"Entry-level" oscilloscopes

Matt from Red Wing Diagnostician Posted   Latest  
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Tooling
Pico Technology
Dso
Labscope
Oscilloscope
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Very often I get questions about what oscilloscope one should purchase when looking to start using a labscope as part of their diagnostic analysis routine.

Many times I see, and hear, advice about purchasing an "inexpensive" scope to start, and after you progress as a scope user, then drop the money for a PicoScope.

I agree with the latter. What I mean is, don't decide to not purchase a PicoScope because it's "too advanced" or "too difficult to use" or "only for seasoned or trained users". This line of thinking could not be further from the truth.

Too come clean right way, I do contract training for Pico Technologies, but am a full-time technician in an all makes/all models independent repair shop where I do use many different pieces of diagnostic equipment.

Yes, PicoScope is "powerful" and has a great many features below the surface, but it also arguably has one of the easiest to navigate user interfaces (namely for the primary uses of using a scope to begin with).

Another thing that cannot be overlooked is that the "power" of PicoScope gives users, and I suppose specifically novice users, a HUGE safety net. Because of its combination of sample-rate, sample-point memory (buffer, record length, etc) and vertical resolution allows the user to get a waveform on the screen that ends up being very usable. A friend of mine once said that PicoScope allows for a lazy scope user (he meant this as a compliment) and he's quite right. 

With a little bit of training, often times just in a trade-show booth, or a single presentation at a training event, one's skill with PicoScope can improve exponentially and eliminate some of PicoScope's minor pitfalls.

This post may be an introduction to a series of posts about using PicoScope and making use of some its more "advanced" features. I would like very much to hear from you what topics or areas of interest you like more information on.

In conclusion, I'm really putting this up to challenge the idea that PicoScope does not make a very good selection for an introductory piece of test equipment as I feel the argument against it is very, very strong and the argument to support putting off a PicoScope purchase due to lack of familiarity is weak...at best.

One more thing: support of PicoScope is very much the best in the industry. Not only does the company itself offer tremendous support in the form of forums, email, phone support, instructional videos, etc, etc, there is the vendor support that can usually handle any question(s) on the use of the product(s). And then there is the user support. It is unlike any product user support I can think of. Readily available in a great number of venues and often provided by an individual who uses PicoScope in the same, or similar, environment as you do. That can provide ideas on how to use the scope as well as introduce you to ways of using the scope that you would have never imagined.

+17

Taurayi from Harare

 

Owner/Technician
 

Awesome post Matt , i couldn't agree with you more!!!

+2

Michael from Champaign

 

Diagnostician
 

The Pico is not hard to use. In fact when I started using mine almost 5 years ago I had very little scope experience. The only prior experience I had was reading a few books and then I got a Vantage and used it. My shop had a modis and I used it a little bit as well. Then a year later I got my Pico and I did not know all the functions but it was very easy to obtain a useable capture. What makes this tool really shine though as Matt has said is the great support you get not only from Pico but from other Vendors who support the tool. And to top it off all the great instructors who do classes for Pico. Within about a year I had a pretty decent grasp of the tool. A beginner can pick up one of these and start scoping right away no problem. A scope is better than no scope of course but you need to weigh in how much time and effort you want to put in to learning how to use your chosen instrument and decide if this piece of equipment is going to satisfy your needs. Plus what if you have an issue with the scope? Can the supplier or manufacturer help you? In other words when purchasing you need to make sure you will get help if you have an issue. There are tons of avenues for training and support when you buy a Pico Scope. I dont know about the other Scope Manufacturers and what they offer so if anyone else would like to chime in and share I would be interested in hearing what everyone else has to say. And if anyone has not noticed yet I'm a Pico Junkie, lol.🙂

+2

Bill from Rosetown

 

Technician
 

"This post may be an introduction to a series of posts about using PicoScope and making use of some its more "advanced" features"

I really like this idea Matt. I also enjoy review of "foundational" features. Seems that I have been in a never ending loop of getting "bit" by the basics my whole career. Sometimes a guy just needs a reminder, or someone else's war story of the bite that really hurt. 

+5

Martin from Burnaby

 

Instructor
 

Great idea Matt! In my work as a long-time dealership technician I used a variety of scopes for many years, mostly in a supporting role and for their worth in case studies ("A picture says a thousand words"). I use a 4 channel PicoScope 4423 and 4425 with NVH kit in my instructional role and whatever other scopes are available when introducing students to the concept of using DSOs in apprenticeship. That includes Snap On, OTC and others, including older PicoScope 2 channel DSOs, depending on the needs and availability. Most needs would be foundational for capturing sensors etc.

