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DSOs and PCs

Discussion in 'Electronic Design' started by Eric, Feb 18, 2004.

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  1. Eric

    Eric Guest

    I recently had occasion to go shopping for a DSO and
    was surprised to find that many of them resemble
    purpose built PCs running Windows. This leaves me with
    an uneasy feeling, though I can't quite say why.

    Can anyone here point me to information (white papers,
    tech notes, articles, etc.) that addresses the motivation,
    and the pros and cons of this move to PC based scopes.
    Opinions in this forum are also welcome (I think).

    thank you all,
  2. Yes, the newer DSO models have aactually a PC built in.
    Some of them resemble Windows, some have an embedded
    Windows inside.
    A few days ago, I happened to have a look at the latest
    mixed signal scopes from Agilent, 600MHz and up.
    There is an embedded Windows XP inside.
    It appears to be fantastic.
    The pro : a user surface that is known to the user.
    Networking support,USB, drag and drop into word, excel,
    whatever. You can make a screenshot and work with
    paint shop pro on the same machine. You can assign a
    front panel button with the application of your choice.
    You can take the traces and do calculations of your own,
    and, and, and.
    I also had a quicker look at the latest Tektronix mixed
    signal scopes. They are very similar to the Agilent ones.
    In specs, possibilities and pricing.

  3. Eric Inazaki

    Eric Inazaki Guest

    And the high end Lecroys are Win2k based.

    I gather then, that you don't see any down side to
    this practice?

  4. Join the club. It's always seemed to me that there's too much
    fluff and not enough function designed into many of the DSO's (Tektronix
    included, regrettably -- didn't use to be that way).
    Straight anecdotal opinion here. Pastel-colored keys and cheezy
    plastic housings don't make it for me. When I went shopping for a
    digital O-scope, I tracked down an old Tektronix DSA602A. Now THAT thing
    is an impressive (if huge) hunk of hardware! Uses the 11000 series plug-
    ins, and can get up to a gigahertz with the right plug-ins and probes.

    The cons of this choice is that Tektronix does not support this
    product for anything outside of providing calibratioh services and
    "best-effort" repair. If you're looking for full support and warranties,
    you may be stuck with the latest run of PC-based stuff.

    Happy hunting.

    Dr. Anton T. Squeegee, Director, Dutch Surrealist Plumbing Institute.
    (Known to some as Bruce Lane, ARS KC7GR,
    kyrrin (a/t) bluefeathertech[d=o=t]calm --
    "If Salvador Dali had owned a computer, would it have been equipped
    with surreal ports?"
  5. Tim Wescott

    Tim Wescott Guest

    The motivation is simply that it's much much easier to add the bells and
    whistles to a windows-based machine. All of the networking, remote
    controlling, automating, disk saving, keyboarding, etc., is already half
    designed for you -- and you can supply the machine with MatLab and (more
    importantly) Free Cell with almost no additional effort.

    The ones that I've seen from Agilent, Tek & LeCroy still have a "real" DSO
    buried inside; when you ask for a scope output the windows machine just
    makes a blank spot on the screen which the DSO hardware fills in. This
    pretty much answers the mail on the issue of Windows being absolutely
    positively not a real-time OS.

    I'm sorry to see that they've settled on Windows because it's a poor excuse
    for an OS, but I suppose if it were me I'd have to make the same decision,
    because of market forces.
  6. Chris Carlen

    Chris Carlen Guest

    Me as well. The uneasy feeling that comes before vomiting.
    They do all sorts of nifty things like networking, so they can send you
    an email when your signal goes bonkers. Nothing that a free OS couldn't
    do. It really puzzles me why anybody would want to use Windows for
    these sorts of things, when you can't modify the source code, or strip
    it down to the bare essentials that you need. It also places your
    entire product line into a legal entanglement with MS, since they can do
    whatever they want at any time to the EULA.
    Well, the ultimate destination is a world in which the only *legal*
    operating system and software will be Windows and other MS products, if
    Microsoft has their way. And the only legal computing hardware will
    have to implement DRM functions, if MS, the RIAA, and the MPAA have
    their way. You will have to apply for the rights to and pay royalties
    to view *your own* media creations, if they can fully realize their true

    How would you like to be in the middle of debugging a piece of hardware,
    when the files in your scope suddenly start getting deleted by
    Microsoft, because they decided (perhaps even erroneously) that your
    scope was found to contain "untrusted" software or other files.

