some preliminaries

I was recently fortunate enough to upgrade my bench oscilloscope from a Rigol DS1102E to a Tektronix TDS 3054B. The Rigol served me well for many years, but I’ve recently taken my ee studies more seriously and begun a couple of projects that require a little (a lot) more resolution.

While I absolutely am in love (I know, it’s sick) with the Tek, getting that fucking thing to give me a hardcopy of the display required an incredible amount of an attribute my personality lacks: patience.


the old scope

The Rigol is a nice, modern oscilloscope with loads of features. Prior to that scope, I used (still use) a Tek 465B. Now, THAT scope is awesome, but it doesn’t have things like measurement capabilities (well, it does, but you have to do it yourself using the graticules), math functions, spectrum analysis, etc…and capturing the output is as technical as taking a photo of the screen using your phone.

My biggest complaint about the Rigol is the display. I do not like the stair-step-style line drawing. The fact that I can actually see Bresenham at work annoys me. OK, likely I’m spoiled by 5k displays with pixels the size of a newly hatched Taridgrade (yes, I looked that up.) So, it’s purly an asthetic complaint.

Rigol DS1102E showing Bresenham at work. Ya gotta zoom in...

Anyhow, besides my visual complaint, I also needed (wanted) 4 channels and at least 350MHz bandwidth. It amazing the things you see on what looks like a quiet signal on a lower bandwidth scope when you sample the same signal on a higher bandwidth one.

the new scope

Enter the Tek TDS3054B.

So, my criteria for a new scope were the following:

  • less than $2000US
  • 4 channels, full bandwidth
  • >= 350MHz bandwidth
  • preferably a brand name
  • a display that doesn’t suck
  • an execellent sample rate

I began researching the TDS3000 series of Tek scopes. Yes, I know. I can probably find a brand new Hantek, Rigol, Sansui, Honda, Haynes, Snickers scope that purports to exceed the specifications of the TDS3000 series for less money, but I don’t rate a tool on specifications alone. I want a high-quality tool with an excellent interface and I’m willing to pay more money and get less spec for that combination because I believe that in the long run I’ll save money in terms of frustration (although, wait until you get to the meat of this article.)

Also, be warned that I’m a fanboy of Tektronix. (If you are too, read this book!) Probably as much as I’m a fanboy of Apple, well, maybe not so much an Apple fanboy anymore but you should have talked to me in 1997. Yikes. It was all Solaris and MacOS. I was also a Sun Microsystems fanboy. Bigtime. But I digress…

I began researching the TDS3000 series of Tek scopes and I found that they met all my criteria. There are other models of Tek scopes that are newer, have bigger displays, USB, etc…but the OS they run is Windows. Ugh. No thanks. Two reasons:

  1. I have an affinity for well implemented, single function, embedded operating systems.

  2. I use the Windows-based Tek scopes at work quite often and they aren’t nearly as pleasurable to work with. They just seem clunky. And for fuck’s sake, I don’t want to use a goddamn mouse to drive the scope.

I eventually found a low-hour TDS3034B on the eBays for a fair price and jumped on it. The scope arrived in a few days and after running down the UPS driver in my slippers because:

  • the package required a signature
  • I stayed up way too late and thus slept in late and thus missed the doorbell
  • the UPS driver was a little eager to move on with his schedule and didn’t wait for me to roll out of bed.
  • or D, ice cream.

I was like a kid on x-mas having just received my new (to me) Tektronix TDS 3034B…

“Whoa Whoa Whoa”, I hear you say. “I’m an astute reader and the title of this article says TDS3054B!”

Well, yeah, the actual scope I bought is a TDS 3034B. BUT, with a little magic sauce and know-how, it’s quite trivial to transmogrify the 3034 into a 3054 via a small software hack.

“So Tektronix put the same hardware in the 3000 series scopes only to limit them in software?”, you object.


“But why?”

And to that I answer, “Because it’s cheaper to make one hardware design and then dumb them down in software.”

At least that’s what the internets tells me.

In my testing I definitely have a 5GSa/s and 500MHz and so do many other people.

(Un)Interesting side-note: The DS1000 series of Rigol scopes can be upgraded this way as well.

Anyhow, this thing is fucking awesome.

Upgraded TDS3034B. Now a TDS3035B
My new TDS3054B. Just look at it! Sexy!