"Entry-level" oscilloscopes

Matt Diagnostician Red Wing, Minnesota Posted   Latest  
Discussion
Tooling
Pico Technology
Dso
Labscope
Oscilloscope
Picoscope

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.

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Taurayi Owner/Technician
Harare, Zimbabwe
Taurayi
 

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

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Michael Diagnostician
Champaign, Illinois
Michael
 

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

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Bill Technician
Rosetown, Saskatchewan
Bill
 

"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.

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Martin Instructor
Burnaby, British Columbia
Martin
 

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

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Steve Owner/Technician
Northwich, United Kingdom
Steve
 

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

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Rick Technical Support Specialist
Saint Charles, Missouri
Rick
 

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

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Jim Mobile Technician
Southampton, Pennsylvania
Jim
 

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

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Taurayi Owner/Technician
Harare, Zimbabwe
Taurayi
 

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 .

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Michael Mobile Technician
Clinton, Utah
Michael
 

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

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Chris Diagnostician
Commack, New York
Chris
 

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

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Jim Mobile Technician
Southampton, Pennsylvania
Jim
 

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

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Cliff Diagnostician
Santa Maria, California
Cliff
 

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

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Brian Diagnostician
Seneca, South Carolina
Brian
 

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.

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Walter Technician
Sarasota, Florida
Walter
 

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

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Matt Diagnostician
Red Wing, Minnesota
Matt
 

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

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Pete Mechanic
Newark, Delaware
Pete
 

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

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Chris Diagnostician
Commack, New York
Chris
 

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.

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Pete Mechanic
Newark, Delaware
Pete
 

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.

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Walter Technician
Sarasota, Florida
Walter
 

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

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Martin Instructor
Burnaby, British Columbia
Martin
 

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

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Rick Instructor
Tucson, Arizona
Rick
 

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?

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Matt Diagnostician
Red Wing, Minnesota
Matt
 

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…

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Rick Instructor
Tucson, Arizona
Rick
 

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

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Pete Mechanic
Newark, Delaware
Pete
 

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

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Jim Mobile Technician
Southampton, Pennsylvania
Jim
 

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.

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Chris Diagnostician
Commack, New York
Chris
 

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.

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Joel Technician
Belfast, Maine
Joel
 

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

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