ADC-42 Oscilloscope Review

The following review of the ADC-42 oscilloscope was published in Electronics Australia Magazine, October 1999. (c) Electronics Australia 1999. (http://www.electronicsaustralia.com.au)

A peek at Pico's ADC-42 sampler

It has 12-bit resolution over a +/-5V range, samples at 15kS/s and is the size of a standard DB25 backshell. What's more, It's self-powered and bright red -- what more could you ask for. Some decent software to go with it, perhaps? Oh, it has that too...
by Graham Cattley

Well, it's small, and it's red. Quite how they managed to squeeze everything into a DB25 backshell is beyond us...
Virtual instruments, data loggers, digital oscilloscopes, call them what you will, they all boil down to the basic concept of an analogue to digital converter (ADC) connected up to some form of digital storage system - which in most cases is a personal computer. Of course this is an over simplification, but it highlights the fact that the whole idea is to get the data into a digital format where it can be stored, graphed or otherwise analysed.

Now, if you look off looking at the range of ADCs available, you'll find millions of them, with an equally huge price tag to match. Which is unfortunate, because nine times out of ten you just want to do something simple -- like monitoring a temperature sensor, or plot a battery discharge curve.

Well, you couldn't get much simpler than Pico's range of ADCs. Perhaps the ultimate in no-frills sampling, these tiny devices simply plug into the parallel port on your system, and offer one channel sampling at up to 20kHz. You can run up to three of these colourful little things on the one machine at once (so long as you have enough parallel ports to support them), and because they are self powered, there's no worries about messy plugpacks. They're pretty inexpensive too.

Emona Instruments were kind enough to send us over one of the more well-endowed units, the ADC-42 which offers 12-bit sampling at 15kS/s and a bipolar (+/-5V) input range. Other models are available though, down to 8-bits 0-5V at the slightly higher 20kS/s sampling rate.

Software

The PicoScope software is quite comprehensive -- you get a spectrum analyser, oscilloscope and a volt/frequency/dB meter that can all run simultaneously. There's also PicoLog, which handles long-term data logging as well as analysing the results and saving the data to a file.

With such a simple hardware setup (it took us all of six seconds to plug it into a spare parallel port) a lot is going to rest on the software side of things. Three floppies later, we had both the Windows and DOS applications installed and were playing around with sampling rates and trying out the various recording methods available in PicoLog - Pico's Windows based data logging application. The Windows version comes with a comprehensive guided tour, and over a hundred pages of detailed information in the help file as well as a useful list of 'How to' topics. The following is shamelessly lifted from the help file, and lists the some of the many operations you can perform when logging data.

And once you have the data, you can transfer it to other applications via clipboard, DDE or by file, in a number of useful formats.
Of course the ADC-42 is capable of a lot more than just logging -- in the Windows installation you also get PicoScope, which offers a digital volt/dB/frequency meter, spectrum analyser and oscilloscope, and quite importantly, a set of drivers so that you can write your own applications to talk to the ADC.

Last, but by no means least, is the DOS logging software. This is ideal for low-horsepower machines -- particularly laptops. Its menu-driven interface is a bit strange, but you soon get the hang of it and it is just as capable as the Windows version.

With this huge amount of software supplied, there is very little you can't do with these samplers. About the only thing to watch out for is the limited bandwidth and that the outer shell of the sampler's BNC connector is connected to the computer's ground, so there is a potential for earth reference problems in some circumstances. Apart from that minor point. I can't fault it. So if you need a spectrum analyser, oscilloscope, volt meter, frequency meter, data logger or even audio sampler, the ADC range from Pico are just the ticket.

Pico's ADC-42

Good points: Small, self-powered, and it's bright red too.
Bad points: It's small enough to lose...
RRP: $322 (inc tax), down to $200 for the ADC-10.
Available: Emona Instruments, 86 Parramatta Rd., Camperdown NSW 2050.

Phone: (02) 9519 3933; Fax (02) 9550 1378; Email testinst@emona.com.au;
Website: http://www.emona.com.au.


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