How to Use a Logic Probe

Whilst a logic probe is very easy to use a few instructions and guidelines and tips help ensure that they are used to their best effect.

Logic Probe Tutorial Includes:
Logic probe basics     How to use a logic probe    

One of the advantages of the logic probe tester is that it is very simple and easy to use. It can very quickly give a basic indication of the operation of a logic circuit.

Although the logic probe is very easy to use it has many limitations and can only give basic measurements and this should be remembered when deciding whether to use a logic probe.

If more comprehensive logic testing is needed, then more advanced electronic test equipment like logic analyzers or mixed signal oscilloscopes may be needed.

How to use a logic probe: the basics

Understanding how to use a logic probe is very straightforward. There are many different logic probe products, all of which are slightly different, but they all conform to the same basic overview of their functionality and operation, for example some have audible indications as well as the visual ones whereas others may not.

Accordingly it is possible to give some basic guidelines about how to use a logic probe, but there will be slight variation in the way they are used dependent upon the particular logic probe in use.

Logic probe connections

Before using the logic probe, it is necessary to understand the connections.

As can be seen, there are three connections to the logic probe:

  1. Black lead with crocodile clip:   There are two leads which generally come out of the opposite end of the instrument to the metal probe itself. The black lead is connected to negative ground and is also used as the return.
  2. Red lead with crocodile clip:   This lead will have red on it somewhere, possibly just on the crocodile / alligator clip and is used to connect to the supply. Be careful to connect this to the logic supply which will normally be +5 volts and for some CMOS families up to 15 volts. Read the instructions to see over what range the probe will operate - using a voltage higher than that which is specified could damage the logic probe.
  3. Probe:   The probe, as shown on the diagram is a metal point used for probing the circuit. When using this, be careful that the probe cannot slip and cause a short circuit which could damage the circuit under test.

The first requirement before using the logic probe is to connect the power connections to the circuit. Apart from ensuring they are the right voltage, the points used for connecting the crocodile clips to should be accessible and provide a reliable connection without the risk of touching any adjacent components or other connections.

Note: If possible connect the power connections to the unit under test when it is powered off. In this way risk of damage due to shorting, etc. is minimised.

Initial settings for using a logic probe

It is necessary to select the required settings on the switches when starting to use a logic probe. Dependent upon the logic probe manufacturer and model, there are a number of options that may need to be set:

  1. TTL / CMOS:  It is necessary to select the logic family. Normally two options are given, namely CMOS and TTL. As the high and low states of these two logic families are slightly different, it is necessary to select the correct option. Normally logic probes will only accommodate the use of basic 5V versions of CMOS and TTL. Other families like the ones that use 3.3 volts or other rails are unlikely to be accommodated.
  2. MEM / PULSE :  This is used to select the operational mode of the logic probe. The Pulse position is used for normal operation for pulse or level detection. The MEM or memory position is used to capture a pulse. For example if it is necessary to detect whether a pulse has occurred or not.

Note: Some surface mount devices these days use supply rails of 3.3 volts or less. Most logic probes will not work with these ICs as the logic levels cannot normally be accommodated. Additionally it is often difficult to probe surface mount boards as there is a real danger of shorting pins.

Probing & results

With power applied to the circuit under test and the logic probe, it is possible to use it to probe various points on the circuit.

One easy point to locate may be a transistor driver. The can of the transistor is often connected to its collector making a point where the signal can be easily accessed.

The logic probe will indicate which lines are high, low or carrying a signal.

It is then a matter of interpreting the results in line with the circuit to find out whether they are acting correctly or not.

A brief order of using a logic probe could be:

  1. Connect the black clip or line to ground or to a common line of the circuit to be tested. This assumes that 0V and ground / common are the same.
  2. Secondly connect the red clip or leave to the positive supply of the circuit.
  3. Select the logic family CMOS or TTL. TTL normally runs using a 5V supply whereas CMOS is typically 5 - 15V.
  4. Use the probe to connect to the required monitoring points. At this point the LEDs will light accordingly and a buzzer if included may sound.
  5. Setting a MEM switch to MEM will enable the logic probe to capture any short pulses. There may be a separate LED to indicate this.

One hint is that it is often good to check how to use the logic probe on a known good circuit. In this way you will better understand its operation and know what to look for.

Whilst the logic probe is a very basic test tool, it can help find problems on many circuits if you know how to use the logic probe and understand its limitations.

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Data network analyzer     Digital Multimeter     Frequency counter     Oscilloscope     Signal generators     Spectrum analyzer     LCR meter     Dip meter, GDO     Logic analyzer     RF power meter     RF signal generator     Logic probe     PAT testing & testers     Time domain reflectometer     Vector network analyzer     PXI     GPIB     Boundary scan / JTAG     Data acquisition    
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