Electronic Design
Can An Oscilloscope Be A Disruptive Technology?

Can An Oscilloscope Be A Disruptive Technology?

“Disruptive technology” is a sobriquet we hear from time to time, usually applied to things like displays you can roll up and put in your pocket, or anything from Apple. Much less often is it used in the same sentence as “test equipment.” But Tektronix thinks it has scaled to disruptive heights with its MDO4000 series scopes, which speak to the need of today’s designers for instruments that span disparate signal types and domains (Fig. 1).

Designers often find themselves with the need to acquire and analyze analog, digital, and RF signals when troubleshooting wireless system designs. This typically requires access to both a scope and a spectrum analyzer. In fact, a recent survey by Tektronix of its customers found that 64% of scope users also frequently use a spectrum analyzer.

What is potentially disruptive about the MDO4000 is that it is both a scope and a spectrum analyzer, all in a package that is just 5.8 inches deep. Claimed by Tektronix as the world’s first mixed-domain oscilloscope, the MDO4000 can capture time-correlated analog, digital, and RF signals, allowing users to see how the RF spectrum changes over time (see this link for a recap of one beta tester's experience with the instrument).

The instrument’s built-in spectrum analyzer offers a 3-GHz or 6-GHz RF port, which addresses the vast majority of wireless test needs that embedded system designers would encounter. It augments that with a capture bandwidth of at least 1 GHz at all center frequencies, which is considerably broader than typical spectrum analyzers.

With the scope’s ability to display all signals in time-correlated fashion, designers can see all of their analog, digital, and RF signals accurately correlated with each other. This is a boon for troubleshooting embedded systems. The scope offers up to 21 channels (four analog, 16 digital, one RF) with analog bandwidths of 500 MHz or 1 GHz.

For spectral analysis, the instrument provides automated markers for quick, easy identification of signal peaks and manual markers for the measurement of non-peak areas of interest. A spectrogram display offers visualization of slowly changing RF phenomena (Fig. 2). The spectrum-analyzer portion of the instrument brings a full suite of built-in analysis tools.

The oscilloscope itself, which is based on the MSO4000B series, boasts a maximum waveform capture rate of 50,000 waveforms/s. There are more than 125 trigger combinations, including the ability to trigger on serial packet content. The scope’s MagnaVu high-speed digital acquisition delivers 60.6-ps resolution. Low-capacitance passive probing offers twice the bandwidth (1 GHz) and half the loading (4 pF) of typical passive probes.

On the analysis side, the scope is pre-loaded with 41 automated measurement setups and advanced waveform math functions. Serial-bus analysis packages are available as options. With these analysis features and the integrated spectrum analyzer hardware, the MDO4000 makes short work of mixed-domain tasks such as system-level debug of wireless-enabled designs, timing analysis for mixed-signal circuits, and tracking down sources of noise and/or interference.

According to Ward Ramsdell, principal engineer at Prototype Engineering LLC and a beta user of the MDO4000, the instrument addresses many of the challenges that engineers face today, namely tight budgets, thin staffing, and crushing time constraints. For Ramsdell, the integration of domains achieved in the MDO4000 addresses these challenges directly by easing visualization of system-level issues. Ramsdell particularly likes the instrument’s intuitive user interface. Further, he notes that it significantly reduces the difficulties one encounters in performing mixed-domain testing with traditional equipment.

Pricing for the MDO4000 starts at $19,900. It will be available worldwide starting in late August 2011.


TAGS: Components
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