work. It's better than nothing, but its single channel, no trigger input, tiny screen and limited processing power will leave you wanting more.

Re:Has anyone tested these? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133480)

I have the DSO Nano, its okay, they need to work out the firmware issues though. Its good for automotive stuff and audio, but anything in the multiple mhz it won't do.

Inexpensive Scope (1)

snarkyaardvark (1870418) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133242)

Used is the way to go in Oscilloscopes. Engineers need to be "at one with their oscilloscope" therefore they tend to be very well cared for. The gold standard in used oscilloscopes is: [] I can't say enough good things about this company, I have bought 4 different scopes from them. PM me on Reddit if you have any questions. (snarkyaardvark)

Check out Tektronix (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133248)

I use a Tektronix MSO 4034 at work. Around the 2k price range I would suggest looking into a few of the smaller Tektronix two channel digital scopes as they are a good value for the price. I've also used the USBee and it does a decent job but the sample rate can be an issue. The logic analyzer on the USBee is a really nice feature for analyzing serial, I2C, SPI, etc. The downside however is the sample rate and duration is limited by your RAM.

simplescope (1)

alphatel (1450715) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133254)

One stainless steel tongue depressor and two copper wires.

Tektronics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133260)

I use a Tektronics TDS2014B, really nice scope, 4 channel, 100MHz bandwidth, USB interface(B on the Back for a printer? or computer(Yeah, crazy) and an A on the front for flash drives) nice software, pause/start the view is nice for serial debugging. Don't know the cost, but it's a really nice scope, thats coming from someone who used to use an old tube scope...

I've found PC based scopes useless (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133268)

I never found one I liked. They all seem very limited in the kinds of probes you can use, the triggers, or the refresh/display. I'm a software guy, so it's not like I am a hardware expert looking for some obscure features.
The best I've used are the ones with ethernet where you can access the data via an AJAX enabled webserver. Then zoom, pan, etc. It's all very slick and worked fine in a non-IE browser (Firefox), this gave me some PC access so I could show others the data I've collected, take screenshots, etc without having to swap a USB drive. If you get an older scope without networking, get one with USB or CF. Having a copy of your data is pretty important, and being able to paint on a picture to describe what you see to others is vital.

You got $2000, you say? Okay. (0, Flamebait)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133294)

Well, just STFW [] .

Refurb Tek (1)

mchargmg (1055940) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133308)

You can buy a refurb Tek 2465B with 4 channels and 400 MHz bandwidth for about $1300. They are easy to use, and trigger well. Of course they are analog, so it depends on how you are going to use it. For normal lab work they are great.

Build one, really. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133328)

I know this isn't popular advice, but you might want to consider just BUILDING an 'o scope'
and by 'o scope' really I just mean a data acquisition card with, say, 100 Mbit ethernet or maybe USB 2.0 high speed as an interface. It will obviously be PC controlled with the PC able and needed to act as a display device, but I consider those advantages, not portability / modularity drawbacks.
There are plenty of cheap ADC converters out there that will do anywhere from 1 MS/s to 1 GS/s, and I suspect that if you paid around $500 or less for the ADC chip(s), buffer amp, professional probe set, you'd still have $1500 budget left for the rest. A Mini-ITX motherboard + CPU like the Zotac IonITX A-U will set you back $350 with RAM and HDD and case included in that price. Just buying a laptop or netbook for a small dedicated display / control unit would set you back $450 or less as an alternative.
Then you just need a basic ethernet or USB 2.0 control processor, and things like the LPCExpresso board or MBED unit or a Stellaris LM3S8962 evaluation board are all in the $30-$200 range or so, and of course you could just build one with a PCB layout easily enough. The only real decision is how fast you want the control processor to be and whether you're going to add a few megabytes of on board buffer RAM in which case you'd probably be looking at some ARM9/926 or whatever CPU or module with SRAM/SDRAM interfaces for buffer memory. Or just make an expansion board for the $150 beagleboard that does signal acquisition or some such thing. Or look at the other OMAP / DSP evaluation boards that have fast local ram and USB 2.0 HS, whatever.

Anyway you won't be stuck paying scope providers for "options" like PC interface software, waveform analysis, FFT modes, printing capability, or whatever since it will all be basically free software on the PC side of things, and you control the hardware.

