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Review – Agilent Infiniivision MSO-X 3024A Mixed Signal Oscilloscope

Hello Readers

In this article we examine the Agilent Technologies Infiniivision MSO-X 3024A Mixed Signal Oscilloscope. Please note that the review unit has the latest version 2.0 firmware (existing owners can upgrade with the free download).

Initial Impressions

Unlike smaller instruments the packaging is plain and non-descript, however the MSO is protected very well for global shipping and arrived in perfect condition. Inclusions will vary depending on the particular model, however all come with a calibration certificate, user guide on CD and a power lead.

image1

Four passive 300MHz probes are included with the MSO-X3024A:

image1a

Due to the constant upgrading of the firmware the lack of a printed user manual is no surprise. You can download the manual as well as the service, programming and  educational lab guides from the documents section of the product web page – which make good reading to get a feel for the unit.

Now for a tour around the unit. Coming from a smaller DSO or an analogue model, the first thing that strikes you is the display. 8.5” diagonal with 800×480 resolution:

image2

Unlike cheaper brands the larger screen is not extrapolating data from a smaller image – each pixel is separately used. The front panel is clean and uncluttered. Each button and knob feels solid and responsive, and if pressed and held down, a small help window appears with information about the item pressed. Note that each analogue channel has independent controls for vertical position and V/div sensitivity (the minimum sensitivity is 1mV/division). This saves a lot of time and possible confusion when working on time-sensitive applications.

Around the back we find the cooling van ventilation on the left, the IEC AC power socket on the bottom-right, manufacturing data and so on. The fan is just audible, however the noise from a desktop computer drowns it out. On the far right near the top are separate USB connections for device and host mode, and the external trigger input and output sockets. Apart from the trigger out signal the socket can also be set to give a 5V pulse on a mask test failure or the optional WaveGen sync pulse.

image3

Below this is a space for a Kensington lock cable, and the optional modules – the VGA/LAN adaptor or the GPIB bus module. On the right is my old faithful GW 20 MHz analogue CRO. Finally, there is a compartment on the top of the unit that can hold two probes comfortably, and four at a pinch:

image4

As the unit is can be considered a small computer, it takes time to boot up – just over thirty seconds. (The operating system is Windows CE version 6.0). The user-interface is quite simple considering the capability of the unit. The six soft-keys below the display are used well, and also can call a separate list of options under each button.

When such a list is presented, you can also use the “Push to select” knob on the right hand side of the display to select an option and lock in by pressing the knob in. Below the soft keys from left to right are: BNC output for the optional function generator, digital inputs for logic analyser, USB socket for saving data to a USB drive, probe points for calibration and demonstration use, and four probe sockets. Connections exist that can interface with optional Agilent active probes.

Specifications

This instrument falls within the range of Agilent’s new Infiniivision 3000-series oscilloscopes. The range begins with the DSO-X3012A with 100MHz bandwidth and two channels, through to the DSO-X3054A with 500 MHz bandwidth and four channels. Furthermore the range is extended with the MSO-X models that include a sixteen channel logic analyser.

Some of you will know there is also the Infiniivision 2000-series, and wonder why one would acquire a 3000-series. There are three excellent reasons for doing so:

  1. Waveform update rate is 50000 per second on a 2000, one million per second on a 3000;
  2. Memory depth on a 2000 is 100 kilopoints; 3000s have 2Mpts standard or 4Mpts optional;
  3. Eight vs. sixteen digital channels when specified as an MSO-X model.

For a full breakdown of specifications please download the Agilent data sheet located here.

Getting Started and general use

The process from cutting open the packaging to measuring a signal is quite simple – just plug it in, connect probes and go – however some probe compensation is required, which is explained quite well in the manual. There are strong tilting bales under the front side which can be used to face the unit upwards. At this point the unit is ready to go – you can start measuring by using the Auto Scale function and let the MSO-X3024A determine the appropriate display settings.

However there is no fun in that – the vertical scale can be manually adjusted between 1 mV and 50V per division, the horizontal between 2 nanoseconds and 50 seconds per division. These values can be selected rapidly or (by pressing the knob in) in a fine method for more precise values. If working with more than one channel, each can be labelled using a pre-set description or select a label from a list. One can also alter the display between X-Y, horizontal and roll modes.

Each channel has separate controls for coupling – DC/AC but no GND, as the earth point is shown on the LCD. Impedance can be 1M or 50 ohm. One can also limit bandwidth to 20MHz to remove high-frequency interference.

Capturing data is very easy, you can save images as .png or .bmp files in grey scale or colour , data in .csv form and so on. You can also assign popular functions to a “Quick Action” button – one press and it is done. For example I use this as a “save bitmap” button to send the screen image to the USB drive. If the optional LAN/VGA module is installed screens can be captured by the host computer via the network. Finally there is a very basic file explorer available to find files on the USB drive as well.

