The Magic Of A Diode Sampler To Increase Oscilloscope Bandwidth

Making an oscilloscope is relatively easy, while making a very fast oscilloscope is hard. There’s a trick that converts a mundane instrument into a very fast one, it’s been around since the 1950s, and [CuriousMarc] has a video explaining it with an instrument from the 1960s. The diode sampler is the electronic equivalent of a stroboscope, capturing parts of multiple cycle of a waveform to give a much-slowed-down representation of it on the screen. How it works is both extremely simple, and also exceptionally clever as some genius-level high-speed tricks are used to push it to the limit. We’ve put the video below the break.

[Marc] has a Keysight 100 MHz ‘scope and the sampler allows him to use it to show 4 GHz. Inside the instrument is a pair of sample-and-hold circuits using fast diodes as RF switches, triggered by very low-rise-time short pulses. Clever tricks abound, such as using the diode pair to cancel out pulse leakage finding its way back to the source. To complete this black magic, an RF-tuned stub is utilized to help filter the pulses and further remove slower components.

It’s slightly amusing to note that the Keysight 100 MHz ‘scope is now “slow” while the early sampling ‘scopes had their “fast” capabilities in that range. The same technique is still used today, in fact, you probably have one on your bench.

The sampler he’s showing us is an accessory for another instrument we’ve previously shown you his work with.

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Op-Amp Challenge: Reliable Peak Power Measurement

As part of our Op-Amp Challenge we’re seeing a wide diversity of entries showcasing the seemingly endless capabilities of these extremely versatile parts. Another one comes from [Joseph Thomas], who when faced with the need to measure the properties of an automotive spark plug, came up with a precision peak detector to hold on to the energy level used when firing it.

It starts with an op-amp buffer feeding a diode and capacitor. The capacitor is charged through the diode and holds the level, which can be read through another op-amp. Finally there’s an opto-isolated transistor to discharge the capacitor before a fresh reading is taken.

It’s a simple enough circuit but a very effective one. The op-amps used are bit old-school FET devices, but aside from the high impedance input their performance is hardly critical. Yet another op-amp circuit to hold in reserve should you ever need to perform this task.