Mixed-Signal Oscilloscopes Must Step Up to New Challenges: Q&A with Tektronix

Autonomous vehicles, the data center, and other mission-critical applications call for high performance and clean and precise power supplies.

Editor’s Note: “If you can’t see it, you can’t measure it,” Wilson Lee, Technical Marketing Manager, Tektronix, emphasizes.  Lee spoke with EECatalog not long after the company announced its 6 Series MSO Mixed Signal Oscilloscope. Edited excerpts from our conversation follow.

(Courtesy Tektronix)

EECatalog: “Measurement confidence” is something Tektronix is associating with the introduction of its 6 Series MSOI mixed signal oscilloscope.  What are the challenges design engineers face today with regard to attaining a desired level of confidence in their signal measurements?

Wilson Lee, Tektronix (WL):  As not only designers but all of us can see in our day-to-day lives, there is more data, more speed in every facet of life.

There is also explosive growth in sensor technology, whether it’s 4K video, automotive radar, motion/ temperature/ positioning monitoring involved in the Internet of Things. It all comes with  an enormous amount of data that needs to be transported quickly throughout an embedded system. Designers have a plethora of new challenges that they have to deal with all this data at pace.

So, we’re seeing  that smart technology is the macro driver, with  additional layers of sensors technologies across a wide range of industries.

Applications include everything from the washing machine that knows how to communicate to the refrigerator, to more mission-critical applications: data centers; driverless cars.

Underneath that is the requirement for power—particularly highly efficient power rail management—which requires a level of power integrity or power lines that are very clean feeding the complex ASICs and FPGAs that embedded designs employ.

The goal is to deliver precise signals at very small scale in effectively noisy environments.

EECatalog: What are some of the features the 6 Series MSO includes to take on the challenges you’ve mentioned?

WL:  The 6 Series MSO captures high-speed signals at one time with 25 gigasamples/sec sample rate on all channels, so there is no need to interleave to get to 8 GHz [Figure 1].

It’s a 12-bit resolution scope with the capability of going to 16- bit high res. It has the lowest noise front end of any scope in its class.  And it’s worth noting that it’s unlike some of the other higher-performing scopes burdened by clunky, cumbersome probes.  As with our 5 Series, the 6 Series MSO has plug-and-play probes which are easy to use.  Designers get all the advanced measurements and analysis that make looking at very complex signals and compliance standards possible but in a simplified and intuitive way.

Figure 1: Interleaving is not necessary with the Tektronix 6 Series MSO

The 6 Series is a six-in-one integrated instrument that includes an Arbitrary Function Generator (AFG)s, digital volt meter, and a trigger frequency counter that goes to 8 GHz.

EECatalog: How does the sampling rate Tektronix has achieved with the 6 Series make a difference in the design engineer’s workday and what makes that rate possible?

WL:  The 25 gigasamples/sec sample rate across the entire bandwidth effectively reduces the characterization debug time by as much as 3x. What enables the sampling rate is the scope’s four independent ADC ASICs. It’s more acquisition hardware than any other competitive product.

For critical bus standards in this space—PCI Express comes to mind—USB 2.0, MIPI D-PHY and DDR memory technology, something north of 6 gigahertz bandwidth is critical to accurately measure and characterize signals.

We are the only scope with enough sample rate on each channel that gets to 8 GHz.

EECatalog:  And the kinds of applications that need this are growing in number.

WL:  Yes, DDR3 memory characterization is a great example of an application that requires this high bandwidth acquisition across all channels. As an example, the 1600 megatransfer/sec systems require something between a 6 and 8 GHz bandwidth to  get that accuracy of measurement required, across multiple data channels.

Whether it is artificial intelligence or the automotive space, data center, Industrial IoT or  mission-critical mil-gov defense applications, speed is key. That’s why it’s so critical to  accelerate the time to accurate insight with the maximum level of confidence.

EECatalog:  Earlier you had mentioned how one of the things that different today from even a short time ago is that absolute need for clean and precise power supplies—could you address that topic in a little more detail?

WL:  Yes, it’s imperative with modern designs to see more signal detail on very small and fast signals. Our TEK061 front end ASIC preamp makes possible a striking amount of noise reduction—more than 75 percent reduction as compared to a typical scope (Figures 2A and 2B)  The typical oscilloscope presents designers with fuzzy caterpillar-like representation of their signal.  With the  6 Series, on the other hand, you can see the highest level of sensitivity, where noise is extracted versus the noise drowning out the signal content.

Figures 2A and 2B: The problem of noise drowning out signal content is seen in the “fuzzy caterpillar” image on the left from a typical scope with less sensitivity. Note the clearer image on right, made possible thanks to the TEK061 ASIC front end.

With regard to the overall design,  in addition to incorporating the TEK061 ASIC, there is advanced RF shielding, wave guide technology, layers of added filtering that enable such phenomenal noise floor specifications. We did this all knowing that if you can’t see it, you can’t measure it.  When a scope has so much noise it cannot be filtered out, you just can’t see the signal based on interference that is riding on the signal.  We want to drive designers gaining measurement confidence on the smallest levels of signals.


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