Difference Between a Digital Sampling Oscilloscope and a Digital Signal Processing Oscilloscope

An oscilloscope is a crucial tool for electronic technicians, engineers, and students, enabling one to see the shapes and timing relationships as well as the voltage of various electronic signals with a single piece of test equipment. This information can provide enough detail to determine exactly what’s exactly is happening in an electronic circuit.

When it comes to setup, a digital sampling oscilloscope is self-contained and comes ready to use. A digital oscilloscope has a simple setup process similar to its analog ancestors. You will complete a simple hookup of the probes to the circuit under test in order to take your measurements. On the other hand, a digital signal processing oscilloscope connects to a computer — typically by way of an extension card — meaning it is a “dependent” unit, which influences its portability.

A digital sampling oscilloscope will cost roughly one thousand dollars more than a digital signal processing oscilloscope. Given identical functionality, the digital signal processing oscilloscope will provide more bang for the buck, if your computer is compatible with the hardware.

Functionality is important when deciding between these two types of oscilloscope. A digital sampling oscilloscope is used to measure the frequency and voltage of any waveform and displays every shape and vibration of a specific frequency, providing an accurate graphic representation of the shape. You can also compare multiple frequencies or compare a stored frequency from the lab to one in the field if your oscilloscope has multiple channels.

However, a digital sampling oscilloscope is limited to the technology available at the time it was manufactured. Some of these oscilloscopes have replaceable plugins; although they provide greater flexibility, they still have limitations.

Because a digital signal processing oscilloscope is a piece of computer hardware, it offers the same functionality as a digital sampling oscilloscope, but with greater flexibility and additional updating options: if you need more power of accessibility, you simply add additional RAM to your computer; if you need to store more waveforms, you can apportion additional space on the hard drive. In addition, you can share files with peers via a shared folder on your computer network, or you can email the files.

Now that you understand differences between these types of oscilloscopes with regard to setup, cost, and functionality, you can make an informed decision when choosing a new oscilloscope.


George Leger has a Masters in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University, worked in private industry pioneering surface-mount technology and in government research labs for twenty years, published several papers on surface-mount technology, co-authored papers published in national symposiums on accelerator technology, was past president of SMTA and an adjunct professor at the community college level, holds a patent, and is a certified microchip design partner, serving as a consultant to many companies developing electronic circuits.

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