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Oscilloscopes Gear Up For Faster Data Rates

Today’s wider-bandwidth oscilloscopes are being readied to handle the challenges of faithfully and accurately measuring high-speed gigabit-per-second serial data rates and important attributes like eye diagrams and jitter. These instruments now allow more types of measurements to be performed. Calculations can be made faster and the “deadtime” between trigger points continues to shrink. Tektronix’s recent introduction of its real-time 7-GHz TDS7704B digital phosphor oscilloscope, working with the firm’s 3.125-Gbit/s CSA7404B serial communications analyzer, is just one example of how such instruments have kept pace with T&M demands of design engineers.

More oscilloscope manufacturers are teaming up with other manufacturers of instruments and software packages to push oscilloscope capabilities to new highs. To meet the demands of measuring high-speed serial data buses, Agilent Technologies joined forces with Amherst Systems Associates to bring highly accurate and repeatable jitter measurements to Agilent’s 6-GHz Infiniium oscilloscopes and 7-GHz Infiniium probes. Amherst provides the software that makes this possible.

The collaborations between instrument manufacturers goes beyond just improving measurements. For example, Fluke Corp. now offers automated calibration procedures for Tektronix’s TDS5000/6000/7000 oscilloscopes to substantially cut the time it takes for performance verification down to about an hour. Fluke’s MET/CAL Plus V calibration and generation of test reports ensures that measurements are consistent and complete. Fluke also offers courses on its calibration procedures to T&M users.

Software is serving a larger role in helping oscilloscopes make more accurate analog and mixed-signal design measurements. Last year, Agilent Technologies introduced My Infiniium software, which lets users of Agilent’s Infiniium 54830/850 oscilloscopes perform advanced on-site laboratory analysis of analog and mixed-signal designs. This enhances debugging capabilities and speeds up the product-development process. In another development, Nicolet Technologies introduced its Sigma series of portable digital storage oscilloscopes. They resemble high-end workstations, making it easier for T&M engineers to do PC-based data acquisition, analysis, and connectivity. The oscilloscopes offer an integrated full-featured Windows display


  • Look for more team ups between oscilloscope manufacturers and other companies to make the scopes more powerful via hardware and software offerings. Last year, Agilent Technologies began using software from Amherst Systems Associates to provide Agilent’s 6-GHz Infiniium oscilloscopes with unparalleled jitter measurement performance of high-speed serial buses.
  • Digital storage oscilloscopes will increase real-time sampling bandwidths to tens of gigasamples per second, and increase memory depths to tens of megapoints per channel. LeCroy, for example, showed this trend with its 6-GHz 8620A digital storage oscilloscope. It’s capable of 20-Gsample/s/channel performance and features 48-Mpoint/channel memory.
  • FuTure oscilloscopes will incorporate greater analog and mixed-signal data acquisition and analysis capabilities through hardware and software options and add-ons. This will help expedite the entire design process. Optional hardware and software products will allow test engineers to use their oscilloscopes with PC-based Windows operating systems for greater flexibility.
  • Oscilloscopes will be better adapted to suit different T&M performance needs and test budgets. For example, Agilent Technologies’ 54853A $36,000 2.5-GHz Infiniium oscilloscope offers four full-bandwidth, 2-Gsample/s channels.
  • Jitter testing capability will be a very important characteristic of future oscilloscopes for high-speed serial buses. Analyzing high-speed signals by averaging the data over a long period of time, as is done with oscilloscopes that have bandwidths of 1 or 2 GHz, will no longer suffice. Real-time signal analysis will become mandatory.
  • More software and hardware options will emerge for oscilloscopes. For example, Tektronix’s optional OpenChoice software, as well as optional storage and communications modules, help integrate the TDS1000/2000/300B digital oscilloscopes with a user’s PC. Each 8 Mbytes of memory holds 96 reference waveforms, 128 screen images, or 4000 front-panel setups.
  • Different types of measurements will be forthcoming from oscilloscopes. An example is the PMA2 Powermeasure Analysis software from LeCroy. It brings power analysis and ease of use for LeCroy’s X-stream technology to new levels, when used with LeCroy’s WavePro 7000 and WaveMaster digital oscilloscopes.
  • More oscilloscope manufacturers will incorporate input optical sampling oscilloscope modules to better deal with high-speed bus data like 10-Gbit Ethernet. An example is Tektronix’s introduction of the 80C08C and 80C11 optical sampling modules for the CSA8000 series of communications signal analyzers.
  • User’s choice of windows-based oscilloscope application software will become more prevalent. Agilent Technologies, the first to market Windows-based digital storage oscilloscopes, has now joined the rest of the industry in giving users their own choice of the application program.
  • High-performance oscilloscope differential probes will emerge to accurately measure multi-gigabit/s serial bus data rates. For example, Tektronix unveiled the first 5-GHz differential probe, the P7350. It features a rise time of under 100 ps and differential input capacitance of less than 0.3 pF.
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