PicoScope USB Oscilloscopes

Pico Technology provides a very useful range of their PicoScopes - USB oscilloscopes to meet a variety of specifications and budgets

PicoScope Includes Includes:
PicoScope Basics     PicoScope software     2 channel scope     4 channel scope     PicoScope Flexible Resolution     Mixed signal oscillosocpe, MSO     Buyers guide    

Picotechnology Products     About Pico Technology - an Introduction     PicoLog data logger     PicoSource pulse generators    

Pico Technology produces a variety of oscilloscopes ranging from budget 2 channel PicoScopes up to 8 channels scopes, flexible resolution scopes, high resolution USB oscilloscopes and even sampling oscilloscpes.

The bandwidths of the PicoScope test instruments range from 10 MHz up to 1 GHz are also available along with resolutions from 8 bits right up to 16 bits which enable the most exacting measurements to be made.

The PicoScope test instruments are able to fulfil the needs for a wide variety of users from all levels of performance, offering real value for money.

PicoScope USB oscilloscope connected to a computer
PicoScope USB oscilloscope connected to a computer

USB oscilloscope advantages & disadvantages

As with any technology, there are advantages and disadvantages to their use. Pico Technology use USB interfaces to enable the body of the scope to link to a computer and use its processing, display and power supply thereby saving significant cost and also reducing the size.

Advantages of USB / PC based scope

  • Cost effective:   One of the big advantages of using a USB oscilloscope is that it is a very cost effective way of buying an oscilloscope. The overall instrument utilises many aspects of a computer that is likely to be available already. Power supply, display and processing power are all available within the PC and this means these do not need to be replicated within the USB scope.
  • Easy to set-up and use :   Using a USB interface means that connecting the PC and the scope together is particularly easy. It is a well tried and tested interface that is simple to set up. Normally the software used with the scope is also designed to be very easy to implement.
  • Large screen:   Most PCs, whether a laptop or desktop have a good sized screen, making the waveform images easy to see.
  • Utilises existing equipment :   USB oscilloscopes utilise PCs which are likely to be already available. This means that it is unlikely that it will be necessary to buy a new one particularly for that role.
  • Portable :   The USB oscilloscopes are very much smaller than dedicated oscilloscopes. For field service, many engineers will already carry a laptop, so the fact that the USB scope is much smaller than a dedicated oscilloscope provides a real advantage.

Disadvantages of USB / PC based scope

  • Stand-alone scopes may be more convenient in some circumstances:   It is possible that a single bench top instrument can be more convenient to use in some circumstances, but this is not always the case, and often a test set-up requires a PC anyway so this is often not an issue at all.
  • Requires a PC:   The fact that a USB scope requires a PC can be an advantage in some instances, but in others it can be a disadvantage is one is not already available.

On balance USB scopes and in this case PicoScopes have much to offer and they can provide a very cost effective and size effective solution to an oscilloscope requirement.

PicoScope USB scope basic screen capture
PicoScope USB scope basic screen capture

PicoScope USB data bottleneck myth

One of the false issues that has been raised about PicoScope oscilloscopes is that the USB interface limits the performance because it limits the rate at which data can be transferred to the PC.

Although there are limits to the rate at which data can be transferred over USB, this is not a limiting factor. Some PicoScopes can collect data at a rate of a few billion samples a second. However this is stored and processed by the memory and processor within the scope itself.

With each new generation of PicoScope there have been improvement in the hardware acceleration engines to the point where they can process samples at least as fast as the oscilloscope can collect the data (5 billion samples per second in the case of the PicoScope 6000s). This is approximately 2 orders of magnitude faster than the samples can be processed in a PC CPU.

The scope processing engine then intelligently form the image to be displayed on the PC screen without any loss of high frequency data. It is this data that is passed across the USB interface.

PicoScope Series

Pico Technology has developed a number of different PicoScope series to meet a very wide variety of test instrument needs. These can be summarised as below:

