Written by Kiriakos A. Triantafillou, Industrial maintenance electrician, Hellas.
GW Instek GDS-2102A Oscilloscope (Mini review)
By the eye of the Industrial electrician. © 2014
By Kiriakos Triantafillou January 6 2014
It was a true surprise the email that I received from Katherine Priniotaki manager and owner of M.I.Priniotaki authorized reseller of GW Instek in Greece.
The good news was that GW Instek accepted to offer one GDS-2102A to ITTSB with 50% discount.
This was their reply in my personal request which was send directly but even so it did have and the positive vote of M.I.Priniotaki.
I like to thanks those GW Instek decision makers about taking seriously this unordinary request, and about offering their positive vote to it.
My plan today is this quick review to be one text far and away of an expected review which offer bold impressions, or a massive amount of technical specifications that some one will lost him self in them.
I am an expert electrician and I would not say an old-school one, actually I am very proud of my school due the fact that the education level which was offered at 1988 it was extremely advanced (prototype technical college).
All those years I am solving problems just by using basic test & measurement equipment, and I was happy just with those tools as many other industrial electricians too.
But.. Something changed in the recent years, the copper type transformers’ are getting rapidly replaced by pulsing power supplies ( PSU) which use complex electronics and an additional knowledge expansion become an new necessity.
No matter if you are capable to repair electronics or not, what is really important even as electrician is to be able to verify at list the true cause of problem.
Therefore the decision of getting an entry-level professional oscilloscope it came due my decision No1 about accepting getting involved with power electronics.
At this point I need to do first a quick review of the marketed features in oscilloscopes in the years 2010-2012.
Just for the history I will mention that Digital Storage Oscilloscopes (DSO) is not something new as idea, what really changed among the years is their delivered performance regarding computing power and street price.
For electrical measurements on Mains voltage (with active phase) the suggested oscilloscope type is the one with isolated BNC (probe) inputs.
These scopes are portable, and they do come-by for a top dollar.
Even so they are preferable because they eliminate the grounding problem which is very common to all bench top Oscilloscopes.
Unfortunately even today (End of 2013) most of the available portable scopes with isolated inputs are using outdated electronics in comparison with the very latest bench-top ones.
The advantages which are still missing from the portable ones are actually three.
a) 2GSa/s Real-time Sampling Rate
b) Waveform Update Rate: 80,000 wfms/s or better.
c) Display resolution: at 640 x 480 or higher than that.
Those missing features tend to transform any good working scope meter for electrical applications in to a poor performer regarding electronics troubleshooting.
Therefore as long there is no available in the market one perfect all around solution, personally I consider as best way to go one fresh fast bench-top oscilloscope with an external HV Differential Probe.
ITTSB have the chance in 2013 to actually touch many of the TOP latest multimeter which most of them came loaded with additional active filters which extend their usability in VFD (Variable frequency drives).
Therefore a modern electrician will have to get involved in measurements starting for 50/60Hz up to the fundamental frequencies of VFD controllers which are coming at 100Hz, 200Hz, 300Hz and 400Hz.
But when we get in electronics, what we need to consider is the fundamental frequency of the latest pulsing power supplies which they vary up to 5 MHz.
For those applications even the best multimeter it does fall short, and the oscilloscope becomes the only instrument capable to explore and measure electrical parameters at that frequency range.
Personally I made the estimation that I will never get involved to repair anything that excides the frequency of 20MHz, by setting this limit regarding personal requirements, then followed the rule of thump which comes from the experts in Oscilloscope measurements.
You’re Oscilloscope should have five times more bandwidth than the lowest fundamental frequency that you are going to measure.
Another thing that some one should set as requirement up front is if he will use an Oscilloscope as tool for measurements and diagnosis or for designing new electronics?
Designing electronics is a far complex path which this mini review will not expand to it.
In summary for electrical troubleshooting and about working with basic power electronics one Oscilloscope with 100 MHz of bandwidth it is an over satisfactory upper limit.
DSO translates to Digital Storage Oscilloscope which makes it capable for measurements over pulses and sine wave which is all that any one would need for troubleshooting or about performing measurements in both domains of basic electrical measurements (ohm law) and fast pulses.
MSO translates to Mixed signal Oscilloscope which is the DSO loaded with extra electronic subsystems which aloud us to review and decode signals which actually transfer information’s (command sets) between automation systems.
