Fancy measurement gear is often expensive to buy, but some bits of kit are entirely DIY’able if you’re willing to put a little work into the project. [Christer Weinigel] needed to get some measurements of a differential clock signal that was ticking away around 500 MHz. El-cheapo probes aren’t going to cut it here. They won’t have the bandwidth and most off-the-rack probes are single-ended, that is they’re referenced to ground. [Christer] needed the difference between two balanced signals, neither of which is grounded. In short, [Christer] needed a high-frequency active differential oscilloscope probe, and they’re not cheap. So he built one himself.
The circuit in the probe is really just an instrumentation amplifier design with a modified input stage and a 50 ohm output impedance. (See this article on in-amps if you need to brush up.) With higher frequencies like this, it’s going to be demanding on the op-amp, so [Christer] spent some time simulating the circuit to make sure it would work with his chosen part. Then he made up a bunch of PCB designs and had them made. Actual results matched fairly well with the simulation.
With some minor tweaking on the input damping resistors, he got a tool that’s dead flat up to 300 MHz, and totally usable up to 850 MHz. If you tried to buy one of these, it’d set you back the cost of a few hundred lattes, but this one can be made for the price of one or two if you get the PCBs done cheaply. Of course, the design files are available for your own use. Kudos [Christer].
Edit: By total coincidence, Bil Herd just posted a video intro to differential signals. Go check it out.
And thanks to [nebk] for the tip!