Computers, Laptops & Tablets Accessories & Hardware Types of Oscilloscopes and Their Purpose Learn what oscilloscopes are used for by Matthew Burris Writer Former Lifewire writer Matthew Burris is an engineer, writer, inventor, small business founder, and startup enthusiast with knowledge of electrical components. our editorial process Twitter LinkedIn Matthew Burris Updated on May 29, 2020 Accessories & Hardware The Quick Guide to Webcams Keyboards & Mice Monitors Cards HDD & SSD Printers & Scanners Raspberry Pi Tweet Share Email Oscilloscopes are a type of essential equipment used in electronics laboratories for PCB troubleshooting. Learn more about what an oscilloscope is and what different types of oscilloscopes can do. WLADIMIR BULGAR / Getty Images Types of Oscilloscopes Several types of oscilloscopes are available, both analog and digital, for a very wide range of prices. Since digital oscilloscopes can miss some transient signals, analog oscilloscopes are still prized for transient troubleshooting applications, although high-end digital phosphor oscilloscopes can provide similar capabilities. Analog Oscilloscopes An analog oscilloscope directly displays the signal picked up by a probe and traces it on the screen. Storage capabilities allow the waveform to be displayed for extended periods of time rather than decay immediately. Where analog oscilloscopes really come into their own is in dealing with analog signals and transient effects. In analog oscilloscopes, phosphors on a CRT monitor glow for a period of time before going dark, which allows high-speed signals to build up a more intense glow. This process allows transients to stand out as well. Analog oscilloscopes offer a better dynamic range than digital oscilloscopes, and they don't suffer from aliasing problems, which can cause false readings. Analog oscilloscopes are generally more affordable than digital oscilloscopes, so they are a great option for beginners and hobbyists. Analog oscilloscopes that can also handle low-speed digital signals are especially ideal for audio and analog video work. Digital Oscilloscopes Digital oscilloscopes are available in a variety of types. There are two key factors that determine the performance of a digital oscilloscope: sampling rate and bandwidth. An oscilloscope's sampling rate will limit its ability to capture transient, one-time events. The bandwidth of an oscilloscope limits the frequency of repetitive signals that can be displayed. Digital Storage Oscilloscopes Most digital oscilloscopes are digital storage oscilloscopes. Digital storage oscilloscopes can capture transient events and store them for analysis, archival, printing, or other processing. They have permanent storage for recording signals, and they can be offloaded to other media for storage and analysis. Digital storage oscilloscopes are the workhorses of real-world digital design where four or more signals are analyzed simultaneously. However, unlike an analog oscilloscope, digital storage oscilloscopes cannot display the level of intensity of a real-time signal. Single-shot events can be captured through the use of triggers, which can be set manually or automatically depending on the device. Digital Phosphor Oscilloscopes Digital phosphor oscilloscopes allow for faster signal capture and analysis than standard digital storage oscilloscopes. Digital phosphor oscilloscopes use a parallel processing ADC solution that delivers much higher sampling rates, which enables a signal visualization performance level that has the appearance of real-time. Digital phosphor oscilloscopes get their name from their similarity to analog oscilloscopes in displaying the intensity of a signal. They duplicate the effect of phosphorus by storing a database of the values of the repeating waveforms and increasing the intensity on the display where the waveforms overlap. Like an analog oscilloscope, a digital phosphor scope can reveal transients by displaying the intensity level, but it can still miss transients that happen outside of the data capture window and its update rate. Digital phosphor oscilloscopes combine the features of digital storage oscilloscopes and analog oscilloscope technology. These qualities make them great for general purpose design, digital timing, advanced analysis, communication testing, and troubleshooting. Mixed Domain Oscilloscopes A mixed domain oscilloscope combines the functionality of a digital oscilloscope, an RF spectrum analyzer, and a logic analyzer all into one device. When designing or working with systems that include digital signals, digital logic, and radiofrequency communication, mixed domain oscilloscopes are an essential tool. The main benefit of a mixed domain oscilloscope is seeing signals from each domain time-correlated to each other, which is helpful for troubleshooting, debugging, and design testing. Mixed Signal Oscilloscopes Engineers often use digital oscilloscopes and logic analyzers together, which is why the mixed signal oscilloscope was developed. These devices combine the capabilities of a digital storage oscilloscope (or a digital phosphor oscilloscope) with a multi-channel logic analyzer. The digital triggering capability of the mixed signal oscilloscope aids the analysis of analog events that can trigger digital logic transitions. Typically, mixed signal oscilloscopes only have two or four analog input channels and around 16 digital input channels. Digital Sampling Oscilloscopes Digital sampling oscilloscopes have a slightly different input technique that trades a much higher bandwidth for a lower dynamic range. The input is not attenuated or amplified, so the oscilloscope must be able to handle the full range of the input signal, which is generally limited to about 1-volt peak-to-peak. Digital sampling oscilloscopes only work on repetitive signals and will not help capture transients beyond their normal sampling rate. On the other hand, digital sampling oscilloscopes can capture signals that are an order of magnitude faster than other types of oscilloscopes with bandwidths exceeding 80 GHz. Handheld Oscilloscopes Small handheld oscilloscopes are available for field and test applications where bulkier oscilloscopes are unwieldy or power outlets are unavailable. They typically contain two inputs and have limited sampling rates and bandwidth. Computer-Based Oscilloscopes Computer-based oscilloscopes are small, external devices that connect to a computer through USB. These types of oscilloscopes have seen significant improvements in sampling rates and bandwidth over the years. Some computer-based oscilloscopes boast the same capabilities as low-end digital storage oscilloscopes for only a few hundred dollars, so they are a great option for hobbyists looking for an oscilloscope.