    Enjoy your freedom while there's still a modicum of it left. Or fight
    back, by choosing non-MS software, even if it's a somewhat more
    difficult path.

    Good day!

    Christopher R. Carlen
    Principal Laser/Optical Technologist
    Sandia National Laboratories CA USA
  7. Right. It is the cheapest way to achieve the functionality.
    On the same exhibition, where I saw these scopes, I saw
    embedded WinXP. After an initial toolset for 900 something
    dollars, you get a Win XP for 70$ at small quantities.
    Fully configurable to the hardware and required services.
    I'm going to have a look at it.
    Remove IE, Outlook, user management, digital rights and
    a few more things and Win XP becomes slim and stable.

  8. Eric

    Eric Guest

    I'm mildly curious, in your experience is Microsoft not pushing
    Win CE (or "wince", as I like to put it) for these sorts
    of applications?

    I see your point, and this "new breed" of DSOs do an awful lot of
    cool stuff. But I found it amusing that at least one scope manufacturer
    is offering Norton Antivirus as an option.
  9. I also updated myself on this subject. WinCE is considered
    realtime, whereas embedded XP is not.

    As to the antivirus : It is you running a browser there.
    And it is you connecting it to a LAN with whatever settings.
    Don't open any shares to anyone. Don't give any rights to

    I didn't try anything yet, just found it intriguing that
    there is a customizable XP on the market.

    Further a scope is not a safety item. If it happens to crash,
    just reboot and ask for a firmware upgrade.

    Actually I already have a scope with firmware bugs. No windows yet,
    no firmware update either.

  10. JeffM

    JeffM Guest

    I gather then, that you don't see any down side to this practice?
    Your o'scope gets a virus ?
  11. JeffM

    JeffM Guest

  12. To the scope developers it makes complete sense to go this way. Newer
    scopes need floppy drives, networking, VGA screen drivers, hard drives
    to store the massive programs which are needed to run all the features
    Windows makes the development easy and cheap, and reduces the time to
    Trying to "reinvent the wheel" and doing this all this in-house with
    your own embedded processor/asic etc is not an attractive option any

    The guts of the scope (aquisition, triggering, control etc) is still
    done by embedded hardware/asics, with Windows providing a nice
    software and back end hardware development platform.
    Whether it's a good thing or a bad thing depends on how it's
    implemented. You can design a fantastic intuitive interface around a
    Windows based platform, or you can design a complete shocker. The same
    goes for old "traditional" digital scopes too. Just take a look at the
    Lecroys for instance, they are renowned for designing some shocking
    user interfaces over the years.
    Windows doesn't have to look like Windows either, all depends on how
    you design the interface.

    So long as they don't take away the knobs, and put them in a sensible
    logical layout that have sensible and logical functionality, I'm happy
    A scope is after all a real-time tool, you need knobs and instant
    feedback for most applications. Users won't tolerate anything less in
    a bench scope. So don't expect to see a standalone bench scope with
    only a mouse and keyboard any time soon...

    Your true PC-Based scopes go to the other end of the spectrum. They
    more and more resemble black boxes with nothing but BNC's on the front
    panel. They are designed for a different market entirely.

    Dave :)
  13. JeffM

    JeffM Guest

    computing hardware will have to implement DRM functions,
    I'm glad I finally saw it mentioned here.
    It's frightening how few people realize the slippery slope we're on
    --especially how few **techies** have a technopolitical awareness.

    To all:
    A **great** treatment of this is The Digital Imprimatur
    by John Walker (a founder of Autodesk). It is LONG (~193kB),
    so if you get tired, skip down to the *But, but* part.
  14. JS

    JS Guest

    Another PC/DSO new issue to consider is the open architecture.

    In Software:
    By providing access to the Win memory/tools, rapid development of
    custom applications are creating new test instrument solutions.

    In Hardware:
    USB, SCSI, FireWire, NIC, PCI, D/A, etc. bus cards can be added to the
    scope chassis.

    Its not your Dad's Dumont anymore. PC/DSOs are to "scopes" what FPGAs
    are to early ASICs.

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