Waveforms can also be stored and used later on as references for other measurements. When reviewed they appear as an orange trace – for example R1:

rrr

The horizontal zoom mode activated using keys to the right of the horizontal control is very useful. Agilent call this “Mega Zoom” and it certainly works. Consider the following screen shot – the 32.768kHz square-wave from a Maxim DS1307 real-time clock is being analysed:

megazoom

The time base is 10uS per division – and using the zoom we can get down to two nanoseconds per division and investigate the ringing on fall of the square-wave. This is great for investigating complex signals over short periods. Awesome.

Capturing infrequent events is made simple by the combination of the one million waveforms per second sampling rate, and the use of infinite display persistence. In the following example a clock with very infrequent glitch is being sampled. By setting persistence to infinite, as soon as the infrequent glitch occurs it can be displayed and held on the screen. For example:

infreq

Triggering

There is a plethora of triggering options available. Standard modes include: edge, edge then edge, pulse-width (customisable), pattern trigger (for logic analyser – you can create your own patter of high, low, or doesn’t matter with comparison operators for duration), hex bus trigger, OR trigger, customisable rise/fall time trigger, nth edge burst trigger which allows  you to nth edge of a burst after an idle time, runt trigger on positive or negative pulse, setup and hold trigger, on video signals (PAL, PAL-M, NTSC, SECAM), and USB packets. Phew. Furthermore, if you have any of the optional decoding and analysis licenses, they include triggering on the matching signal type (see later).

Math modes

Performing math waveforms on analogue channels is done via a seperate Math button, and the operations available are addition, subtraction, multiplication, differentiation, integration, square root and FFT.

Waveform statistics

When the time comes to further analyse your measurement data, there area variety of measurements that can be taken, and they can be displayed individually, such as in the following:

stats1

or all in a summary screen:

allstats

Or you can manually use the cursors to determine information about any part of a wave form, for example:

cursors

Logic Analyser

Everything required is included with the MSO-X3024A for the sixteen channel logic analyser, including a very long dual-head probe cable:

lacables

as well as sixteen grabbers and some extension runs:

lacables2

Setup and use was surprisingly simple, just connect the probe cable head to ground, insert grabbers onto the ends of each channel wire, and connect to the signal pins to analyse. You can have all sixteen channels and the four analogue channels active at once, however when doing so the screen is quite busy. You can adjust the height  for each digital channel. Here we are measuring two analogue and eight digital channels:

msoinaction

As always there are many forms of customisation. Automatic scaling is available the same as analogue measurement. You can set the threshold levels for high and low, and presets exist for TTL, CMOS, ECL and your own custom levels. The cable is very well-built (made in the USA) and the socket on the MSO is a standard, very solid IDC connector. Thanks to the use of the IDC connector you could also make your own probes or extension cable for the analyser. Digital channels can also be combined and displayed as a data bus, with the data values shown in hexadecimal or binary – for example:

hexbus

binbus

Options

Both the 2000- and 3000-series Infiniivision units have a variety of options and upgrades available either at the time of purchase or later on. Agilent have been clever and installed all the software-based options in the unit – when required they are “unlocked” by entering a licence key given after purchase. Trial 14-day licenses are generally available if you want to test an option before purchase. You can also upgrade the bandwidth after purchase – for example if you started with a 100MHz a licence key purchase will upgrade you to 200MHz , or 350 to 500MHz. However if you wish to upgrade a 200MHz to 350/500, this needs to be performed at at Agilent service facility. Surprisingly the logic analyser upgrade that converts a DSO-X to an MSO-X is user-installable. For more information on the upgrade options and procedures please visit here.

Memory Upgrade (DSOX3MEMUP)

A simple yet useful option – it doubles the total memory depth to 4 Mpts interleaved.

LAN/VGA Module (DSOXLAN)

This options really opens up the MSO to the world (and is a lot of fun..) – it is inserted into the port at the rear of the unit:

lanvga1

VGA output is very simple – no setup required. Just plug in your monitor or projector and you’re ready to go -for example, with a 22″ LCD monitor:

monitorview

The educational benefits of the LAN/VGA module are immediately apparent – instead of having twenty classmates huddle around one MSO while the instructor demonstrates the unit, the display can be show on the classroom projector or a large monitor. The MSO display is still fully active while VGA output is used.

LAN connection via Ethernet was also very simple. The MSO can automatically connect to the network if you have a router with DHCP server. Otherwise you can use the Utility>I/O>LAN Settings function to enter various TCP/IP settings and view the MSO’s MAC address.

Once connected you can have complete control of the MSO over your network. Apart from saving screen shots:

remotesaveimage

There is a “simple” remote control interface that contains all the controls in a standard menu-driven environment:

simpleremotepanel

Or you can have a realistic reproduction of the entire MSO on your screen:

fullremotepanel

The full remote panel is completely identical – it’s “just like being there”. The ability to monitor your MSO from other areas could be very useful. For example using the mask testing in a QC area and watching the results in an office; or an educator monitoring students’ use of the MSO.

Furthermore you can view various data about the MSO, such as calibration date and temperature drift since calibration, installed options, serial number, etc. remotely via the web interface.

