USB Oscilloscope | USB Scope

USB Oscilloscope

A USB Oscilloscope is from  the general class of digital oscilloscopes that are connected through a hardware device via the USB to a PC.  The hardware device, such as shown below is designed to connect to the unit under test.  It sends the measurements to the PC via the USB connection where a special software program converts the data to readable results for the user.

There are many different types of USB Oscilloscopes available in the marketplace.   In fact, there are the same numbers and types that are available for all types of oscilloscopes.   The advantage of the USB Oscilloscope is that utilizes the PC to do part of the “work” of the instrument.  Therefore, a USB Oscilloscope may be more cost effective due to its lack of duplication of some electronics that are in the stand-alone type of instruments.  Another advantage is that the software can be updated and improved to add more features and testing parameters as may be contemplated by the manufacture.

Each USB Oscilloscope will vary in price and complexity making it possible for a shop, laboratory or engineering center to choose one that will fit the needs of the projects being managed.

Choosing the optimum usb oscilloscope will require some investigation into the many models and manufacturers of such devices.   An online search of the Internet is a good place to start.  Finding a summary of the more popular models may be useful in the inital search for the right one for you.   Here is a listing from Nextag, for example, that gives an idea of models carried by this supplier:

http://www.nextag.com/usb-oscilloscope/stores-html

Here is a tutorial/white page on a few models and their screen design and comparison of how the display the results and prices.  It is well worth the read – it being several pages in length:

http://www.ganssle.com/microscopes.htm

Check-out this video of a USB oscilloscope on old laptop computer

Another interesting exercise in learning about the capability, cost and basic details is to go to google shopping page and just enter the search term “usb oscilloscope” and see what happens!  You will find “scopes” ranging in price from under $100 USD to as high as few hundred dollars USD.   Of course, one must realize the cost differences are primarily due to the technical specifications and features that are included.   Most are designed with a range of purposes in mind.  One doing laboratory testing and analysis may want a very sophisticated model whilst a technician working on repair or maintenance may need only a basic model.  One working on the final test line of a PC manufacturing facility may need a very specialized instrument and may have it custom made for them under  contract with a manufacturer.

What is a USB Oscilloscope used for?

A USB Oscilloscope would be used to measure analog voltages, digital waveforms,  digital pulses and synchronization of data lines or even storage of digital events that can be compared later on within digital processing systems.

So, let us take a look at the Picoscope 3206 which is similar to the one pictured at the top of this post.  This model, similar to others in the line, is about $1400 USD.  The list of specifications is long.  Let’s take a look at the basics:

Features at a Glance:
-  2 Channels
-  10 GS/s sampling rate
-  200 MHz bandwidth
-  1 MS buffer memory
-  High-speed USB 2.0 interface
-  Supplied with PicoScope software (oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer). Also supplied is PicoLog data acquisition software which transforms your PC into a high-speed data logger.

-  Following advantages over traditional bench top instruments:
-  Waveform storage is limited only by the PC’s storage capability
-  Captured waveforms and instrument settings can easily be shared with others
-  New functionality through free software upgrades
-  Compact and portable design

Of course, one would want to look at various reviews and user discussions  that are found on the Internet as well as the manufacturers specifications and detailed information.

Often, dealers handling these products have demonstration units on exhibit where a prospective buyer can operate the unit and become familiar with the user interface and general capabilities.  One such place is Fry’s Electronics, now having stores in many parts of the USA, and carrying a representative line of various brands and models of oscilloscopes.

The future of USB Oscilloscope

USB Oscilloscopes are rapidly becoming the backbone of an electronics shop due to the digital aspects of almost every phase of electronic systems.  In consumer, automotive and industrial electronics so much of the circuitry is based on digital electronics.  Thus for design, testing, troubleshooting, repair or analysis a USB Oscilloscope may be at the center of the activity.