How To Buy An Oscilloscope

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How To Buy An Oscilloscope - Oscilloscopes are used in a wide range of industries and applications by a wide variety of people, including electrical engineers, physicists, computer network professionals, automotive mechanics, TV repair technicians, and medical researchers, to name a few. Simply put, oscilloscopes are used by any professional testing, designing or repairing electronic modules, systems and equipment, whether it is digital or analog in nature. Determining how the oscilloscope will be used and in what environment (in the lab/office, out in the field, or in a factory/production line setting) are just two factors that need to be considered as you are planning the purchase. Other questions that should be asked before buying an oscilloscope include:

  • Will you need to measure a number of different signals simultaneously?
  • Is connection to the Internet or to a computer a concern?
  • What type of signal will be viewed (variable, repetitive, a single-shot, and/or transient)?
  • In your application, how high a frequency signal will need to be measured?
  • Is signal storage a concern? How much data will need to be stored?
  • In terms of measurement, what are the minimum and maximum amplitudes that will be viewed?
  • Will there be a need for viewing signals in the time domain and the frequency domain (in other words, spectrum analysis)?

As you consider the purchase of an oscilloscope, there are other parameters to review, such as:

  • Number of Channels - again, this depends on your application. A straightforward 2- or 4-channel oscilloscope may be adequate, but for more advanced use, a mixed-signal oscilloscope (MSO) with digital and analog channels may be required.
  • Bandwidth - you should purchase an oscilloscope with 3 to 5 times the bandwidth your application will require (that you'll measure).
  • Resolution - the majority of digital oscilloscopes have 8-bit resolution. If your application is analog in nature, a 12- or 16-bit resolution oscilloscope might be needed.
  • Sampling Rate - there are two primary oscilloscope sampling rates: equivalent-time sampling (ETS) and real-time sampling (RTS). RTS is most appropriate for variable, transient or one-shot signals; ETS would be used for repetitive signals.
  • Probes - In some cases, probes are included with your oscilloscope; however, confirm that the supplied probes match or exceed the bandwidth of the scope.

Oscilloscopes have a wide variety of uses and applications, including data storage equipment and device testing, jitter analysis, TDR (Time Domain Reflectometry), serial data review, and power analysis, to name a few. To meet this wide range of requirements, there are a broad variety of different types of oscilloscopes that are available from numerous manufacturers. Oscilloscope types include handheld, PC (personal computer plug-in), digital MSO (mixed-signal oscilloscope), DSO (digital storage oscilloscope), DPO (digital phosphor oscilloscope), analog, and sampling. Again, your particular application and working environment will determine what type of oscilloscope is best for you.

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