Tracing Oscilloscope Coverage

EE-Evaluation Engineering began in March 1962 as a vehicle for reliability topics, primarily as they related to passive components. IC failure analysis was featured in a 1968 article, and that year color was added to the front cover image—one color, the same one as used for the magazine’s title.

In the first several years, little oscilloscope coverage appeared and what did related to testing components. A few scopes were shown in overviews of test labs, and an article about probe adjustment, accompanied by monochrome screen shots of analog scope traces, ran in the November/December 1969 issue.

Figure 1 Tektronix Model 517A Oscilloscope c. 1956

During the 1970s, more types of instruments were covered, more RF topics were included, and the long-running “Coping with Static Electricity” series began. Component performance underpinned the editorial content, generating many ATE articles as ICs proliferated. Scopes, however, were covered as just another tool for evaluating components until 1978 when an article discussed plug-in modules for the Tektronix TM500 Oscilloscope.

The 1980s brought tremendous change to the magazine. EE began running full-color covers in 1978-79 and by 1984 committed to monthly publication in contrast to the earlier semimonthly schedule. The editorial calendar established an annual rotation of important topics with scope coverage appearing in each February issue. By 1985, performance scopes were featured. Tektronix, Nicolet, and LeCroy were advertising, but LeCroy didn’t launch its first DSO, the 9400, until 1987 and instead was selling CAMAC digitizers.

As the ‘80s drew to a close, Tektronix was promoting the touchscreen-controlled 11000 Mainframe Sampling Scope, the popular 2430, and 22xx variants. Gould’s 4070, 1602, and 400 models were being advertised as was Nicolet’s 4094 with its bolted-on floppy drive. European Philips DSOs were rebranded and sold in the United States through Fluke, and the list of scope advertisers grew to include Iwatsu, Panasonic, and Hitachi.

During the 1990s, “faster, deeper, wider, and smarter” described the directions DSOs were taking. In 1997, EE ran a Tektronix article that addressed digital communications signals as used in cell phones. Scopes included sufficient measurement capabilities that standard-specific routines could be executed and eye diagrams and mask violations displayed. Triggering had progressed from simple level and transition sensing to include a wide range of waveform parameters.

After 2000, scopes used IBM’s SiGe process to facilitate very high bandwidth preamps, and DSP techniques further enhanced frequency response. A 2002 article from LeCroy, “Using a DSO for Signal Analysis,” highlighted signal transformations to the frequency, statistical, and parameter-modulation domains. Lower cost DSOs adopted a PC-based format.

Agilent Technologies’ Richard Markley, strategic product planner—high-volume oscilloscopes, commented on the company’s 1997 invention of the mixed-signal oscilloscope (MSO), which combines logic analysis capabilities with two or four analog channels. He called the MSO “one of our major innovations since entering the oscilloscope business 55 years ago as Hewlett-Packard.”

Just a year later, Tektronix patented the digital phosphor oscilloscope (DPO) technology, which Roy Siegel, general manager of oscilloscopes, termed “the most significant” of the many breakthroughs achieved throughout the company’s history. A DPO overlays thousands of fast acquisitions as an intensity- or color-modulated image to allow a high probability of capturing infrequent events.

The last 10 years have seen a 5x increase in DSO sampling rate and bandwidth. In 2000, Tektronix introduced the 6-GHz/20-GS/s TDS6604. Today, LeCroy, Agilent, and Tektronix all sell direct-sampling scopes with at least 30-GHz bandwidth and 100-GS/s sampling rate. And, in 2010, Rohde & Schwarz became the fourth major manufacturer of high-performance DSOs.

In 2011, Tektronix launched the MDO4000 Mixed-Domain Oscilloscope, which includes a single 6-GHz RF input with four analog and 16 digital channels. The DSO became an RF/microwave instrument in the new millennium and has proliferated to include MSOs, DPOs, and MDOs.

Based on the progress to date and the unrelenting drive to ever-faster and more complex communications protocols, scopes will continue to evolve. You can read all about it in EE-Evaluation Engineering as we begin the next 50 years of service to the test and evaluation community. 

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