By no means do I consider myself to be a "power user". I started with and still own both a Tek 222A , MAC/Ferret ET 2010, followed by other more current offerings by the main players. A DSO plays a secondary role in most diagnostic routines that I need to perform, backing up measurements, rather than replacing them.

I am very much a proponent of the KISS approach, utilizing the simplest tool that can get the diagnosis completed in the shortest amount of time. Since I have all of the manufacturer diagnostic equipment at my disposal and the fact that it works well for 99.5% of the time, a DSO often plays a supplemental role for comparison purposes that is enhanced by the visual aspect, while meeting the needs of apprenticeship introduction to oscilloscopes .

FWIW, I have viewed scope captures in various forums, where the settings were criticized by others even though the waveforms were represented in what appeared to be decent numbers and the screen was used effectively. I have also viewed captures that to be honest look absolutely awful, yet no comments have been offered. Often, when criticism is offered, there is nothing constructive, so no reasoning for one setup preference over another leaves me wanting to understand what the eyes of the beholder see that warrants modifying the settings.

This sometimes leaves me confused as to why user "X" didn't like user "Y's" set up. So, along with basic setup routines beyond automatic setup, I would like to see "the good, the bad and the ugly" waveforms, with some sound reasoning or justification as to why they might be bad and why the settings should be changed.

When preparing to set up demonstrations in class, I will often have notes about which set up I previously used for the best effect, rather than fumble around.

I have tried "chasing" set up around a display with arrows, YES/NO and scroll wheels and while others are comfortable with that, I personally find it annoying because I sometimes feel that I'm just one click away from starting over. Each DSO has pros and cons and suitability for mobile use in my situation is less of an issue than being able to display waveforms on a big screen in the workshop.

The days of nursing a hand-held device and monitoring signals on road tests have also now long since passed. However, portability of a laptop can be a bit cumbersome. As such, I have not seen much reference or discussion related to tablets that are well-suited to PicoScope software and would welcome that, in order to be able to make good choices if the need for portability is a concern.

I do not have the time or deep enough interest to justify purchasing another DSO where I am held hostage or ineligible to participate if I don't subscribe to buying from a particular source. What I would like is simply to hone my skills to feel more proficient without committing an excess of time, which for me is typically at a premium.

+2

Steve from Northwich

 

Owner/Technician
 

I've used scopes from Pico for many years, my first was the ADC single channel. 

Yes it's true that I've fallen out with my 4425 and given it away in a raffle because of the noise problems I have with it BUT Pico is by far the best scope out there for automotive users -Beginner or Power User, it's presets and webhelp provide a significant hand and shallow out the learning curve.

Yes, I use other many other scopes but Pico is the industry standard and I believe that any investment in a Picoscope, be it a used 2 channel or the latest 4425 is a wise investment.

#Picoflu

Steve...

+2

Rick from Saint Charles

 

Technical Support Specialist
 

If you teach, diagnose or just need to see electrical work, potential and signals. Get a scope! If you are an old relic like me the Pico is my choice for ease of use and support. The Pico Scope is comparable to the Sun diagnostic Scope of the 1960s and 70s. Yes there were many great brands then as there are many great scopes on the market today. Put the time and effort into using it and your knowledge and ability to diagnose and repair electrical challenges will increase 10 fold. You need to be with a shop who knows the value of testing and will bill for it. That is probably the greatest deterrent of techs not using or embracing the scope. I know many techs own a scope incorporated in their scan tool but never use it to their advantage. The myths and illusions of electricity will fade away every time you hook up the scope.

+3

Jim from Southampton

 

Mobile Technician
 

GREAT POST as usual Matt, I also receive many request from Techs looking to "Jump on the Bandwagon" of finally using a Lab Scope. As you know, I've started to do some presentations at the events specially for the new users. It was brought to my attention a couple of years ago that most of the Lab Scope classes out there were geared toward taking the tech already using a Lab Scope to the next level with it.

I spent some time looking in to it and did discover there was some merit to that claim. My thoughts on the first purchase of the lab Scope are very simple, will the new user be willing to spend some time working through the learning curve ???? I have found some techs out there that think, if they go TOP of the LINE right away with a PICO there is very little learning curve because the PICO does everything for you ??????? So I just give the NEWBI that facts and let them make their own decision, the LAST thing I want to see (and I do) is a expensive PICO just sitting and not being used. I have had a lot of techs go find something like a Vantage Pro and work on their Lab Scope skills, then at a later point go for the PICO or some other high end unit, Most times I already know another tech that would want to buy that tech's Vantage Pro.

