Perform five common debug tasks with an oscilloscope

June 16, 2014 // By Scott Davidson, Tektronix
Perform five common debug tasks with an oscilloscope
<p>From input devices such mice and keyboards to smart homes and streaming media boxes, consumers demand the convenience of wireless. That demand has forced modern embedded systems to bear little resemblance to those from even a few years ago. Most system designs in production or in development today include at least one form of wireless capability such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or ZigBee.</p>

Testing these systems means that designers must be capable of working in a mixed domain environment, from DC to RF, with analog and digital signals, and serial and parallel buses. To meet this need, test equipment vendors are responding with integrated oscilloscopes that provide a complete set of bench instruments in a single portable package. Such oscilloscopes are capable of handling a range of common debug and verifications tasks, from detecting sources of radiated EMI to validating a switching power supply design.

In the not too distant past, making all of these measurements would have required a bench full of instruments, each with its own interface and set-up requirements. In a survey of oscilloscope users, we found that in addition to their oscilloscopes, engineers reported that they turned to the following instruments several times per month:

  • Digital voltmeter: 87%
  • Function generator: 68%
  • Spectrum analyzer: 45%
  • Logic analyzer: 33%
  • Protocol analyzer: 15%

What this indicates is that the oscilloscope—the center instrument on most design benches—needs to give designers a more comprehensive set of functions and features to support efficient verification and debugging of embedded designs. As a result, test-equipment manufacturers now offer integrated oscilloscopes that combine multiple instruments that provide insight into both time and frequency domains.

In addition to all the capabilities of a digital oscilloscope, other functions found in these integrated instruments include a spectrum analyzer, a logic analyzer, a protocol analyzer, an arbitrary function generator, and a DVM (digital voltmeter). How can you use a multifunction oscilloscope to solve debug problems? The next five pages will show you examples.

  • Find a signal anomaly
  • Verify serial and parallel buses
  • Search for a noise source
  • Margin testing with a noisy signal
  • Validate a switching power supply

As always, your mileage may vary according to your needs and requirements – be sure to take a close look at spec sheets in comparison to your intended applications. But with prices coming down to match "standard" digital oscilloscopes and wireless becoming commonplace in embedded systems, it's safe to say that integrated oscilloscopes are here to stay and represent the future of where oscilloscopes are headed.

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