An MSO for the masses

March 01, 2010

Jack Ganssle-March 01, 2010

I love my job. In addition to meeting lots of really interesting engineers who are creating the next wave of innovation, vendors send me their latest wares for a look-see. Most, of course, are hoping to get some free ink to help promote the product, though I rarely do product pieces. But a few of the goodies are cool enough that I think there's value to the readers of this magazine for an unbiased review.

Tektronix sent me their MSO2024 MSO recently. I've been a fan of Tek scopes since first using them 40 years ago while in high school. My dad worked for a start-up space company, and we kids were required to provide free janitorial duty on weekends. But that did give me access to the lab, which had a number of hulking vacuum tube-based Tektronix scopes firmly seated on caster-equipped carts.

The company had a number of 545s. Those units were like all of the Tek scopes of the era: massive, reliable, sporting a panel covered with a sea of knobs, switches, and levers, all to draw a couple of traces on a five-inch screen. Pull the access covers and you were presented with a wonderland of truly beautiful electronic and mechanical engineering. The time base selector switch, for instance, had a fabulously machined mechanism to propagate a hard twist of the knob into the scope's bowels.

Tektronix was long-heralded for their engineering, and a succession of improved scopes kept coming to market. Perhaps my favorite was the 7000 series that had sci-fi looking illuminated clear plastic pushbuttons to control many functions. We bought a lot of these at the company where I worked in the 1970s. Their quality polished the Tek name. (Editor's Note: See Jack Ganssle's column from April 2007, "The Modern Oscilloscope" about Tektronix's 511.)

The MSO2024 is a another quality Tek product whose major flaw is that the company wants the demo unit back. Maybe it'll get lost in shipment. Or the 75-year-old technophobe next door might sneak in at night and steal the thing. Surely there's some story I can concoct that Tek's marketing folks will believe.

Tektronix's MSO2024--See ESC's website for info on the giveaway of this scope at the Embedded Systems Conference in April 2010.
Click on image to enlarge.

The MSO2024 is very different from the 545 and 7000 series. As has become standard in this product sector, the CRT has given way to a flat-screen display, which greatly reduces the depth of the instrument to about 5 inches. Scopes no longer ask for a serious commitment of bench space. At eight pounds, it's as easy to move as a laptop.

As the name implies, this is a Mixed Signal Oscilloscope, which is a hybrid of logic analyzer and traditional o-scope. In the case of the 2024, there are four analog vertical inputs plus a 16-channel logic analyzer. An MSO can display any mix of digital and analog data at the same time. Key to the magic of an MSO is that any input can trigger the sweep. Want to see the output of a programmable gain amplifier when the software commands a gain of 8? Hang the logic analyzer probes on the amplifier's digital gain input, an analog channel on the output, and trigger on 1000b. Since embedded is the intersection of hardware and software, I've long thought that an MSO is an indispensable piece of equipment.

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