The majority of oscilloscopes were cathode ray tube-based before the 1990s, at which point advances in technology enabled manufacturers to use liquid crystal display (LCD) screens in oscilloscopes. Resulting from the integration of general purpose interface bus (GPIB) interfaces on a number of oscilloscopes, ‘scopes became easier to link with computers.

In recent years oscilloscope-to-computer interfacing has grown more sophisticated and prevalent because of the ubiquity of USB ports for data transfer. USB oscilloscopes are widely used today in research and development, factories, universities, and test engineering by everyone from engineers to do-it-yourselfers. USB oscilloscopes have several advantages over traditional oscilloscopes which we’ll delve into below.


The price of a traditional oscilloscope with an LCD display ranges from several hundred dollars all the way up to ten thousand dollars whereas USB oscilloscopes can be found for under fifty dollars. The competitive pricing of USB oscilloscopes has made them more accessible to the general public, especially hobbyists and students. The affordability of these oscilloscopes have been a boon to industrial process monitoring as well, enabling one to network several modules together for better data logging and analysis. USB oscilloscopes are also preferable in environments where damage from shock or vibration is a concern.

Size and Portability

USB oscilloscopes are, for the most part, considerably more compact than traditional oscilloscopes, which is important when space is limited or if one is trying to integrate the oscilloscope into other pieces of equipment. Because most workbenches these days include a computer in their test equipment, by using a USB oscilloscope you’ll be taking advantage of hardware that’s already present and wasting less space. In addition USB oscilloscopes are portable, enabling one to couple his or her ‘scope and a laptop or netbook, making USB oscilloscopes perfect for fieldwork.


Standard oscilloscopes have LCD displays that are a few inches across and that can make them difficult to see, whereas a USB oscilloscope connects to a computer and allows you to view the data gathered on an easier-to-read monitor.

While traditional oscilloscopes are by no means obsolete and are even preferable in many situations, USB oscilloscopes offer a number of advantages that should be taken into consideration by anyone looking into purchasing an 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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