Inside A $30,000 8 GHz Scope

One of the best things about the Internet — especially the video part — is that you can get exposed to lots of things you might otherwise not be able to see. Take oscilloscopes, for example. If you were lucky, you might have one or two really nice instruments at work and you certainly weren’t going to be allowed to tear them open if they were working well. [The Signal Path], as a case in point, tears down a $30,000 MSO6 8 GHz oscilloscope.

Actually, the base price is not quite $30,000 but by the time you outfit one, you’ll probably break the $30K barrier. Compared to the scopes we usually get to use, these are very different. Sure, the screens are larger and denser, but looking at the circuit boards they look more like some sort of high-end computer than an oscilloscope. Of course, in a way, that’s exactly what it is.

The real trick to building an expensive 8 GHz is the signal integrity. But the most visible part of the design is thermal management. The entire box is full of heat sinks and other thermal management gear.

The board inside actually can accommodate six inputs, even though the scope was only set up for four inputs. No software hack here, though. The boards are lacking the connectors and the special ICs that manage the front end.

The video is nearly an hour long, and goes into a lot of detail. Looking at the analog front end design is surprisingly enlightening, especially since there are two unpopulated sections so you can deduce the wiring easily without removing any parts.

We used to think we were in clover buying surplus Tektronix or HP scopes from the 1970s back in the 1990s. We wonder how long it will be before these become staples at hamfests and on eBay?

If you want to contrast that to a more common scope, look at the insides of this OWON.You can also shop for something more affordable if you are in the market. Just don’t expect it to look or perform like this scope!

20 thoughts on “Inside A $30,000 8 GHz Scope

  1. $30k is for the base model, the reviewed unit (8GHz, 4 channel) is $80k before you add any of the software options. The as-reviewed configuration (full spec hardware + options) rings in at well over $100k.

    The price of modern test equipment is absolutely bonkers. The kit is nice, but the prices for the options and software is absolutely bonkers. I got a quote this morning for $18,000 for just the TDR software *upgrade* (we already paid $15K for the TDR software option on our unit!) for our network analyzer. We decided to take a fourier transform in python instead…

    1. “The price of modern test equipment is absolutely bonkers.”

      Apples to Oranges. “Back when I was a noob” a 100 MHz scope cost about four mortgage payments and weighed more than I did, but now a days it costs about half a car payment and is about as heavy as a laptop.

      Its not like that I’m doing has changed much if at all. A homemade 20 meter ham radio transmitter still only operates at the same 14 mhz in 2020 as it did in 1980. Solderless breadboards pretty much didn’t operate above 20 mhz and still don’t, pretty much.

      There was no price for a 4-channel 8 ghz scope because such technology never existed.

    2. The custom ASICs in this instrument alone probably represent a few hundred thousand engineer hours, plus masks, small-quantity fab on specialized processes, and who knows what else. This is amortized across *maybe* a few tens of thousands of instruments sold. Yup, that’ll get expensive quickly. I don’t think there’s any amount of making it up in volume that would get that to a non-astronomical price point.

    3. BTW the expensive scopes also come with onsite technical support/training etc. at least for large corporate customers. They like to build long term relationships with their customers and from time to time demo/lend/show off new products to potential projects.

    1. There are those who always need faster scopes as there are no substitutes. Rental exists when you can’t justify for owning one and/or easier to sneak a rent to own in below an C level approval threshold. We had to rent a 40GHz one for high speed circuits.

      When the price is too low, those “posers” who would buy something expensive to show off would stop buying it.

        1. We were trying to debug a multi Gbps interface where the actual signal waveform for trying to find signal integrity problems. It was a gating problem for a big project.

          It turns out to be a substrate layout design problem in our FPGA vendor. We were the one to discovered that because our vendor didn’t verify their bigger chips. Years later, I read an article that talked about our competitor had a similar issue and they switched FPGA vendor while we were beating our heads until one luck accidental discovery after our CM rotated a part by 90 degrees by mistake.

        2. BTW as for “down convert”, we had a much better way using the FPGA vendor logic analyzer IP to look inside our design. One could probe the SERDES for raw bits BUT that assume that the signal was good enough which WASN’T the case.

    2. Definitely. There are probably a lot of people who could use such a scope who won’t get the opportunity because of the price. Do universities bother with picking up scopes like this? They’d typically need more than a few, but they’re so greedy I doubt they’d be willing to part with the money. That’s where you really get dedicated customers. Look at what Adobe does with their student discounts. Get people to learn on your stuff and they’ll keep using it when they’re working and able to pay more.

  2. The hefty price tags and cutting-edge design is what lures folks like me into collecting & restoring old Tektronix scopes. It’s exciting & educational to work on something that was by far the most advanced example of it’s type at the time, and their uniqueness and cost made for impeccable & exhaustive documentation. I’m working on a 400MHz Waveform Processing scope right now that would have been ~$30k in today’s dollars. It keeps me off the streets…

    1. Makes me wonder what would you be doing on the streets if you where on the streets? Trafficking probes? “Hey kid, got a nice 1x hungies just waiting for ya. Wanna sample?”

      On a side note, Hungy – Hungies was, I believe, autralian slang for Hundred. Just thought it would add to the image.

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