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Five virtual instruments in one!

by Peter Smith

With the rapid advances in personal computer performance, their marriage to digital instrumentation seems a given. Add a PC with some clever software to a data acquisition "front end", and you get a high performance oscilloscope or other instrument, which could equal the specs of the more traditional stand-alone units at a fraction of the cost.

While there are several hurdles to be overcome before PC-based scopes hit gigasample territory for less than a few hundred dollars, an ever-increasing number of companies are nonetheless producing highly functional, low-cost units.

Click for larger image
Fig.1: all instruments are controlled from this main window. You certainly can't get lost using this simple tabbed menu layout!

A good example is to be found in the new ELAB-080 from US-based company Dynon Instruments. This unit incorporates five virtual instruments in one: a 2-channel digital storage oscilloscope, 16-channel logic analyser, analog/digital arbitrary waveform generator, two programmable power supplies and two programmable clocks.

It’s unusual to find this many instruments in one package, which explains why it’s referred to as a "PC-hosted electronics lab"! Also unusual at this price is the oscilloscope’s maximum sampling rate of 80MS/s (80 million samples/sec), which is shared with the logic analyser (they operate synchronously). Conversely, the arbitrary waveform generator (AWG) has an independent clock and can operate at up to 100MS/s.

The unit is supplied in a folded steel case measuring 184 x 125 x 42mm and weighing only 635g. Power is provided by a hefty (by comparison) external AC adapter, which generates ±16V and 5V outputs.

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