The Rise of Low-Cost Test and Measurement Equipment
More T&M companies are trending toward lower-priced equipment. Here are a few recent tools that offer competitive features for reasonable prices.
Engineers use test and measurement equipment at many levels of their career development, whether a student or seasoned professional. These pieces of equipment—like arbitrary function generators, oscilloscopes, and power analyzers—can run a large bill. Some high-end oscilloscopes, for instance, can cost up to $450,000.
However, strong performance doesn't have to equate to a lofty price tag. Useful, robust test and measurement equipment are becoming increasingly available at lower price points. To illustrate this point, EEPower published an interview with Kaitlyn Franz, test and measurement product marketing manager at Digilent, where Franz discusses Digilent's USB oscilloscope and multi-function instrument, the Analog Discovery 2.
The Analog Discovery 2 includes the capabilities of several instruments, including a waveform generator, a power supply, a voltmeter, and an impedance analyzer, among others; and yet, the device is priced under $300. Franz states that the overarching goal of this test device is to give customers "the most functionality and the most instruments at the best value."
Digilent’s Analog Discovery 2 is a USB oscilloscope with 12 different functions available; the instrument is priced at $279. Image from Digilent
Many companies, like Digilent, are releasing their own affordable test and measurement equipment to keep up with the market trends.
Disclaimer: Usually, All About Circuits stays away from discussions on cost because we recognize that the terms affordable and cost-effective are relative. For instance, a test instrument that's reasonable for a student will differ drastically from what's reasonable for a professional designer or a company.
In this article, we will take a look at some recent product launches and weigh their features against their costs—at several different price points—to compare, generally, to high-end instruments in the six-digit range.
RIGOL Technologies' DG2000 Series
RIGOL Technologies recently announced its new DG2000 series of arbitrary function generators. The DG2000 series has a 16-bit resolution and delivers the same performance specifications and feature set as their DG900 series, including dual-tone, harmonics, and sequencing for filter, noise, and RF testing.
RIGOL states that this DG2000 series is made to meet the requirements of more rugged and industrial settings. It also offers 16Mpts memory depth per channel for arbitrary waveforms, a 4.3” touch screen, and a sample rate of 250MS/s.
The DG2000 series offers a 16-bit resolution with a sample rate of 250 MS/s and comes in 3 different models. Image from RIGOL
The DG2000 series comes in three different models with output frequencies of 50MHz, 70MHz, and 100MHz. Each model is available starting at $599.
RIGOL is also known for its low-priced oscilloscopes, with their most recent one—the DS1202Z-E extended to 200 MHz—starting at $369.
Vitrek’s PA920 Series Ultra-High Accuracy Power Analyzer
Vitrek's PA920 series of ultra high-accuracy power analyzers sets the new standard for accuracy at 0.024%. It also integrates a wideband waveform digitizer with advanced computational capability, includes a large high-resolution display, and features a full-color touchscreen user interface.
These capabilities allow the PA920 to validate the performance of power critical designs, such as LED lighting, solar power inverters, electric vehicles, and aviation power distribution.
The PA920 is designed with ultra-high accuracy and can be customized according to user channel card needs. Image from Vitrek
The PA920 series can be customized starting at $3,895 and is available in several preset configurations.
Teledyne LeCroy's WaveSurfer 4000HD Oscilloscope
Another recent, affordable test and measurement instrument comes from Teledyne LeCroy. The Wavesurfer 4000HD oscilloscope offers 12-bit vertical resolution at all times to display waveforms on a 12.1” touchscreen display. It also supports bandwidths from 200MHz to 1GHz, sample rates of 5GS/s, and 12.5Mpts of acquisition memory on each channel.
Teledyne’s LeCroy WaveSurfer 4000 HD offers a large 12.1’ touchscreen display with constant 12-bit vertical resolution. Image from Teledyne LeCroy
The WaveSurfer 4000HD oscilloscopes are available starting at $7,490.
Choosing the Most Valuable Instruments
Choosing the right test instrument will come down to your project needs. While RIGOL's DG2000 provides great resolution, its sample rates and bandwidth availability is more limited than those of the WaveSurfer 4000HD.
The price differs by nearly $7,000, partly because the two instruments serve two different ranges of bandwidths. And yet, the WaveSurfer 4000HD is a much lower cost than the other 1GHz oscilloscopes on the market with similar specifications.
As for Vitrek’s PA920, a power analyzer at its given price ($3,895) for the promised accuracy of 0.024% warrants consideration when compared to competitors such as Tektronix’s PA3000 and Hioki’s PW3390.
As with any project, the vetting process for test and measurement tools will come down to a careful analysis of whether the ends (features) justify the means (cost). However, the trend to develop high performing and reasonably-priced test equipment is an exciting one; more accessible instruments in the hands of more engineers will certainly yield industry improvements.