GPIB Module (DSOXGPIB)

This allows you to connect your MSO to an IEEE-488 communications bus for connection to less contemporary equipment.

Segmented Memory Option (DSOX3SGM)

This options allows you to capture infrequent multiple events over time. For example, you want to locate some 15 mS pulses that occur a few times over the space of an hour. All you need to do is set the triggering to pulse-width, specify the minimum/maximum pulse width to trigger from, then hit Acquire>Segmented, the number of segments to use and you’re off. When the pulses have been captured, you can return and analyse each one as normal. The unit records the start time and elapsed time for each segment, and you can still use zoom, etc., to examine the pulse. For example:

segment

Embedded Serial Triggering and Analysis (DSOX3EMBD)

Debugging I2C and SPI buses are no longer a chore with this option. For example with I2C just probe you SDA and SCK lines, adjust the thresholds in the menu option and you’re set. Apart from displaying the bytes of data below the actual waveform, there is a “Lister” which allows you to scroll back and forth along the captured data along with correlating times. In the following example a Maxim DS1307 RTC IC has been polled:

i2c_lister

The Lister details all – in the example we sent a zero to address 0x68, which caused the DS1307 to return the seven bytes of time and date data. This is an extremely useful option and is very useful when working with a range of sensors and other parts that use the I2C bus. The SPI bus analysis operates in exactly the same manner. Adding this option also allows triggering on I2C data as well.

FlexRay Triggering and Analysis (DSOX3FLEX)

The optional FlexRay measurement applications offer integrated FlexRay serial bus triggering, hardware-based decoding and analysis. The FlexRay measurement tools help you more efficiently debug and characterize your FlexRay physical layer network by having the ability to trigger on and time-correlate FlexRay communication with your physical layer signals. So if you are working on the ECU of your Rolls-Royce or new BMW 7-series, you can use an MSO that matches the quality of the vehicle under examination. Here is an example of the FlexRay being monitored in the lister:

flexray

RS232/UART Serial Decode and Trigger (COMP/MSOX3000-232)

This option allows RS232, 422, 485 and UART decoding and triggering, as well as the use of the Lister to analyse the data. For example:

uartdecode

Advanced Math (DSOX3ADVMATH)

This option adds more math functions to enhance your waveform analysis, including: divide, base-10 logarithm, natural logarithm and exponential.

CAN/LIN Triggering and Serial Decode (DSOX3AUTO)

Again, allows decoding of automotive CAN and LIN bus signals, and the use of the Lister. For example:

can_decode

lin_decode

Military Standard 1553 and ARINC429 Standards Serial Triggering and Decoding (DSOX3AERO)

The option exists for decoding and triggering of the above bus types. According to Agilent the Mil-STD 1553 serial bus is primarily used to interconnect avionics equipment in military aircraft and spacecraft(!). This bus is based on tri-level signaling (high, low, & idle) and requires dual-threshold triggering, which the 3000X supports. This bus is also implemented as a redundant multi-lane bus (dual-bus analysis), which is also supported by the 3000X.

The ARINC 429 serial bus is used to interconnect avionics equipment in civilian aircraft (Boeing & Airbus). This bus is also based on tri-level signaling (high, low, & null) and requires dual-threshold triggering, which the 3000X supports. Since ARINC 429 is a point-to-point bus, multi-lane analysis is also required to capture both send and receive data. So if you need this capability – Agilent has you covered.

milbus

Video Triggering and Analysis Application (DSOX3VID)

The DSOX3VIDEO option provides triggering on an array of HDTV standards, including:

  • 480p/60, 567p/50, 720p/50, 720p/60
  • 1080i/50, 1080i/60
  • 1080p/24, 1080p/25, 1080p/30, 1080p/50, 1080p/60
  • Generic (custom bi-level and tri-level sync video standards)

The 3000X Series oscilloscope already comes standard with NTSC, PAL, PAL-M, and SECAM support. Example of video analysis:

dsox3vid

Audio Serial Triggering and Analysis (DSOX3AUDIO)

And not surprisingly this is an option to allow decoding of and triggering from I2S digital audio data. For example:

i2s_decode

Mask Limit Testing (DSOX3MASK)

This is another interesting and useful option, idea for quality testing, benchmarking and so on. First you create a mask by measuring the ideal waveform, and then feed in the signal to be compared with the ideal mask. Mask limit testing can operate at up to 280000 comparisons per second. You can view pass/fail statistics, minimum sigma and so on, for example – a perfect test:

mask1

… then a change of frequency for a few cycles:

mask2

Furthermore you can specify the number of tests, change source channel, specify action upon errors, etc. Finally you can create and save to USB your own mask file for use later on – which can also be modified on a PC using any text editor software. Or for other monitoring options the external trigger socket on the read of the MSO can be configured to give a 5V pulse on a mask test failure.

If you have the LAN/VGA module you could place the MSO on in a lab or factory situation and monitor the testing over the network using a PC – very handy for QC managers or those who need to move about the workplace and still monitor testing in real time.

