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,
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.