Basically, it always comes down to the Tech's desire to improve their own diagnostic skills, What I REALLY hate hearing if you don't buy your Pico from XXXXXXXX, you will have NO SUPPORT, There is soo much support out there if you look for it, it not even funny.

As you know, Matt, When I purchased my Pico, it was posted that it was a real shame that … will now have a JET with No Pilot license ?????? I just like A LOT of others have been purchasing diagnostic equipment for more years then I want to remember. I have NEVER purchased diagnostic equipment without already making a commitment to learn as much as I can with it.............It is CALLED ROI, (Return on Investment).

I would be MORE then Happy to follow up on this post with some of the many questions I'm asked from the new users, as I'm sure you are, My Friend.

+4

Taurayi from Harare

 

Owner/Technician
 

Well said Jim , I remember that post where you were being attacked for buying from so and so. If one is willing to learn and is committed to training there is no need to worry about the PROMISED support . Keep up the good work my friend . 

+2

Michael from Clinton

 

Mobile Technician
 

Hi Matt,

Back in the 1980's scopes were huge and expensive. I hear $20K to $30K. For a shop owner it was a huge expense. It was cost prohibitive for the average technician to buy one. Today there are many great scopes out there. Pico seems to be the choice of most Automotive Professionals. This gives us many resources on using the Pico. I have sold several Pico scopes to customers and they love them. The ATS scopes are very nice as well. I personally use a Bosch MTS 5200. Being an embedded tool it lacks many of the features of a PC based one. I like it because it boots up and is ready quickly, it is rugged and great for mobile work. There seem to be more and more showing up on eBay. A great thing to have if the price is right. At some point I will upgrade. Buying an off-brand scope off the internet is most likely a waste of money. The ones I have seen have poor resolution and lack protection circuitry. I agree that when buying a scope, buy a good one. If you can't afford it, save your money until you can buy a professional model that will give reliable data.

-Mike 

0

Chris from Commack

 

Diagnostician
 

In my experience, start by using the scope you will use often. For me It was the scope that was sitting on the shelf collecting dust. After using that enough and catching the bug I decided to get my own. I bought a clapped out modis to practice my craft. I liked using the component tester inside the software. It was great for a noob like me. Over time, I outgrew the capabilities of the scope and bought a pico and couldn't be happier. Do I think I wasted my money? No. The modis is still a very capable scope with a great component tester in it. In some cases it's my quick go to. Moral of the story is: used properly, there is no such thing as the wrong scope. Most diagnosticians I know have multiple. Start with what you can afford. Use it for everything. Like the meme says: SCOPE ALL OF THE THINGS!!!

+2

Jim from Southampton

 

Mobile Technician
 

My feelings EXACTLY Chris Martino, I'm constantly asked which Lab Scope is the one to buy, My answer is ALWAYS the same " The one that you are going to actually work with and use". I know way too many techs that have gone out and purchased the most expensive Lab Scope out there and have NEVER used it yet ???? I also know techs that have purchased what some would say is a waste, BUT they use it all the time, even on KNOWN good circuits and it has dropped their diagnostic time way down.

BTW - My wife recently asked me how many Lab Scopes I have, I told her they were like Potato chips "You can't just have ONE", I also reminded her that she had a Piano, Her response was " I don't know why I try to have intelligent conversations with you" ???

+3

Cliff from Santa Maria

 

Diagnostician
 

With the PICO being a predominant fixture in the industry I would recommend that to anyone looking for a scope. You must be willing to practice with it on a regular basis because like so many other things in life it is a perishable skill set. With a free software download and a great demo mode everyone can download the software for the PICO as well as the ATS to use it's features to find which one is geared to the individuals liking. I have recommended this procedure to those looking to get a PC based scope and most people are going for the PICO due to it's more friendly to use. Both are great scopes, but I prefer the PICO over the ATS because it seems simpler to me.

+1

Brian from Seneca

 

Diagnostician
 

I have a MTS 5100 and a 5200. Those two have made me so much money thru the years. I loved Vetronix tools before Bosh bought them out and killed off the scope side of Vetronix.