20MHz Function Generator/Arbitrary Waveform Generator (DSOX3WAVEGEN)

The “WaveGen” function is a versatile option that offers a highly controllable 20 MHz function generator and arbitrary waveform generator. It offers eleven different types of waveform: sine, square, ramp, pulse, DC, noise, sine cardinal, exponential rise and fall, cardiac and gaussian pulse.

The frequency can be adjusted between 100mHz to 20 MHz in 100 mHz steps; period from 50ns to 10s; full offset, amplitude and symmetry control; as well as logic level preset outputs (such as TTL, CMOS 5V, 3.3V etc.) Finally the WaveGen can be operated independently to normal measurement tasks, which is useful for ideal vs. actual comparisons and so on. Output is from the BNC socket at the bottom-left of the front pane and sync is also availble from the rear BNC socket. The arbitrary waveform generator is very simple to use  – and copied waveforms can be edited or have noise added to them to replicate real-world waveforms.

Power Measurement (DSOX3PWR)

This is a power measurement and analysis option that is integrated into the unit and provides a quick and easy way of analysing the reliability and efficiency of switching power supplies. It also includes a user license for U1881A-003 PC-based power measurement and analysis software that provides even more powerful insight into power supply measurement. With this option you can:

  • Measure switching loss and conduction loss at the switching device (to help improve efficiency)
  • Analyse dI/dt and dV/dt slew rate (for reliable operation)
  • Automate oscilloscope set-up for ripple measurements (to eliminate tedious manual oscilloscope set up)
  • Perform pre- compliance testing to IEC 61000- 3- 2 standards (to reduce compliance testing time)
  • Analyse line power with total harmonic distortion, true power, apparent power, power factor, and crest factor tests (to quickly provide power quality information)
  • Measure output noise (ripple)
  • Analyse modulation using the on- time and off- time information of a Pulse Width Modulation (PWM) signal (to help characterize the active power factor)
  • Measure how well a circuit rejects ripple coming from the input power supply at various frequencies with the Power Supply Rejection Ratio (PSRR) measurement.
For more indepth explanation of this option download and read the well written manual.

Etch-a-sketch

Well not a feature as such, but it exists if you know where to find it:

msoxes

Initial Conclusions

There is no doubt that the Infiniivision 3000-series are a great line of instruments. The waveform sample rate, memory size and bandwidth options are very competitive, and the ability to add various options is convenient and also helps lower the final cost for purchasing departments. (Start with the base model then hit them up for the options over time)

However there are a few things that could use improvement. Although the display is excellent – the right-hand column with “Agilent” at the top is always displayed. This is a waste of LCD space and there should be an option to turn it off, allowing waveforms to be displayed across the entire screen. If a $400 Rigol can do this, so should a $5000+ Agilent. The build unit of the unit is good, no problems are evident however it could be a little more “solid”; and the option of a clear shield for the LCD would be a great idea to protect against forceful and dirty fingers.

Furthermore the ground demonstration terminal suffers from metal fatigue very quickly, it already is somewhat chipped and may need replacing if you used it quite often. Finally, it would have been nice to see Agilent include the a carry bag – already people have asked to borrow the unit and to wander around with it in the box is somewhat awkward.

For those who rely on their test equipment will have the peace of mind that Chinese discount suppliers cannot give you – Agilent support exists and will not ignore you once a sale has been made. It doesn’t take long to find a tale of woe on an Internet forum from someone who imported their own “high-spec” DSO via eBay or direct east-Asian sellers only to find there are no firmware updates, competent English-speaking support or warranty of any kind. Furthermore, the ability to combine many functions in the one piece of equipment saves space, time and reduces your support channel back to one supplier. There is also an iPhone “app” that may be of interest – however as an Android user I haven’t tried it.

The saying “Quality is remembered long after price is forgotten” certainly holds true – and at the end of the day combined with the mix of standard and optional features at various price points – the Agilent Infiniivision MSO-X 3024A rises to the top echelon of test equipment.

 The Agilent Technologies Infiniivision MSO-X 3024A Mixed Signal Oscilloscope used in this review is a promotional consideration received from Agilent and element-14 via their Road Test program.

Agilent Test and Measurement equipment is available from your local element-14Farnell or Newark distributor.

Australian readers please note:  Trio Smartcal are the exclusive Australian Agilent distributors for all states except WA and NT – telephone 1300 853 407.

Measurement Innovation for WA and NT – telephone 08 9437 2550

High-resolution images are available on flickr.

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Posted in agilent, DSO, MSOX3024A, oscilloscope, review, test equipment, tutorial

The world’s smallest oscilloscope??

