Old Scopes versus new: new isn’t necessarily better

March 29, 2012

Despite all of the capabilities afforded to designers by modern oscilloscopes, many engineers still swear by their old analog boat anchors. Visualization of signals remains the fundamental reason for using a scope. Even though modern digital and mixed-signal scopes generally deliver much larger displays, some engineers still believe the old standbys simply do the job better.

A recent blog post at “The Testbench” on aging bench equipment drew some interesting responses vis-a-vis old versus new. “Kent Lundberg” declared that his “Tektronix 556 is 46 years old. Latest isn’t greatest!” Another commenter, “Zebonaut,” said his 52-year-old Tektronix 575 curve tracer has capabilities, reliability, and a well-designed user interface that the current instruments cannot match.

Instrument manufacturers always emphasize how much market research they do before designing the user interface on new models, but many devotees of vintage equipment decry UI complexity. “Bob” complained, “I have a couple of newer scopes and hate them. Sniffing through layers of menus to find something is annoying. The displays are more fatiguing to read.”

Yet the modern equipment does have its champions. “Bdcst” agrees that older gear is more intuitive and easily serviced. But he likes the lighter weight of modern equipment. “Jim Horn” doesn’t miss analog scopes at all. “Modern digital scopes are phenomenal and, in constant dollars, dirt cheap.” Finally, “djerickson,” whose home lab sports a Tektronix 465, still loves the old equipment, but “debugging serial interfaces with an analog scope is no fun. Storing waveforms for reports is a necessity. At work, [he uses] a 500-MHz LeCroy scope and couldn’t do without its functions.”

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