What Is an Oscilloscope?
While the name might be a tongue twister, an oscilloscope is a device that actually makes certain tasks easier. An oscilloscope is a device that shows you how voltage changes over time by displaying a wave shape of electronic signals.
It still sounds complicated, but some of its real-world applications will help. Electronics in your home such as TVs, air conditioning, and lights have their electrical energy delivered by circuits. Circuits consist of paths between two or more points where a current runs through. Voltage is the electrical power that pushes the current between two points.
When a voltage begins to misbehave, you have to be able to track down where it’s starting to act up. Without an oscilloscope, you’d never be able to find the problem.
What Is an Oscilloscope Probe?
For an oscilloscope to test voltage problems, an oscilloscope probe must be connected to it and the test point or signal source. Depending on the voltage problem you’re trying to solve, you could use something as simple as a wire or more advanced oscilloscope probes.
Read below about the 4 different types of oscilloscope probes and what they are used for.
An active probe should be used when dealing with more than 500 MHz (megahertz) of bandwidth. The active probe will be your best choice when you need high-bandwidth power. Active oscilloscope probes tend to be the most expensive probe because they have lower capacitive loading which gives you more accurate readings into fast signals.
Active probes are more expensive than other probes because they tend to be more fragile and need experienced handling. Even though active probes are the preferred choice for higher bandwidth readings, their performance and reading still depend on how accurate the probe is connected to the signal source or test signal.
Differential active oscilloscope probes have the unique advantage of being like two probes in one. A differential probe measures differential signals which are a plus voltage versus a minus voltage. Instead of measuring a test signal compared to a ground point, a differential probe measures the difference in voltage between two test points.
Differential probes make even better measurements on single-ended signals than single-ended probes. An oscilloscope’s differential probe subtracts the two signals, which provides higher performance over a broader frequency range when measured by one channel of the oscilloscope.
Current probes are slightly different from active and differential probes because they don’t need to be connected to a circuit to be measured. They are an easier option for quick maintenance and troubleshooting service because they require less equipment.
Current probes are unique in their ability to measure AC and DC currents without switching off the circuit. Cutting wires in a circuit is never an option you want to resort to, so a current probe lets you measure currents simply by attaching the probe to a wire.
Now that you know more about oscilloscopes and probes, you’ll be able to make more of an informed decision when it comes time to choose the correct probe for your project. Knowing the different capabilities of each probe will make it easier for you to diagnose your voltage problem and what can help you resolve the issue the best.