Hello readers

Today we examine a tiny and fascinating piece of test equipment from Gabotronics – their XMEGA Xprotolab. Sure, that sounds like a lot – and it is. Yet the functionality of the Xprotolab is inversely proportional to its physical size. Try to imagine having an oscilloscope, arbitrary waveform generator, logic analyser and a spectrum analyser – including a display – in a package no larger than 25.4 x 40.6 mm (1″ x 1.6″) in size. Well imagine no more as here it is:

1ss

As described above, this tiny marvel of engineering has the following functions:

  • Two analogue oscilloscope channels with a maximum sampling rate of 2 million samples per second;
  • Analogue bandwidth of 320 kHz at 8-bits resolution;
  • Buffer size of 256 samples;
  • Fast fourier-transform;
  • Analog and external digital triggering;
  • Maximum input voltage of +/- 10V;
  • Automatic average and peak-to-peak measurements;
  • Logic analyser with eight channel maximum simultaneous monitoring;
  • Firmware is user upgradable;
  • Can also be used as a development board for the XMEGA microcontroller (extra items required);
  • When powered from a USB cable, the board can supply +/-5V and +3.3V into a solderless breadboard.

The OLED screen is very clear and precise, which considering the size of 0.96″ – very easy to read. One can also set the display mode to invert which changes the display to black on white, bringing back memories of the original Apple Macintosh:

invertedss

Using the Xprotolab took a little getting used to, however after pressing menu buttons for a few minutes I had it worked out. The more sensible among you will no doubt read the instructions and menu map listed at the website. Having the dual voltmeter function is quite useful, it saved me having to mess about with a couple of multimeters when trying to debug some analogue circuits I’m currently working with.

The display can be as complex or as simple as you choose, for example when working with the oscilloscope you can disable one channel and shift the waveform so it occupies the centre of the screen. Or when working with the logic analyser, you can choose to only select the channels being monitored, instead of filling the screen with unused logic lines.

There are a couple of things to take care with. When inserting the Xprotolab into your breadboard, be careful not to put pressure on the OLED display when pushing down; when removing it from the breadboard, try and do so evenly with the help of an DIP IC puller.

Generally in my reviews there is a video clip of something happening. Unfortunately my camera just isn’t that good, so below is the demonstration clip from the manufacturer:

As you can see the Xprotolab would be quite useful for monitoring various signals whilst prototyping, as you can just drop it into a breadboard. Furthermore, if your required range is measurable the Xprotolab saves you having to look back-and-forth between a prototype and the display from a regular oscilloscope as well.

As the purchase price is relatively cheap compared against the time and effort of trying to make an OLED display board yourself, one could also plan to build an Xprotolab into a final design – considering a lot of measurement and display work is already done for you it could be a real time-saver. The Xprotolab can run from a 5V supply and only draws a maximum of 60 milliamps. Product support is quite extensive, including source code, schematics, videos, a user forum and more available from the product page.

In conclusion the Xprotolab is genuinely useful, inexpensive and ready to use out of the box. It would make a useful piece of test equipment for a beginner or seasoned professional, and also integrates well into custom projects when required.

Remember, if you have any questions about the Xprotolab,  please contact Gabotronics via their website.

[Note – the Xprotolab reviewed in this article was received from Gabotronics for review purposes]

Posted in gabotronics, oscilloscope, part review, review, xmega, xprotolabComments (8)

Review – Ikalogic SCANALOGIC2 Logic Analyser/Signal Generator

Hello Readers

Today we will take a first look at the Ikalogic “Scanalogic2” PC-based logic analyser and signal generator. This is a tiny and useful piece of test equipment that should be useful for beginners and experienced engineers alike. It has been developed by two guys in Europe that are dedicated to the craft, and I wish them well. First of all, let’s pull it out of the box and see what we have:

contentssss

Upon opening the box, one finds a USB cable, the connector leads and the unit itself. It really is small, around 60 x 35 x 20mm. The USB cable is just under 900mm long. Finally a small instruction and welcome postcard which details a quick overview of the software and the unit’s specifications. Ikalogic are to be congratulated for the minimal level of packaging – finally a company that realises one can download the required items instead of printing books, burning DVDs and causing an increase in shipping weight.

The first thing you will need to do is download the latest software. It needs a Windows-based PC with .net framework. Installing took about two minutes, then the ubiquitous system restart. Finally the last preparation is to check for the latest firmware and update it. This is a simple procedure – download a .zip file, extract the .hexe file, then just file>update device firmware in the software. The desktop software checks for new versions before every startup, so you can be sure of having the latest version.

Here are the specifications of the unit from their web page:

specs

Certainly there is a lot there to take advantage of. Personally I consider the logic analyser functions to be of great interest, and will now demonstrate those to see how they can be useful in debugging and generally figuring out what my designs are up to.

One can capture data in two ways, either by using a live sampling mode, or capture mode where you set the device to sample data into its memory, and then reviewing the data using the software. If you are using the live mode, the quality of the sampling will be affected by your PC resources. For example, consider this first demonstration. A very simple Arduino is setting a pin high and low:

demo1ss

In live mode you can still use the horizontal scroll feature to move backwards and forwards through the captured data. One can also expand the data display to the full width of the window. When using the live mode, I found that there was still some variation in the logic levels that was not programmed for. My PC is fairly up to date, consisting of an AMD PhenonII dual-core 3.1 GHz CPU, 2GB RAM at 1066 MHz, running Windows 7 x64. Perhaps I could use some more RAM? A better video chipset? Who knows… Unfortunately I don’t have a more powerful PC to test. Therefore I will stick to the normal capture mode. Doing so is also quite easy – here is the basic setup tab:

It is pretty self-explanatory. If you have a fair idea of your sampling rate, you can drop it down to increase the available sampling time. Here I have selected the lowest sampling rate, as I will just capture the pulses as shown in the earlier demonstration. Once your sample has been collected, you can scroll through it at your leisure, and also save the sample to disk.

