Electronic Design
Hot New Scopes Take Engineers Back To School

Hot New Scopes Take Engineers Back To School

Agilent Technologies has a great new line of oscilloscopes. They’re more than general bench instruments, though. They’re also a good fit for college and university labs because of their low cost and versatility.

I don’t cover test instruments in my regular beat, as that’s the job of David Maliniak, Electronic Design’s EDA & Test Editor. However, I occasionally teach as an adjunct professor and write about education issues from time to time, so I was fortunate enough to get one of these new scopes for review from the educational perspective.

The Specs

The Agilent InfiniiVision 2000-X series and InfiniiVision 3000-X-series comprise mixed-signal and digital storage oscilloscopes (MSOs/DSOs). There are 26 models in all with different bandwidths and features. The DSO X-2000 models are available with bandwidths of 70, 100, and 200 MHz. The X-3000 series DSOs come with bandwidths of 100, 200, 350, and 500 MHz.

Both two- and four-channel models can be had. The MSO versions have a built-in logic analyzer with eight channels on the 2000 series and 16 channels on the 3000 models. I ended up with a 500-MHz version called the MSO-X-3054A (see the figure).

As for sampling rates, the 2000 series does 1 Gsample/s per channel with memory depth of 100 kpoints and a waveform update rate of 50k per second. The 3000 series does 2 Gsamples/s with a memory depth of 2 Mpoints and 4 Mpoints optional with a waveform update rate of 1 Msample/s.

On The Bench

Unpacking the huge box the oscilloscope arrived in, I expected it to take up all my bench space. But I was pleasantly surprised to see the unit is only about 15 by 8 by 6 in. and weighs less than 9 lb. It also was easy to set up. It has a nice 8.5-in. color LCD with Wide Video Graphics Array (WVGA) resolution.

As for testing, I had a few odds and ends to use as signal sources, including a UHF sine generator, some high-speed digital circuits, and a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) output. The operation of the unit is standard, and anyone who is accustomed to using a scope will find this one easy to learn and use right out of the box. The measure feature is a favorite, as it gives the numerical values of the waveforms, minimizing your time counting divisions and multiplying.

I only used two of the available channels. I tried out the logic analyzer briefly on an Altera FPGA demo board I had. These Altera boards and those from Xilinx have become the base of digital fundamentals labs in most colleges. Few colleges actually have logic analyzers, and after using this scope I am convinced it really adds to the learning.

Benefits For Schools

There are two features on this scope that are terrific, especially for education. First, you can get an optional built-in function generator. It can deliver sine, square, triangle, saw/ramp, pulse, dc, or noise in a frequency range from 0.1 Hz to 20 MHz. You set it up on screen and then take the output from a front panel BNC, which is very handy as it saves space on the bench.

The other great feature is a hardware-based serial protocol decoding and triggering capability. It can handle I2C, SPI, RS232/422/485/UART, CAN, and LIN, as well as I2S audio. So much testing is done with serial interfaces that this has become a “must have” feature. Most scopes use a software-based post-processing package, but this hardware unit is faster. With this feature, colleges can better include serial interface coverage in their digital and micro courses.

As for education, these scopes are a great value. The built-in function generator saves space and dollars when outfitting a lab. It works well in all basic circuit and linear IC classes. The mixed-signal feature is ideal for digital labs, and the serial decode feature is great for debugging in an embedded controller project. It is a good, all-purpose instrument. And, Agilent has an educator’s oscilloscope learning kit that you can get to go with this scope. It is a good teaching tool and set of materials.

There is nothing technical on the downside. Price is always a problem for colleges and universities that rarely have enough money for equipment this good. Yet, these prices are pretty good overall, from a low of $1230 for the least expensive 2000 series model to almost $12,000 for the top of the line 3000 series.

But just remember that school labs generally don’t need all that power. A two-channel analog scope with an eight-channel logic analyzer and a 100-MHz bandwidth will do almost all you want to do in a college lab. Definitely, go for the built-in function generator and the serial protocol capability. When upgrading your college lab or outfitting a new lab, this scope line is one to look at seriously.


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