0

Walter from Sarasota

 

Technician
 

IMO the Pico starter kit should be the only option considered for an entry level scope. Most looking to get in to scoping are members of groups that other members post their pico screen shots and psdata files, that and the fact a scope is needed to do proper diagnostics now a days. These guys are wanting it improve their skill. If they purchase anything less they will quickly become frustrated and dissatisfied. Why would we recommend an inferior product to someone knowing what we know?

+1

Matt from Red Wing

 

Diagnostician
 

I remember reading Motor Trend, Road & Track, Automobile, etc, as a preteen, and focusing on the "super cars". Lamborghini, Ferrari, Porsche, Lotus, Bugatti, and the such.

The reviews were usually the same, on the road be it twisting country roads or the Autobahn, they had breath-taking performance...but in town, stop-and-go, they were HORRIBLE to drive. Shift gates, non-existent low-end torque, poor vision, are a few of the reasons for the frustration.

I compare PicoScope to today's super-cars/hyper-cars. Even better performance than their past brethren but now driving in everyday life is a cake walk. Pick whatever brand super-car you like, and yes you can take them to the track and make some noise and just push those things to their limit, or your physical limit, but then you could drive them home and toss the keys to your grandmother and she could very, very easily drive it to the grocery store (although space may be limited for Sunday dinner ingredients, still).

+1

Pete from Newark

 

Mechanic
 

Matt and all. 

The Pico platform really is the easiest to learn of all the big brand scopes. 

It's not terribly expensive compared to any other half way decent scope.

I don't agree with the idea that the best scope is the one you use, saying as much is a great disservice to the trade. If your scope is lying to you because it's either junk or hard to set up or hard to view it's not worth using at all, period. I think this phrase was coined because so many non-Pico scopes get bought and unused because they are too complicated for a newbie to figure out. 

Yes the ATS scope is an OK scope, yes the Snap-On is an OK scope, so were the Inttero and many other scopes of yesteryear however none of the scopes available today have a significant cost advantage over the Pico and none are easier to learn if you're a newbie. 

I was lied to many years ago, I bought into the idea of "don't buy a Pico until you're really good with a scope" so I held off and went through OTC, Interro and ATS scopes before finally thinking maybe I was "worthy" of using a Pico. Ha, what a joke and what a waste of time and money on my part, I should have bought a Pico from the door. Any newbie that reads this, hear me when I say: buy the Pico first, it will save you time, money and headache in such proportions that you won't be able to calculate it. 

+5

Chris from Commack

 

Diagnostician
 

Any scope will lie to you if you hook it up wrong. Out of all the scopes I've used, pico is the most intuitive. That being said, having someone start out with a platform they are familiar with will go miles into making sure they continue with their craft. And again, every scope has their place. I don' t have one that still operates thrown away.

0

Pete from Newark

 

Mechanic
 

If one is "starting out" how could they be familiar with the platform? 

I stand by what I said, any newbie wasting time with anything but a Pico does so at the cost of their own best interests. 

+3

Walter from Sarasota

 

Technician
 

100% Agree! Wasted a lot of time and money myself and want to save some other tech the headaches I went through.

+1

Martin from Burnaby

 

Instructor
 

I agree Pete. Many in the market for their first DSO will be wowed with "tool truckitis" and that latest offering that promises everything, but has few if any accessories. Maybe its the "convenient" payment schedule that "seals" the deal, but for many years it has been a way of life for many technicians and served some brand name equipment well. It is only since various discussion forums have formed, that more available products including the Pico family of equipment has gained popularity, even though they have been around for years.

There are pros and cons for the different platforms and user groups dedicated to supporting the major players. Personal preferences and product loyalty may well dictate a specific purchase and some will be completely satisfied with an alternate offering. However, I have found the PC-based PicoScope to be more familiar and user friendly for me, beyond comparing performance specifications.

Weighing in the benefits of purchasing a Pico kit with the accessories and a laptop that doesn't require expensive major updates, or needs to double as a scan tool, the Pico wins hands down. Given the support that is available and that the product is features rich beyond other offerings and it will not become an non-repairable "brick" due to platform phase out, these alone are justifiable reasons for purchasing a Pico.

Years ago, technicians were frequently not so widely "PC savvy" and hand-held diagnostic equipment was the desired norm for its ultimate portability. However, these days with information retrieval being PC based, technicians are much more capable with at least basic PC computing skills, to which the Pico lends itself nicely.

I see the same with Digital Multi-Meters, where my students will buy a "hand me down" meter from a co-worker for a "great deal, when that co-worker finally decided to purchase a decent DMM. The student then discover that their meter isn't capable of making some measurements and they eventually decide to upgrade. It is a matter of not knowing what they don't know and I suspect that many of us have been there at some point in time.