In being able to save the data for later retrieval, there are three things that can be done with the data:

  1. As anyone can download the software, you can share your samples by emailing or sharing the files with colleagues – they can playback the sample without owning a Scanalogic themselves, by just using the software;
  2. You can keep the sample for later analysis
  3. You can blast out the captured data using the function generator feature. Neat! Let’s do that now…

Earlier on I captured the following from an Arduino board:

demo3ss

And now I can just right-click on the data (channel one) and select run data generator for this channel then click start on the left. Which results in the following output:

Very good (except for my old CRO). Also notice the log area at the bottom of the application screen – it relays unit status, error messages and so on. Now let’s capture and look at some more interesting sample data. The following example is an example of captured data from an Arduino serial-out pin, which was programmed to send the letter “A” out at 2400 bps using serial.write();

uartdemoss

Once you have captured the sample, you can select the parameters of the data stream and decode the sample. As you can see in the image above, the decoder shows the data stream in hexadecimal and the ASCII equivalent.

Next on the test is I2C. This is a common two wire data bus from Philips/NXP, used in many systems. More about I2C with Arduino is here. A very popular example of an I2C IC is the Maxim DS1307 real-time clock. We can use our Scanalogic to eavesdrop on the SCA and SCL data lines to see what is being said between the microcontroller and the DS1307:

i2cone

So in the example above, the value 0x68 (binary 1101000) is sent down the bus. This is the unique identifier (slave address) for a DS1307 IC. So the Arduino is saying “Hey – DS1307 – wake up”. This is then followed by a 0x00 or directional bit. The DS1307 then replies by sending the time data back to the bus. The first piece of data in the reply is 0x68, which identifies to the I2C bus (recall that 0x68 is the DS1307 identifier) that the data is from the DS1307. Following this is the time and data data in hexadecimal, which is converted to binary-coded decimal in the microcontroller software.

When working with I2C, it really pays to have the data sheet for your IC with you. Then you can decipher the data, direction and timing with the sample data on one side and the timing diagrams on the other. For example, page twelve of the DS1307 data sheet. In doing so, it reminds me how much I dislike I2C 🙂

Moving along. Next we will have a look at some data from the SPI (serial peripheral interface) lines. Again, this is quite simple, you just connect the four hooks into the clock, MOSI, MISO and CS lines, and capture away. The software allows you to select which hook is connected to which line, so you can connect up quickly. At this point I will note that the IC hooks are somewhat inexpensive, and the designers could have spent a few more Euro on including some decent ones. Anyhow, here is the screen dump:

spidemo

At this point one can realise all sorts of monitoring possibilities. I wish I had one of these years ago when learning digital electronics – you could just monitor the highs and lows over four channels and debug things very quickly. Will keep this in mind when I get around to making a TTL clock.

Anyhow – the Scanalogic2 has a lot going for it in terms of data capturing ability, the price is right, you can update the software and firmware very easily, and the desktop software is freely available in order to share samples with others. There are a few cons though – the IC hooks could be better (I couldn’t connect four in a row onto an IC for the life of me); the unit could use some documentation in terms of a “Getting Started” guide or webpage – so due to this the learning curve is quite high. There is their version here, but I feel it could be expanded upon. Many beginners and amateurs will be attracted to this unit due to the price. However there is a support forum and so on, but answers can vary in quality and time. However, don’t let the cons put you off – this thing is cheap, the software is very good – and it works. Two thumbs up!

To purchase a Scanalogic2, visit the Ikalogic home page. If you need to analyse some data, and don’t want to spend a bucket of money – this is for you.

Posted in ikalogic, product review, review, Scanalogic, test equipmentComments (4)

Review – Texas Instruments TLC5940 16-channel LED driver IC

Hello readers

Today we are going to examine the Texas Instruments TLC5940 16-channel LED driver IC. My reason for doing this is to demonstrate another, easier way of driving many LEDs as well as LED display modules that are common-anode. If you have a common-cathode display module, you should have a look at the Maxim MAX7219. Moving along, here is the IC:

tlc5940sss

Another nice big DIP IC. Also available in HTSSOP and QFN packaging. What can this IC do for us? It can control 16 LEDs per IC, and also be cascaded to control more and more, with the display data arriving via a serial line in the same manner as a 74HC595 shift register. Furthermore, another benefit of this IC is that you don’t need matching current-limiting resistors for your LEDs, as this IC is a current sink, in that the current flows from the 5V rail, through the LED, then into the IC. However, it can control the brightness of the LEDs using pulse-width modulation over 4096 steps via software, or using a single resistor.

