PC Oscilloscope | PC Based Oscilloscope

PC Oscilloscope

A PC oscilloscope is an oscilloscope based around the PC (Personal Computer).  The PC is a very common commodity in just about any laboratory, design center, repair shop, etc.  They are very advanced in their computational and display qualities and can do even more than a dedicated, self-contained analog or digital  pc oscilloscope.  Therefore, why not add the input hardware and the presentation software to the PC and you have a very sophisticated PC Oscilloscope platform.

Pictured below is a Pico Technology PC Based  Oscilloscope (or PC Oscilloscope) solution for data acquisition.    This unit, for example, combines the features of a bench-top stand-alone sampling scope  into a small package that connects to a PC.

A PC Oscilloscope (Compliments of PicoScope)

An obvious advantage of this instrument solution is cost.  Where PC systems are nearly always already “on the bench”  this requires only the addition of the front end measuring hardware to be added to the system.

There are many PC Oscilloscope to choose from.

The application set, number of inputs, sampling frequency, bandwidth, noise level, storage size and implementation can be chosen to meet the needs of the user.  In theory, at least, a PC Oscilloscope can match the functionality, measurement requirement and performance of any other type of oscilloscope – bench type, stand alone type or portable.

Another example, shown below, is a 2 channel PC Oscilloscope solution that is low in cost but very capable of a wide range of measurement processes. This unit, containing software and hardware in the supplied box, will allow the user performance of a spectrum analyzer, recorder, function generator and bode plotter.  The generator can produce  waveforms using the integrated signal wave editor.  Automated measurements, too, make it  possible to generate wave sequences, using  computer files via the RS232 input.

2 Channel PC Oscilloscope System (Compliments of Velleman Instruments)

For those who want a PC Oscilloscope and are cash-strapped and need a low cost solution…

And, for the cash-strapped user who needs a simple, yet low cost solution, pictured below is a “Do It Yourself” add on that is provides a very effective system for a wide variety of measurements.

Virtins Low Cost PC Oscilloscope (Compliments of Virtins.com)

This low cost system, available in various renditions from $50 to $300 will support many features such as:  Oscilloscope, voltmeter, sine wave patterns, transient recorder, digital filters, spectrum analyzer and plotter, signal generator, data logger and circuit tester for LCR components.

The price range for PC  Oscilloscopes are from under $100USD to several thousands of dollars.  Precision units with many inputs, lots of accessories (probes and connectors) measuring systems for esoteric requirements will be in the price range from several hundred US dollars to a few thousand US dollars.  Therefore, it is a significant purchasing decision to sort through the needs against the application and the budget plan within the enterprise group.

Mostly, the manufacturers of the PC  Oscilloscope supply the software with the hardware box.   The PC system requirements will be given by the manufacturer but it has been my experience that most industrial grade PC systems are adequate.  Likewise, each manufacturer has a listing of accessories that may be needed for full operation of the hardware unit.  They include such items as probes, sensors, pressure transducers, fuel hoses, pressure hoses,  hose extenders, carrying cases, kits of various kinds.

Applications for the PC  Oscilloscope are aimed at general purpose users as well as narrow or vertical systems analysis.   One manufacturer produces a series of units designed specifically for the automobile, transportation and vehicular industry.  Another focuses on the pipeline and petroleum distribution systems.   You may find some addressed to the IT field, the digital design and testing segment or the Research and Development laboratory environments.

Software for massaging the data collected, storing the information for later use or comparison, presentation to the recorder or the computer display and such processing is normally unique to the hardware box chosen.   While there are a few software packages that are generic and work with basic inputs, they are not commonly used due to the specific purposes most designers have in mind.   The software package also makes one manufacturers model stand out in the field of competition when compared with others in the marketplace.

Software development constitutes a significant investment by these PC  Oscilloscope makers as they must not only write the software code, but make it universally robust in all personal computers.   Testing and debugging, providing customer support and upgrade maintenance are all expenses that must be accounted for.  Perhaps an outside custom software house is used to produce the source code and the hardware box maker produces the executable code.  This is another level of licensing or support that must be accounted for by the PC Oscilloscope producing enterprise.

The PC  Oscilloscope it becoming more popular as time goes by, not only due to the wide availability of the PC and its ever decreasing pricing structure, but due to the overall lower system cost  when incorporating advanced features such as storage and retrieval of previously recorded tests and measurements.

Oscilloscopes based on using the PC as its host processor make a lot of sense in todays application needs.   The key here is to think of the PC and the PC Based platform as a “hand and glove” integration:  The PC and the PC Oscilloscope processor box together equals an authentic oscilloscope category.

Please note: The terms PC Oscilloscope and PC Based Oscilloscope are used interchangeably in this article.