As mentioned the other day, I recently purchased an Agilent 34461A multimeter, and have been really pleased with my decision. Part of why I like this meter so much is how it seamlessly interacts with my computer via their free DMM (digital multimeter) software.
I am currently in the market for a quality programmable DC power supply, and have been flip-flopping between Rigol, Keithley, and Agilent models.
Rigol’s 832 DC power supply has been popular in recent months, despite reports of questionable design and build quality, but it’s currently not in stock through any of my go-to USA distributors.
The word over at the EEVBlog is that Keithley DC power supplies, including the 2200-20-5 and 2220-30-1 that I had been looking at, are not designed by Keithley but are instead rebranded or designed and manufactured by a company in China. One or two members at the EEVBlog also mentioned wobbly controls, but at the time of this posting I could not locate the post where I read that.
Agilent’s E3600-series power supplies are somewhat dated, but well regarded, so I looked at the lineup a little more closely.
I mentioned my search through ToolGuyd’s Twitter page, and an Agilent social media rep sent me a link to Agilent’s general YouTube page. One of their recent promotional videos featured their E3631A power supply and made mention of Agilent’s free BenchVue software.
Well, it turns out that Agilent has taken their DMM software and expanded upon its core design and features to create their new – and also free – BenchVue software package.
Agilent’s BenchVue software can be used with select:
- Digital Multimeters
- Spectrum Analyzers
- Function Generators
- DC Power Supplies
This is according to their tutorial how to use BenchVue tutorials that were uploaded to YouTube earlier today.
The BenchVue software won’t work will all models. Following is a list of what’s supported thus far. Additional models might be supported, but Agilent has only released limited information thus far.
Digital Multimeters: 34401A, 34405A, 34410A, 34411A, 34450A, 34460A, 34461A
Oscilloscopes: MSO/DSO-X 2000, 3000, and 4000 Series; MSO/DSO 6000 Series
DSO/MSO 7000 and 9000 Series
DC Power Supplies: E3631A, E3632A, E3633A, E3634A, E3640A, E3641A, E3642A, E3643A, E3644A, E3645A, E3646A, E3647A, E3648A, E3649A, N6700A/B, N6701A, N6702A, N6705B
What Does Agilent BenchVue Software Do?
Well, it looks like BenchVue works in the same way as Agilent’s DMM software, in how it allows for easy data collection and display. It can connect to compatible Agilent devices via USB, GPIB, LAN, RS232, and GPIB via USB adapter.
Agilent BenchVue Mobile App
Agilent has also created a mobile app (via Google Play), which allows for remote monitoring of long running tests. The description for the Android version of the app mentions iPad and iPhone viewing, suggesting Agilent is releasing an iOS version as well.
One of the interesting features is how multiple users can connect to the same BenchVue desktop software such that a team or collaborators can all view the same data and readings on their separate devices.
Overall, it looks like Agilent has put together a nice software package that allows for easier data collection, better looking data presentation, and remote monitoring than ever before.
More Info(via Agilent)
The link redirects to Agilent’s DMM software page, as their BenchVue software page has not yet gone live.
Note: If you’re not familiar with or interested in electronic test equipment, you might want to stop here.
I recently purchased a new oscilloscope, and ultimately went with Rigol. Why? Because Agilent’s 2000-series scopes did not really compare in regard to features or specifications. The popular opinion is that Agilent hardware used to be the best, but in a lot of ways they’re being eclipsed by Chinese companies and designs, which offer much better bang for the buck these days. If I had known about this software two weeks ago, I might have been steered away from Rigol and more towards Agilent.
As mentioned, I am in the market for a programmable DC power supply. Agilent’s E3632A, E3642A, and E4644A power supplies might fit the bill, and their E3640A isn’t too far behind as a fourth consideration.
However, while these power supplies are all tried-and-true and well-regarded designs, they’re somewhat old and outdated.
Part of why I purchased the 34461A multimeter was because it featured modern technology and features, and didn’t look like all the other test equipment designed in the 1990’s.
Agilent’s E3600-series power supplies feature serial (RS-232) and GPIB (IEEE-488) connectivity. There’s no built-in USB connectivity. There is no information on Agilent’s website that suggests serial-to-USB adapters can be used with their power supplies, and their 82357B GPIB to USB adapter costs a whopping $553. GPIB PCI interface cards aren’t any less expensive.
In case you’re wondering, GPIB is a computer interface technology developed in the 1960’s for use with automated test equipment. Yes, I had to look that up.
I had been very optimistic about Agilent’s BenchVue software, as it does look like a nice software package to collect and correlate multiple streams of data from different test and measurement equipment.
My hope was that I could pick up an E3600-series power supply, and in lieu of using two multimeters to measure voltage and current draw, I could measure one parameter from the power supply and the other from a single multimeter. I have a few ideas on what I could use the power supply’s programming capabilities for, but that’s a story for another time.
It just seems unfortunate and disappointing to me that $800-$1300+ programmable power supplies require a $553 adapter before they can be connected to modern desktop computers. Yes, it’s great that the BenchVue software is being released with a companion mobile app, but the whole business about the adapter is a deal-breaker for me.
I find Agilent’s customer service to be behind the times as well. I contacted them for a quote over a week ago, and it never arrived. I contacted customer service asking if there was a download link for the free software mentioned in their early January video, and nobody got back to me.
Right now, I am hesitant to buy any more Agilent equipment, at least anything that wasn’t released in the past 5 years. This software looks great – and should be great if it’s based off their DMM software – but current Agilent hardware is not yet optimized for the software and modern PC connectivity.
I know, it sounds like I’m grumpy and that I want to have my cake and eat it too. Agilent had a promotion ending in December 2013 where they supplied a new GPIB adapter with newly purchased E3600 power supplies if customers registered the PSUs and answered a brief survey. It would be great if they brought back that promo, but it would be better if they just got with the times and updated their equipment.
In my gut, I know that Agilent is working on updating some of their older test equipment, including the E3600-series programmable power supplies.
Their current power supplies are said to be darned good and are aggressively sought after on ebay and other 2nd hand markets, and there’s really not much that they could or should have changed over the years.
But it just irks me that Agilent is coming out with this beautiful – and free – software while nothing much is being done with their aging hardware.
To be fair, I am probably more disappointed than I should be. After seeing a teaser for the BenchVue software I was rather excited at the prospects of how easily I could visualize readback data from an E3600 power supply. Now that I know I would have to spend $800-1300 on a power supply AND another $553 on an adapter to bridge a 1960’s interface with USB, I’m a little less enthused.
Ignoring my severe disappointment in Agilent for the whole GPIB and lack of USB in their E3600 power supplies for a moment, the idea of what might come next really excites me.
Agilent already has an IR to Bluetooth adapter (U1177A) that allows communication between Agilent handheld digital multimeters and smartphones.
We’ve seen thermal imaging cameras with smartphone and mobile device connectivity, handheld multimeters with mobile device connectivity, and now a whole slew of benchtop devices with easier computer connectivity, easier control, improved data visualization, and mobile device connectivity as an extension.
Test equipment is not yet as modernized as it could or should be, but Agilent’s BenchVue software gives me some hope that they’re at least trying to move in the right direction. Unprecedented device interconnectivity is a good start.