Admittedly 40 MBy/s streaming rate over USB 2.0 isn't all that good, but it'd be good for a real time 40 MS/s at 8b/s or 20MS/s at 16b/s and anyway with say 512kBy of buffer RAM on the board you could still capture 1Gs/s for 500us sequences at 8b/s or 250us at 16b/s or so which is not bad considering how cheap it could be to make this.

If you wanted to involve a bit more engineering effort you could easily make something 2GS/s or whatever with a lot more buffer RAM, probably even using COTS CPU modules like something from logicpd or gumstix or a TI DSP/OMAP evaluation kit even some Virtex 5 FPGA eval board or whatever just with an ADC added on to the external I/O interface and using the HS USB or Gbit/s ethernet / DSP / CPU parts "as is" on the base board.

Anyway you could certainly buy an "OK" scope for $2000, but really you'd be unlikely to get something that was fast enough or good enough to keep up with a lot of stuff like RF in the 802.11 / bluetooth band, USB 2.0 or 3.0 signals, 1 Gbit ethernet, PCI express signals, DDR3 signals, or other very common sorts of signals. You'd be basically limited to a lot of older technology slow speed serial or parallel busses and low IF frequency RF stuff and generic DC / analog circuits. Seems better to accept compromises on the features now and save most of the money or at least use it to buy expandable / generic components (PC hardware) which will handily be able to be expanded to other uses and higher performance as time goes on.

I expect that after USB 3 is out a while (maybe a year or so) you'll start to see some DSPs from places like TI or FPGAs from say Xilinx with built in USB 3 interfaces and have it be easy to interface GS/s ADCs to them, at which point the only sane choice for a basic o-scope will be PC based in such a fashion.

Anyway building the data acquisition interface from modules or parts would be a fun learning project and a useful piece of test equipment. Time was when a lot of test equipment was self built by the engineer or their department; it's a good skill / project, and very cost effective. For instance if you added some DAC and RF frequency generation and such capabilities to the unit you could have a 0-3 GHz spectrum / network analyzer WAY cheaper than even used commercial gear for a few hundred added tinkering dollars.

After almost forty years in the business (3, Insightful)

overshoot (39700) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133386)

What would you, my esteemed Slashdot colleagues, get for yourself?

An employer. Seriously. Every piece of test equipment I've ever owned (some costing upwards of $5000 1978 dollars) was a lousy investment.

Especially when you consider that I have a lab at $WORK with scores of tools costing more than I make in a year, it's stupid to spend my own money on them.

$200-300, not $2000... used Tek scope on ebay (2)

neurocutie (677249) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133430)

You should be able to buy a decent used Tektronix scope on ebay for $200-300, not $2000. Something in the 2200 series, or 400 series. Digital storage scope with 2 channels, A delay B horizontal, 100Mhz bandwidth.

Link Instruments USB (1)

MWP-AU (538054) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133436)

I have a Link Instruments MSO-9212 + Logic Analyzer Pod. Works well, is fast and accurate. Software can be a little buggy at times, but the Link customer support is very good.

For what it's worth! (3, Informative)

cmdrbrooks (1416683) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133452)

I've been engineering for over 30 years and in my opinion there's nothing like a good old 7000 series Tektronix scope. You can pick one up on ebay and configure it with modules to do just about anything you would want a scope to do. They're old, use some power and oh by the way...they are analog. But they are great scopes. A lot will depend on what the projects you are talking about require, but as a good general purpose scope they are great. You can get all the manuals and work on the equipment yourself. And you will see electronics build the way no one builds it anymore, including Tek. I have a complete bench full of Tek and HP gear and it serves me well for projects ranging from audio designs to the latest single chip controller applications. Good luck in your search.

Another +1 for Tektronix (1)

ultrapenguin (2643) | more than 4 years ago | (#33133466)

I got a DPO4034 and its great. 350MHz, 4 channels, can do I2C/CAN/SPI bus decoding and Wave Inspector rules.

Mirroscope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133478)

I still have my father's mirroscope. He purchased it sometime in the early 50's for TV repair. It hasn't been powered up for at least 25 years though...

vxi11 scope and Steven Sharples vxi11 for Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33133492)

I use a Tektronix DPO2014. It has an optional ethernet based interface that will put the total price closer to $3000 new.

Using Steven Sharple's wonderful and open source VXI11 interface for Linux ( you can control every feature of the scope and transfer data to a Linux based computer (this would be true of any other scope that implements VXI11). This allows you to use as a traditional oscilloscope and as a DAQ. I've never used a software based oscilloscope that I liked as much as the traditional ones with nobs and such.

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