  • 2000A series:   This series of Picoscopes provides an excellent platform for waveforms that need to be displayed visually. The scopes themselves are very small and portable having a footprint that is almost the same size as a passport and also only about 15mm thick. They use a USB 2 interface which is easily able to support their operation and they are able to provide 2 or 4 channels and 2 channels with a 16 digital line logic analyser capability. These scopes are ideal where entry level visual scope operation is needed.
  • 2000B series:   This series of scopes has a deeper memory level enabling computer analysis of the waveforms. This is particularly useful where more detailed analysis of the waveforms is needed. These scopes use USB 2 which is more than adequate for the operation as the PicScope undertakes most of the waveform computation on board the scope itself and then outputs the data as required.
  • 3000S:   The 3000 series PicoScopes are based around the USB 3 standard. There is a wide range of models including 2, or 4 channels and either 2 or 4 channels with a 16 digital line capability dependent upon the model.
  • 4000S:   The 4000 series PicoScopes are aimed at providing high resolution with 12 or 16 bit resolution dependent upon the model although with a lower bandwidth. As a result they are widely used in applications like the audio industry.
  • 5000S:   The 5000 series scopes are what are termed FlexRes or flexible resolution. This enables the scopes to provide the optimum resolution for any given application.
  • 6000S:   These PicScopes are high performance models with USB 3 interfaces and high sampling speeds. Sampling speeds may be 5 Gsamples/s and to support this, these scopes have a large memory depth.

Obviously these scopes require power and to achieve this, power is typically taken from the USB interface, although an external supply is provided so that where additional power is needed it can be supplied. The 6000 series scopes require an external supply at all times in view of the memory and processing required.

PicoScope software

As part of the offering for the PicoScope oscilloscopes, the scope comes with the relevant software to drive the instrument. This software has been developed specifically for the PicoScope range of products.

The software is available for Windows, Mac iOS and also for Linux, although Mac iOS is currently in a properly functioning but Beta release.

The software has been developed to enable a vey large amount of functionality to be exercised on whatever PicoScope has been bought.

The software is downloaded from the Pico Technology website and it is easy to install. On-going updates can be obtained from the site for free, thereby ensuring that the system remains up to date all the time.

Read more about . . . . PicoScope software.

PicoScope Types

There is a host of different types of PicoScope that can be bought. The PicoScopes can be categories in many ways - according to the bandwidth, memory capacity and various other aspects of their performance, but one of the easy methods is to use the number of channels they have. PicoScopes come in 2, 4, and 8 channel varieties.

  • 2 channel PicoScope:   The two channel PicoScope is one that is useful for a whole variety of projects. Normally two channels is quite adequate for most ordinary tasks, enabling two waveforms to be seen together. These two channel scopes provide a really compact alternative to bench-top scopes, most of which provide two channels.

    Within the range of 2 channel PicoScopes there is a wide choice dependent upon the requirements of the measurements to be made.
    Read more about . . . . 2 channel PicoScope.

  • 4 channel PicoScope:   The four channel PicoScopes provide additional capabilities for monitoring more points on circuits. With electronic boards and circuitry increasing in complexity, it is often necessary to have the capability to simultaneously look at larger number of different nodes.

    By having additional channels on the scope, it is possible to monitor additional nodes and gain a better understanding of why a circuit operates in the way it does.
    Read more about . . . . 4 channel PicoScope.

  • 8 channel PicoScope:   For the ultimate capability for monitoring multiple circuit nodes simultaneously, an 8 channel PicoScope can be used. 8 channel scopes offer a huge level of performance and allow for real waveform analysis on several nodes together.

    Whilst logic analyzers are able to provide state analysis, they are unable to examine the waveforms exactly and this may not result in issues being seen and resolved.
  • Flexible resolution PicoScopes:   Most digital oscilloscopes gain their high sampling rates by interleaving multiple 8-bit ADCs. Despite careful design, the interleaving process introduces errors that always make the dynamic performance worse than the performance of the individual ADC cores.
    Read more about . . . . Flexible resolution PicoScope.

  • Mixed Signal PicoScopes:   When developing embedded systems and using microcontrolelrs, it is often very useful to be able to combine the oscilloscope capability of looking at waveforms with the ability to perform logic analysis on a number of lines - a combination of an oscilloscope and basic logic analyzer. This can be done using a mixed signal oscilloscope, MSO, and Pico Technology have incoporated this into a number of their PicoScopes.

    Often embedded developers and other engineers prefer to use a mixed signal oscilloscope as they offer a much more straightforward set-up than a full scale logic analyzer. Havingt he capability to look at some waveforms, whilst seeingt he logic states of others provides a very powerful combination for a test instrument.
    Read more about . . . . Mixed signal PicoScope.

These are possibly the easiest ways to categorise these test instruments. Within each USB scope category there are very many different scopes, a vast number to meet the needs of virtually every requirement.

Pico Technology offers a very comprehensive selection of PicoScope USB oscilloscopes. These test instruments provide a solution for every budget and every requirement, from low to high end, but all the time offering excellent value for money and performance.