What is pulse-width modulation? Normally an LED might be on, or off. But if you switch it on and off very quickly, it does not look as bright (as it is not on 100% of the time). If you alter the period of time between on and off, you can alter the perceived brightness of the LED. Here is an example, compare the brightness of the LED bars against the display of the CRO – as the brightness increases, the voltage (amplitude [vertical thickness]) spreads across the entire time period (horizontal axis); as the brightness decreases, the voltage spread across time retreats:

Using the IC is very easy on the hardware front. Here is the data sheet: TLC5940.pdf. The pinout diagram is quite self-explanatory:

Pins OUT0~OUT15 are the current-sink pins for each LED. When one is selected they allow current to flow into the IC from the 5V rail, with the LED in between – turning it on. However it is easier to understand with a practical example, such as this:

tlc5940demo1schematic

If you are using an Arduino Mega-style board, the wiring is a little different, please see here for the instructions.

Here we have our Arduino board or compatible sending serial data to the TLC5940 to control sixteen LEDs. The 2k ohm resistor is required to set the maximum current available to flow through the LEDs, thereby adjusting their brightness. Using software you can adjust the brightness with PWM for each LED by itself. Very important: this circuit will need external power into the Arduino or a separate 5V power supply. The circuitry on the breadboard draws up to ~318 mA by itself – running the Arduino from USB only made it somewhat flaky in operation. Here is the circuit in action with an ammeter between the breadboard and 5V out on the Arduino:

Anyhow, let’s get moving once more – here is the assembled demonstration circuit:

tlc5940demo1bbs

For our example, we will be using the Arduino way of doing things. Thankfully (once more) there is a library to make controlling the IC exponentially easier. The library page and download files are available from here.  If you need guidance on installing a library, please visit here. However the commands to control the IC are quite simple with the Arduino library.

First of all, include the TLC5940 library, as such:

Then in void setup(); you create the object using the function:

You can insert a number between 0 and 4095 to set the starting PWM (LED brightness) value, however this is optional. Setting an output for display requires two functions, first Tlc.set(l, p); where l is the output (0~15) and p is the PWM brightness level – then execute Tlc.update(); which sends the command to the IC to be executed. The sketch below is easy to follow and understand the process involved.

Moving forward with the demonstration, here is the sketch  – TLC5940demo.pdf, and the video clip of operation:

When the LEDs are glowing from dim to bright and return, we are altering the PWM value of the LEDs to adjust their brightness. This also occurs during the last operation where the LEDs are operating like the bonnet of KITT.

Below is an example of TLC5940 use by JM – he has made an awesome RGB LED cube:

Well once again that’s enough blinkiness for now, again this is another useful IC that helps simplify things and be creative. As always, avoid the risk of counterfeit ICs  – so please avoid disappointment, support your local teams and buy from a reputable distributor. Living in Australia, mine came from element-14 (part number 1226306). So have fun! High resolution photos are available from flickr.

Remember, if you have any questions at all please leave a comment (below). We also have a Google Group dedicated to the projects and related items on the website – please sign up, it’s free and we can all learn something.

Posted in arduino, lesson, part review, tlc5940, tutorialComments (28)

Education – Introduction to Alternating Current – part two

Hello everyone

Today we are going to continue exploring alternating current, with regards to how resistors and capacitors deal with AC. This chapter is part two, chapter one is here. Once you have read this article, continue on with learning about inductors. To help with the explanations, remember this diagram:

sin2

That is, note that there are three possible voltage values, Vpp, Vp and Vrms. Moving on. Alternating current flows through various components just like direct current. Let’s examine some components and see.

First, the resistor. It operates in the same way with AC as it does DC, and the usual calculations apply with regards to Ohm’s law, dividing voltage and so on. However you must keep in mind the type of voltage value. For example, 10Vrms + 20Vpp does NOT equal 30 of anything. But we can work it out. 20Vpp is 10Vp,  which is 7.07Vrms… plus 10Vrms = 17.07Vrms. Therefore, 10Vrms + 20Vpp = 17.07Vrms.

Furthermore, when using Ohm’s law, or calculating power, the result of your equation must always reflect the type of voltage used in the calculations. For example:

scan1

Next, the capacitor. Capacitors oppose the flow of alternating current in an interesting way – in simple terms, the greater the frequency of the current, the less opposition to the current. However, we call this opposition reactance, which is measured in ohms. Here is the formula to calculate reactance:


the result Xc is measured in Ohms, f is frequency is Hertz, and C is capacitance in Farads. Here are two examples – note to convert the value of the capacitor back to Farads

 

scan3

scan4

Also consider if you have identical frequencies, a smaller capacitor will offer a higher resistance than a larger capacitor. Why is this so? A smaller capacitor will reach the peak voltages quicker as it charges in less time (as it has less capacitance); wheras a larger capacitor will take longer to charge and reach the peak voltage, therefore slowing down the current flow which in turn offers a higher reactance.