So yes, in retrospect when purchasing equipment, wasting time and money to eventually arrive at the desired tool can definitely be annoying.

+1

Rick from Tucson

 

Instructor
 

I have had 2 students ask me about the Pico 2205A as an entry level scope. 

amzn​.​to/2MghuIO

It does not appear to be geared to automotive applications but looks like it would be a good entry level scope. I have not used one so I have not given my students a recommendation yet. Any thoughts?

0

Matt from Red Wing

 

Diagnostician
 

Hello, Rick.

The low-cost scopes are attractive due to...well...their low-cost. But, they really are not tailored at all for automotive repair.

First of all, they are not protected. Meaning, the front-end of the scope is not protected from over-voltage and if the scope becomes damaged, the are probably replacing the scope and at least sending it to Pico for repair (turnaround time).

Second, input voltage will probably dictate constant use of attenuators. So that will add to the expense.

Third, they do not work with the automotive software. Mainly that is access to the Waveform Library, pre-loaded automotive specific probes and the automotive drop-down menu (for aid in setting up the scope).

Forth, they are 8-bit scopes. That means there are 256 vertical "spots" available for the scope to plot a sample point. Most modern automotive scopes are 12-bit (4096 "spots") or even higher. When zooming in, instead of getting that typical PicoScope detail, with an 8-bit scope (even a PicoScope 8-bit) they will see a stair-stepping of the signal (you can picture that if the "space" between those vertical points is quite a bit greater, there is a larger "vertical" rise or drop from sample point to sample point and therefore that stairway effect is that much more exaggerated).

Although a few times more expensive, if students are looking to add Pico to their arsenals, there is an automotive specific "starter" kit available: aeswave​.​com/PicoScope-4425…

There is also a 2-channel version for under $1k. Personally, I feel we are in the era of 4-channels being a minimum requirement vs a luxury.

Later,

Matt.

+1

Rick from Tucson

 

Instructor
 

Thanks that is exactly what I needed to know. I will pass that link along to my students. 

+2

Pete from Newark

 

Mechanic
 

To add on to Matt's observations: anyone buying a scope, today, is doing themselves a huge disservice if they don't equip -immediately- with the ability to measure pressure over time.

Measuring relative compression and subsequently in cylinder pressures are so easy -that a caveman could do it- and in both procedures once you know what you are looking at the 'rules' don't really change from vehicle to vehicle (versus like cam and crank signals). Both procedures are easy set ups to learn -especially on a Pico- which helps a young scope user get confidence and learn how the scope works; plus both procedures shave mega time off of diagnostic time versus the old way of compression and leak down testing. 

Utilizing these two procedures and not using the scope for anything else would easily pay for the scope in a year with diagnostic time saved. 

Oh and yeah there's lots of other uses, just making a point as to how valuable these two specifically are. 

+1

Jim from Southampton

 

Mobile Technician
 

Agree 100 % with you Pete, I would add that also adding current probes is a No-Brainer also because at that point you are actually watching the work being performed or NOT performed. We were all taught to look at Voltage over Time which is actually the COMMAND, it didn't mean the work was actually done.

+1

Chris from Commack

 

Diagnostician
 

I stress this daily. If I only have one test to preform on a circuit (which is a rediculous premise), I would preform a current measurement. This shows you that the component is actually doing something. my current probes are some of the most important pieces of my diagnostic toolset. 

+2

Joel from Belfast

 

Technician
 

I started my career in 1975 working for the computer company Data General and later for Digital Equipment. My first job as a technician was to identify the failing component on computer circuit boards. My only tool was an oscilloscope. Later on, one of my jobs was to repair oscilloscopes. For some crazy reason, I started my own garage in 1990. I bought a $500 Hitachi analog oscilloscope which I still have. Over the many years, I have bought many dedicated automotive oscilloscopes. I've been disappointed with them all. I would get to a point of wanting to look at something beyond the capabilities of the oscilloscope. My employees would always joke about "Joel's getting out the dinosaur scope! Must be a tough problem!". Recently I purchased a 4 channel Pico scope and I must say it's a pleasure to use a scope than can do what I want it to do with ease. I'm on the fence as to which would be better for a new technician; a Pico scope or a less expensive generic automotive scope. Most of us learned to drive on an old beater and later learned to appreciate the power and performance of an expensive automobile.

+1