Agilent (formerly HP, now Keysight) vs Tektronix

I am much more inclined towards Agilent than Tektronix because

  • There’s nothing a Tek scope can do that an Agilent can’t
  • Agilent’s user interface is very intuitive that it requires little to no trial-and-error or RTFM.
  • Agilent’s people is very generous about helping customers out even if support is discontinued. Tek gets rid of all service information and software after discontinuation by policy.
  • Agilent’s gears are very thoughtfully designed and is a pleasure to service, for the ones that I have opened up so far. Tek designed their unit to live barely enough through their support lifecycle, hoping they won’t have to service it.
  • Agilent’s old gears lives much longer. Just look at (even better, open up) Agilent 54600 series and the damn TDS 300~800 series and you’ll see what a nightmare Tek is.
  • Tek’s autoscale algorithm is a piece of garbage!
    Even with TDS6000B/C series that cost tens of thousand of dollars at the time of writing still couldn’t figure out the top Ghz signals and give you a long Time/Div that completely aliases the signal and therefore confuse the heck out of their users. Not to mention Tek’s autoscale is sometimes too dumb to figure out which one channel you are on so that you have to move to (highlight/focus on) the right channel. Never had to deal with this kind of nonsense while using an Agilent scope.
  • Agilent’s gears also have much fewer hard/painful to fix aging problem than Tek.
  • When Tek scope fails, it’s often followed by a bunch of other unrelated aging problems. The capacitors are not designed to stand the heat for 10 years of usage.

EDIT: It’s not just me bitching about how unresponsive the controls (especially the dials) are in their user interface. Dave Jones did a video review of MDO4000 and a bunch of people share the same frustration in the comments section. I thought they improved after TDS1002B (I stopped following their newer scopes), but I was wrong. Still the same poorly thought-out and laggy UI.

There is Lecroy, but there are much fewer old gears in circulation and I don’t like their user interface much either, but at least the dials won’t take more than half a second to respond like Tek. I once asked Lecroy if they can generously share the schematic for an old unit like Agilent and they sent me one. At least they are not being a d**k about it like Tek.

I have both used Agilent and Tek scopes for sale, but my own bench is all Agilent whenever there’s a choice. Tek is OK if you plan out a difficult measurement setup (for documentation or manufacturing), but miserable if you are poking around to troubleshoot (that’s what I use the gears for). I sell Tek just to cater those who have been brainwashed because Tek got the first-mover advantage back in the days.

Of course my bias is based on their Tek’s gears in the digital age. I heard that they were very good at the analog scope times, so that might be the reason why Tek still have a strong following. HP/Agilent/Keysight pretty much nailed the digital techniques. The part I liked about Agilent is that they are generous about making users of their products happy in general, regardless of whether you recently paid them or not. For deeply discontinued products (like 3+ generations ago), they are happy to pass whatever information they have left to help DIY-ers or non-chartered 3rd parties that are willing to service them (like this one, which people are asking for recovery discs for their 1680 series analyzer and the staff went all the way to dig up their private stash!) so the company can focus on the newer products.

Support culture aside, Tek’s used gears are so problematic (I learned it first-hand, the hard way) that I’m now hesitant about buying them as investments. It looked like an opportunity because Tek stuff often breaks the same way, so I can buy them cheap, fix them, and resell. But the reality is that the labor is simply not worth it. Now I’m just selling whatever Tek leftovers I have strengthened in the past.

You might think Agilent is sabotaging their own market by taking care of users of their old gears. It isn’t. Whoever that has the budget to buy new will do so. Wobblers between buying new/old gears are not worth agonizing over. The ones who are familiar with the older gears will grow fond of the brand and the user interface/environment they are familiar with and will push their employers to buy Agilent when they get a chance to buy it new. I used to have a customer that I convinced them to get a used Agilent one instead of used Tek, and they ended up loving it so much that they bought a new one from Agilent for their second scope. What goes around, comes around.

I realized throughout the years is that whatever hobbyists do with the old gears and can only help the brand image and build a stronger user base. It’s the user base (engineer’s familiarly) that makes or breaks the deal on new gear purchase. I don’t think big companies that pays good money to buy new will switch to all Tek from Agilent all of a sudden when all engineers are comfortable with Agilent’s stuff, and vice versa.

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Oscilloscope Probing – Bob Pease Show

Once in a while customers ask me about what probes do they need to go with their high bandwidth oscilloscopes.

Agilent already has application notes about how to probe properly at high frequencies to ensure what you see on the scope represents the reality faithfully, but they are a little dry. Bob Pease Show at National Semiconductor (now acquired by Texas Instruments) talked about it and it’s great infotainment due to Bob Pease’s character:

This show has significant product placement by Tektronix, but the information there applies equally (and fungibly) to all major name brands such as Agilent/HP/Keysight and Lecroy. They all live up to the specs advertised.

What I’ve learned from the video

  • No-name brand probes might not live up to the claimed specs. I wouldn’t trust a Chinese probe beyond 100Mhz (or even 60Mhz).
  • Shorten the ground leads as much as possible, especially high frequencies. Wires are inductors/antennas.
  • Do not use the poor-man’s differential probes (aka subtracting the channels on the scopes): the channels aren’t matched perfectly, the probes aren’t matched perfectly either.
  • Design for testing: plan your PCB so you can probe easily.
  • For digital designs, high bandwidth scope uses cares more about (time-domain) step response: rise-time, ringing, settling, than it’s frequency domain (I don’t have a fast pulse generator, this is why I test it with a RF generator to check the specs)
  • Active probes have less loading and attenuation. You can use passive probes if you have a large enough signal to burn.
  • Probe capacitance (loading) kills a fast circuit
  • Don’t be happy because you see nice waveforms and nothing bad happens with a low bandwidth scope+probe: you are just failing the capture transients.

 

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