While the MSO is more bonded to communicating Bus, decoding and review, and it is a complex dedicated function, my thought is that if the price is right it does worth getting up front one Oscilloscope loaded with both features.
By getting my oscilloscope out of the box I did managed to make my first measurement in just 20 minutes, by using it for some time now I have full confidence that is so easy to advance at using it, which it does not justify any up front scepticism about getting something with crippled features even as your first Oscilloscope purchase.
Honestly when started researching for getting my own oscilloscope about two years back, I did started doing so by feeling as a school boy which needed worthy sources of information.
The conversations in technical forums with young ones who owned the budget oscilloscopes did not helped much.
Neither the conversations with few professionals who owned better but older oscilloscopes helped much, because they were using them in few standard applications and in conclusion they had limited experiences to share.
I have to admit that I did discover most of the answers by following Webinar which were organized by respectable manufactures (Agilent & Yokogawa).
Agilent is far more active about organising Webinar and due them I even came in contact with Mike Hoffman/Agilent, which he did become another helping hand to my quest in the understanding of the capabilities of modern scopes.
Finally all this time spend in this inquiry of my or better said this personal preparation, it did pay out.
By combining all the useful fragments of information from those Webinar, I did manage to understand the requirements which my new oscilloscope should have.
At the time that I was ready for making my move, the available choices at the price point of about 1000 EUR was actually two, the RIGOL DS2000 and the Good Will GDS2000A.
Both came out at the same timing with updated specifications at list on paper, which they did sound promising, before them there was a huge price gap in the market between the budget scopes and the entry level (Pro) ones.
By examining the comments of others about the new RIGOL offering and by waiting for some months so my own enthusiasm to calm down, it did pay out as tactic.
Product design details as for example the tiny fonts in the screen of the RIGOL scope, or the soft power-on switch, or even the terrible timing which RIGOL responds to Firmware updates, made me to focus more at the GDS2000A.
The GDS2000A comes with one friendlier graphical interface for my taste, with large clear fonts.
The available information as graphical interface it is well balanced and the user have in front of him only the very relative parameters about the measurement that he is going to perform.
Responsive software menus which are designed to guide the user step by step and additional automated functionality which removes the bourbon from the fresh user about fine tuning the scope manually are just few of the easy to spot advantages which makes the GDS 2102A as more favourable.
The small secret of the GDS2000A is that auto configures the memory depth as needed, according the frequency of the waveform under measurement.
This automated functionality it could limit the expectations of some people to set this parameter manually, but personally I did not feel been limited by it.
Actually I did welcome this change because in the end, every thing that boost productivity it is by far more welcomed by a professional.
By getting the GDS 2102A in my hands I did manage to start using it right away.
My analog function generator it did miracles in helping me learning and understanding the relation of action and reaction between the Oscilloscope and the DUT (device under test).
My training cycles become even more fun by simulating AM modulation over a carrier frequency.
And very shortly I started to simulate with my function generator known signals as for example the tone of a telephone headset when the line is busy or ready to dial.
With all those baby steps I did manage to further understand how related are the worlds of electrical and electronic applications.
Few months after getting the Oscilloscope it did also arrive at ITTSB for review one modern digital arbitrary function generator, this Twintex TFG-3620E.
The digital controls gave me the opportunity to choose specific voltage output starting from less than one mV up to several volts.
And with this TFG-3620E I did manage to test thoroughly most of the aspects of GDS 2102A.
By conducting further tests I did manage measuring of sine wave as low as 1-3 mV by limiting the bandwidth of the scope at 20MHz, this helped the scope to trigger successfully and measure correctly such small voltages which are close to the domain of noise.
Generally speaking I did manage to perform a very significant amount of tests which they proved to me that GDS 2102A it is capable of delivering everything that is advertised in their specifications.
This part of my mini review will be divided in two parts.
a) The technical experiences.
b) The experience as consumer which made the choice to trust a GW Instek product in 2013.
a) The Technical experiences.
From common measurements by the supplied probes which are actually high quality ones, up to measurements with my active current clamp probe, the GDS 2102A performed all of them perfectly.
By setting the time / Div to 100 seconds you may even use this oscilloscope for data logging with a visible time window of 16.6 minutes.
