Tektronix Goes Small with 1.5-inch Thick Bench Quality Oscilloscope
Bidding engineers to consider employing the same test tool on their bench top as they use in the field, Tektronix has released a 1.5-inch thick oscilloscope small enough to fit in a laptop bag.
Tektronix announced its 2 Series MSO (mixed-signal oscilloscope) today—a device that measures 1.5-inches thick and weighs under 4 pounds. Its size makes it what the company claims as the industry’s first entry-level scope that can fit in a laptop bag. The unit features a high-resolution 10.1-inch touchscreen display.
In this article we discuss the problem the device is designed to solve, we look at the details of the new oscilloscope, and we share insights from our interview with Andrew Tedd, Senior Business Manager, Entry Portfolio at Tektronix. Before his business management duties, Tedd served in a variety of engineering management roles.
Quest for Performance and Portability
According to Tedd, Tektronix made an extensive 3-year effort when developing the 2 Series MSO to get a wide range of input on what engineers need today in an oscilloscope. To do this, the company worked with more than 100 customers at 40 organizations across various industries.
Tektronix sought input from a variety of organizations when developing the 2 Series MSO, including EE college students. Image used courtesy of Tektronix
From the research, Tektronix identified the big problem that needed solving in oscilloscopes. To enable engineers to test and measure whatever they wanted, do so wherever they want, and to achieve that while still maintaining the performance of a benchtop quality oscilloscope.
Aside from industry EEs, among the organizations Tektronix sought input from were EE students, including some from local universities such as Portland State and Oregon State. According to Tedd, college students were naturally very used to touchscreen interfaces, so that was an important feature for them. But, interestingly, both college student users and older experienced engineers for the most part still wanted knobs and buttons for their oscilloscope, says Tedd.
Portability clearly ranked high for most engineers. In some ways, the portable oscilloscope is perhaps uniquely suited to the engineering cultural moment we’re in right now: A time when few EEs are exclusively working from home nor are they exclusively working at the office, rather they are frequently going back and forth between the two.
Automotive Test Engineer User Example
The other implication of a bench quality portable oscilloscope is that it changes what you can do in the field. As an example, Tedd describes an encounter with an engineer at an automotive company. “I looked at what he was doing and I saw that he had one scope set up on his lab bench, and a separate one he uses for going out and testing cars,” he said.
The engineer told Tedd that the second one was for testing cars, and that it needs to run off its own battery power. Tedd asked him “Why don’t you just plug in an inverter and run the scope off the car’s battery power?” The engineer replied “No, I can’t because the car is the unit under test (UUT)."
For automotive tests, a portable scope means you can use the same scope on the car as you do on the lab benchtop. Image used courtesy of Tektronix
Feedback like that went into the 2 Series MSO’s design. The scope has an optional battery pack that supports two batteries with an estimated six hours run time. The batteries can be hot- swapped for more operating time. That means an automotive test engineer can plug in the scope, charge the device overnight, and be good to head out to the field the next day.
Importantly, that means the engineer’s test equipment used in the lab is the exact same one being used in the field. “If I use the exact same scope and exactly the same methods, then I've removed that whole variable of differing equipement,” says Tedd. “I know that, if the answer is different, that it's my UUT that's the problem, not my test equipment.”
2 Series MSO Details and Features
The 2 Series MSO provides a number of built in functions including a 4-bit pattern generator, a voltmeter, and a frequency counter (available in a future software release).
Key specs include:
- 70 MHz to 500 MHz bandwidth
- 2 or 4 analog channels
- 2.5 GS/s sample rate
- 16 digital mixed-signal channels
- Optional 50 MHz arbitrary function generator (AFG)
As mentioned earlier, an optional battery pack supports two batteries that enable an estimated six hours run time. Analysis capabilities include 36 automated measurements, advanced math, FFT with gating, search and mark, limit, and eye mask. The device has support built in for the company’s TekDrive, which enables a collaborative data workspace. The scope works with TekScope off-line analysis software.
Importantly, the 2 Series MSO uses a common tablet-like user interface (UI) that matches Tektronix’s other platforms. This UI is used across the company’s entry through mainstream oscilloscope portfolios. This frees engineers from learning different oscilloscope UIs.
For mounting, the 2 Series MSO provides a built-in VESA interface so it can be attached to off-the-shelf VESA accessories. Also included are an optional rack mount, protective case, and kickstand.
Inside the 2 Series MSO
One critical aspect of oscilloscopes is that they need chips inside that are faster than what they’re measuring. That’s a constant challenge with electronics because chips are always getting faster. With that in mind, we asked Tedd about what’s going inside the 2 Series MSO.
Tedd explains that a lot of the design decisions have to do with what chips are commercially available off the shelf. “In our earlier products, even prior to our TBS 2000 scope, we used a lot of ASICs (application specific integrated circuits),” he says. Today, however, off-the-shelf parts are available. The choice is critical because an ASIC can cost $10 million and take years to create.
With that in mind, Tektronix this time invested in ASICs only where they can have real differentiation. The 2 Series MSO does embed a chip the company calls its Tek026 ASIC, an ASIC they’ve used in many products, says Tedd. “The ASIC is what we call a preamp,” he says. “It takes the input signal, scales it, and prepares it for input to the A/D converter (ADC). But the ADC that we use is an off-the-shelf device.”
FPGA for Back-end Processing
Meanwhile, for the back-end processing in the 2 Series MSO, Tektronix engineers decided to go with an FPGA. FPGAs do have a couple downsides. “FPGAs typically consume more power than an ASIC,” says Tedd, “And they are often a bit bigger than an ASIC. But using an FPGA means that, if there's a change in the customer's needs in two years time, we can implement that in the FPGA fabric.” With that in mind, Tektronix used a Xilinx Zynq FPGA for this function. Xilinx’s Zynq devices are SoC-style FPGAs that combine programmable logic and Arm processors.
Using a membrane switch technology on the front panel of the oscilloscope enabled Tektronix to implement the unit’s design on a single board. Image used courtesy of Tektronix
Meanwhile, the membrane switch technology used for the 2 Series MSO’s front panel helps make the unti rugged, able to be used in harsh environments, and easy to clean. But, says Tedd, it also has system design benefits. “The membrane switch allows us to do the whole design on one board,” he says. That increases reliability.
“If you look at common failure modes within a test instrument, one of the most common failure modes are the interconnects. If you've got two boards, you have to get signals across the interconnects, and therefore you've introduced a point of failure. The simple one-board design makes the device more reliable.”
Can Size Redefine Oscilloscope Capabilities?
In some ways, the modern oscilloscope as we know it has been around for many decades. Screens have changed, while sample rates and channel counts are ever-increasing, but the basic way it’s used is still the same. All that said, Tektronix’s new 2 Series MSO is perhaps a significant step if its portability changes the way an engineer uses oscilloscopes.