Resistors and capacitors can also work together as an AC voltage divider. Consider the following schematic:

As opposed to a DC voltage divider, R2 has been replaced with C1, the 0.1 uF capacitor. In order to calculate Vout, we will need the reactance of C1 – and subsitute that value for R2:

scan61

 

However, once the voltage has been divided, Vout has been transformed slightly – it is now out of phase. This means that Vout oscillates at the same frequency, but at different time intervals than Vin. The easiest way to visualise this is with an oscilloscope, which you can view below:

Please note that my CRO is not in the best condition. In the clip it was set to a time base of 2 milliseconds/division horizontal and 5 volts/division vertical.

Thus ends chapter two of our introduction to alternating current. I hope you understood and can apply what we have discussed today. As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement, you can either leave a comment below or email me – john at tronixstuff dot com.

Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts. Or join our Google Group and post your questions there.

Posted in AC, alternating current, education, learning electronics, lesson, tutorialComments (1)

Education – Introduction to Alternating Current

Hello everyone!

Today we are going to introduce the basics of AC – alternating current. This is necessary in order to understand future articles, and also to explain in layperson’s terms what AC is all about. So let’s go!

AC – Alternating Current. We see those two letters all around us. But what is alternating current? How does current alternate? We know that DC (direct current) is the result of a chemical reaction of some sort – for example in a battery, or from a solar cell. We know that it can travel in either direction, and we have made use of it in our experimenting. DC voltage does not alter (unless we want it to).

Therein lies the basic difference – and why alternating current is what is is – it alternates! 🙂 This is due to the way AC current is created, usually by a generator of some sort. In simple terms a generator can be thought of as containing a rotating coil of wire between two magnets. When a coil passes a magnet, a current is induced by the magnetic field. So when the coil rotates, a current is induced, and the resulting voltage is relative to the coil’s positioning with the magnets.

For example, consider the diagram below (exploded view, it is normally more compact):

generator

This is a very basic generator. A rotating coil of wire is between two magnets. The spacing of the magnets in real life is much closer. So as the coil rotates, the magnetic fields induce a current through the coil, which is our alternating current. But as the coil rotates around and around, the level of voltage is relative to the distance between the coil and the magnet. The voltage increases from zero, then decreases, then increases… as the coil constantly rotates. If you were to graph the voltage level (y-axis) against time (x-axis), it would look something like below:

sin1

That graph is a sine wave… and is a representation of perfect AC current. If you were to graph DC voltage against time, it would be a straight horizontal line. For example, compare the two images below, 2 volts DC and AC, shown on an oscilloscope:

2v-dc-cro-small

2 volts DC

The following clip is 2 volts AC, as shown on the oscilloscope:

So as you can see, AC is not a negative and positive current like DC, it swings between negative and positive very quickly. So how do you take the voltage measurement? Consider the following:

sin2

The zero-axis is the point of reference with regards to voltage. That is, it is the point of zero volts. In the oscilloscope video above, the maximum and minimum was 2 volts. Therefore we would say it was 2 volts peak, or 2Vp. It could also be referred to as 4 volts peak to peak, or 4Vpp – as there is a four volt spread between the maximum and minimum values of the sine wave.

There is another measurement in the diagram above – Vrms, or volts root mean squared. The Vrms value is the amount of AC that can do the same amount of work as the equivalent DC voltage. Vrms = 0.707 x Vp; and Vp = 1.41 * Vrms. Voltages of power outlets are rated at Vrms instead of peak as this is relative to calculations. For example, in Australia we have 240 volts:

241vacs

Well, close enough. In fact, our electricity distributor says we can have a tolerance of +/- 10%… some rural households can have around 260 volts. Moving on…

The final parameter of AC is the frequency, or how many times per second the voltage changes from zero to each peak then back to zero. That is the time for one complete cycle. The number of times this happens per second is the frequency, and is measured in Hertz (Hz). The most common frequency you will hear about is your domestic supply frequency. Australia is 50 Hz:

50-hzss

… the US is 60 Hz, etc. In areas that have a frequency of 60 Hz, accurate mains-powered time pieces can be used, as the seconds hand or counter can be driven from the frequency of the AC current.

The higher the frequency, the shorter the period of time taken by one cycle. The frequency and time are inversely proportional, so frequency = 1/time; and time – 1/frequency. For example, if your domestic supply is 50 Hz, the time for each cycle is 1/50 = 0.02 seconds. This change can be demonstrated quite well on an oscilloscope, for example:

In the video above there is 2 volts AC, and the frequency starts from 100 Hz, then moves around the range of 10 to 200 Hz. As you can see, the amplitude of the sine wave does not change (the height, which indicates the voltage) but the time period does alter, indicating the frequency is changing. And here is the opposite:

This video is a demonstration of changing the voltage, whilst maintaining a fixed frequency. Thus ends the introduction to alternating current. In the next instalment about AC we will look at how AC works in electronic circuits, and how it is handled by various components.

I hope you understood and can apply what we have discussed today. As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement.

Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts. Or join our Google Group and post your questions there.

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