The build quality regarding enclosure, control knobs, screen quality, all of them found to be perfect.
Regarding fan noise, I have to admit that in this case I had to make an small improvement by replacing the mounting screws of the fan with special rubber shock absorbers that is a common accessory, and easy to found by any one familiar with silent computing and modifications.
The supplied fan is one of the best and expensive as choice (low-noise) Hydro bearing.
By operating the oscilloscope continually for four to five hours I did notice that it did not manage to make it cabinet to feel warm.
This detail made me think that those GW Instek engineers they did a great job too regarding the proper cooling design for this oscilloscope.
What amazes me even today is the fact that GW Instek even by offering the GDS 2102A in a friendly pricing, it did not cut corners from anything which could influence the reliability in time of this product.
Even the power supply comes with made in Japan capacitors, and true aluminium heat sinks, but even so, possibly there is some room for improvements to it.
My work space found to be loaded with sources which cause pollution to mains, and possibly if GW Instek adds further filtering in the mains input, the oscilloscope will be less prone to this invisible enemy.
Among the big positives of this oscilloscope is the ones which are coming as add-on free software, which the user have to download from GW Instek website.
The DVM application becomes my favourite, because the measured parameters as voltage or frequency they get displayed by even larger fonts which make their observation far easier.
It is far difficult by using just text to actually transfer to my readers the enthusiasm that I have in me about this oscilloscope.
After so many months of tests and measurements I am 100% convinced that all my expectations are actually met by this product, this feeling of confidence today is invaluable to me as professional.
b) The experience as consumer which made the choice to trust a GW Instek product in 2013.
From the primarily advertised specifications regarding the GDS2000A series what caused some confusion was the amount of the memory which this oscilloscope is using so to get the highest waveform update rate of 80.000 per second.
GW Instek made some time to admit that the low memory mode uses 1K points of memory.
Another comparison point which received some critique is the intensity performance when the oscilloscope in presenting on screen waveforms which are actually AM modulation and the GDS2000A were unable to present them with the intensity levels which an analog oscilloscope is capable of.
What is a fact even today is that both RIGOL and GW Instek managed to create passionate followers around these products, and this passion it is justified because for a first time after many years, there is available oscilloscopes with a certain degree of performance at almost friendly pricing, and even me I acted as gladiator in such interactive and spontaneous communications with friends in forums.
From the other hand by evaluating things with the appropriate caution than by plain enthusiasm, GW Instek managed to release about eleven firmware updates in a year time for those GDS2000A, which most of them were a step forward to improve even further the performance of this series of oscilloscopes.
They even improved their way about distributing those firmware updates, and even released many more free applications about this oscilloscope.
Another important point is that I did manage to verify that the communication directly with the company in Taiwan it was relatively an easy task for me as European costumer.
And the same quality regarding easy communication it got verified too between INSTEK America and their customers.
Therefore from a consumer point of view, the cooperation with GW Instek it can be evaluated as very good, compared to RIGOL that is know as a company with extremely poor customer support in Europe (Germany), and even the mother company in China it has also poor reputation about releasing firmware updates.
In summary the GDS2000A series it did arrive in the market with healthy hardware regarding electronics, their firmware took some time to become further mature, and today the all package is far better even for the very demanding users.
For users which have operated previously an oscilloscope from another vendor I have a note for them.
Those GDS2000A are excellent oscilloscopes but you will need some training cycles so to find your way in using them properly.
I did have some good laughs with one reviewer in YouTube which actually instead of controlling the oscilloscope, the oscilloscope managed to crash down his own ego on camera.
My own goal by this mini-review is to offer a small portion of information’s in two main topics.
The first is a basic but sincere buying guide for electricians who think about getting their first oscilloscope.
And the second is some sincere words regarding the GDS2000A series.
Even if I feel capable today to cover even more topics about this oscilloscope, I do that only in full reviews.
At this point I like to thanks Good Will Instek for helping ITTSB Blog about getting such a superb oscilloscope.
Due to this project (cooperation) I did make a large amount of new friends within GW Instek in Taiwan and America, and also in Greece.
I like also to thank my new friends within Agilent oscilloscopes too.
And what makes me happier than anything is that even my own mother did not have originally the faith that this Blog would be capable to have such important friends in such short time.
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