Who will win the scope bandwidth war?

July 27, 2011
Got scope bandwidth? The major scope makers are embroiled in a bandwidth war, with engineering hearts and minds at stake.

Over the past couple of years, a quiet war has erupted among the major oscilloscope manufacturers. No blood has been shed—yet—but a lot of engineering blood, sweat, and tears have surely been expended in this war. The battleground is bandwidth, and with that goes the hearts and minds of test engineers who themselves are straining to get a handle on jitter and noise in ever-faster serial links and bus architectures.

Right now, the clear leader in bandwidth is LeCroy, whose LabMaster 9 Zi-A scope delivers up to 45 GHz with maximum memory of up to 768 Mpoints/channel and a sampling rate of 120 Gsamples/second. That’s an awful lot of headroom for measurement of PCI Express signals or other serial protocols. LeCroy is a technical powerhouse; they’ve got plans to raise the ante in bandwidth over the ensuing months and years. It’s tough being on top, though, because you gain more than prestige: You gain a big target on your back.

The runnerup is Agilent, whose Infiniium 90000 X-Series scopes range to bandwidths of 32 GHz (described by Agilent as “true analog bandwidth”), maximum memory of 2 Gpoints, and sample rates of 80 Gsamples/second on two-channel models. Plenty of headroom there, of course. Memory is specified as up to 50 Mpoints/channel on DSA models. Never underestimate the technical prowess at Agilent, which is even now plotting a course to regain its bandwidth crown.

Bringing up the rear at this time among the major scope houses is Tektronix’s DPO/DSA/MSO70000 digital and mixed-signal scopes. Tek’s bandwidth limit—for now—is 20 GHz for the DPO/DSA72004C and MSO72004C models, with sampling rates of 100 Gsamples/second (two channels) and 50 Gsamples/second (four channels) and record lengths up to 20 Mpoints/channel. As I mentioned, Tek is trailing the pack but I wouldn’t expect that situation to remain static forever.

Look for a lot more information on high-bandwidth scopes, and how to get the most out of them, in my June 9 Technology Report.

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