How Do You Create a High-Quality, Cheap Oscilloscope?

Blog Post created by LeahG Employee on Aug 23, 2017

By now, you’ve probably heard about Keysight’s new 1000 X-Series oscilloscopes. We talked about them a lot during Scope Month, and you might’ve seen some of the blogger reviews from Hackaday, ElectroBOOM, and EEVblog.


The 1000 X-Series features ultra-low cost oscilloscopes from 50 to 100 MHz bandwidths. They have a starting price of $449 (USD) and let you capture more of your signal and see more signal detail than similarly-priced scopes with a sampling rate of up to 2 GSa/s and update rate of 50,000 waveforms per second.


Fig 1: Balancing cost and quality


But how did Keysight manage to create such a high-quality oscilloscopes for so cheap?

Back when the 1000 X-Series oscilloscope project was started, a large group of Keysight oscilloscope R&D, supply chain, order fulfillment, and other teams got together to discuss what was needed to create a low-cost oscilloscope that not only met engineers’ expectations but exceeded them.


Creating a low-cost scope could be an easy task, but making one that was also high-quality and feature-rich was a much more time-intensive one.


For the R&D teams, leveraging Keysight’s existing technology when designing the 1000 X-Series was a great value. Keysight Technologies used to be Agilent Technologies, which used to be Hewlett Packard, and this company has been creating oscilloscopes for >60 years. This history of technology advancements and innovation not only helped lower the price of designing the 1000 X-Series but also made it possible to include functionality like the integrated WaveGen function generator, segmented memory, and frequency response analysis capability. Because Keysight already has these capabilities in high-performance oscilloscopes, it was easier to find ways to cheaply integrate them into the new 1000 X-Series.


For the Order Fulfillment and Supply Chain teams, creating a cheap oscilloscope meant reassessing everything that makes up these oscilloscopes (from the oscilloscopes themselves to the packaging that ships with the products) to look for ways to reduce costs without impacting product quality. Nothing was non-negotiable as these teams worked together for months, assessing and reassessing hundreds of decisions that would save $.15 cents here, a fraction of a penny there – all adding up to a lower-cost oscilloscope for engineers.


Examples of real conversations these teams had:

  • “If we reduce the number of layers in our board, we can lower the overall cost of the board. This will make it more challenging for our engineers to route the boards, but let’s see if we can make it work.”
  • “It’s pretty expensive to print this document that ships with every product. Let’s redesign it to use less paper and a different paper type to save $3 per printing.”
  • “Black ink costs $.10 cents less, so let’s go with that in this area instead of red.”
  • “Is it necessary to have two printed circuit boards? Let’s try to design these oscilloscopes to have only one PCB to keep costs down.”
  • “Do we really need to ship a CD with every oscilloscope? Do customers even need a CD when the majority of our laptops don’t even have a CD player anymore?”
  • “Is it necessary for us to use an envelope with a clear window? Why not use a cheaper one with no window?”


On top of these considerations, Keysight also leveraged its position with vendors to reduce costs. Because some of the 1000 X-Series parts are the same as other Keysight oscilloscopes’ parts, Keysight can buy these items in bulk to negotiate better prices and pass these savings on to customers.


Another result of these efforts is that Keysight can leverage a lot of these same cost-saving ideas when developing future products to help keep prices down for engineers.


While these Keysight teams were looking for ways to reduce the 1000 X-Series’ cost, they also kept quality at the forefront of these conversations. During every stage of the 1000 X-Series’ design and development process, the oscilloscopes underwent the same rigorous level of quality testing that Keysight’s half-a-million dollar oscilloscopes undergo. So, while hundreds of decisions went into reducing costs, you know you’re still going to get a professional-level oscilloscope you can trust. To prove it, Keysight offers a 3-year warranty on the 1000 X-Series that is upgradable to 5 years.


We’re often wary of cheaper products because we think low cost equals low quality, but this isn’t always the case!


Sometimes it just takes a room full of people dedicating their time and resources to a common goal like creating a low-price oscilloscope that doesn’t sacrifice quality.


Click here to learn more about how Keysight created the ASIC for the 1000 X-Series oscilloscopes.

Click here to learn more about 1000 X-Series oscilloscopes.