Even a relatively new oscilloscope can exhibit a particular syndrome where during power-up, the splash screen will appear but the instrument will fail to boot and will go no further. At first it may happen occasionally, then more frequently, and you have to keep shutting it down to get anywhere.
When this happens, tech support will advise you to install or re-install the latest firmware. How is this done? We’ll look at the procedure for the Tektronix MDO3000 series oscilloscope.
It is also interesting to note that some less expensive oscilloscopes seem to use firmware as a way of upgrading scope capabilities. For example, it’s possible to find articles online describing how to modify firmware as a way of getting higher bandwidth, with no change in scope hardware.
Users of off-brand scopes should also note that sometimes, these instruments are rebadged versions of more well-known brands. In these cases, it might be possible to find updated firmware on the website of the original scope maker. A little poking around inside the scope may reveal who actually made it.
Another proviso is that a firmware upgrade on some less expensive scopes can become quite involved. It can include zipping and unzipping files, ensuring that the software loads into the right portion of flash memory, and other intricacies. In contrast, firmware upgrades in name-brand scopes are generally pretty strightforward.At any rate, in the case of the MDO3000 series, first go to the manufacturer’s website. Then click on Downloads. For download type, enter Software, and type in the instrument model number, in this case MDO3104. A list of software types shows up. Click on Firmware. MDO3104 firmware, V1.22, is an upgrade for all MDO3000 Series oscilloscopes. A note states the date of the last upgrade, currently May 9, 2016.
To access the firmware, it is necessary to log in. Enter your email and password. Registration and the firmware download are free. (To receive this type of material including user and service manuals, you needn’t have previously purchased the instrument.) After logging in, a page opens for downloading the firmware and/or installation instructions.
To install the firmware, the procedure is to download the provided file into a local computer and transfer it, by means of a flash drive, into the affected oscilloscope.
A cautionary note warns that loading new firmware will cause all previously saved waveforms to be deleted. They can be saved to external media, if desired, before installing the new firmware, provided the oscilloscope is functional at this point. Saved setups will not be affected.
Once begun, do not interrupt the firmware installation process. The machine can become stranded without any firmware, in which case a partial tear-down will be necessary to restart the machine.
To proceed with the firmware installation, copy the downloaded file to a USB flash drive. Be sure that there are no additional files in the folder. Then, power down the scope and insert the flash drive, now containing the firmware, into any of the host ports on the front or rear panel of the oscilloscope. Turn the instrument back on by pressing the power button. The oscilloscope screen will display a message stating that the firmware upgrade is progressing.
To repeat, it is essential not to turn off the oscilloscope or remove the flash drive while the firmware upgrade is in progress. Depending upon the characteristics of the flash drive, the firmware upgrade will take eight to twelve minutes.
When the screen displays a message announcing the firmware upgrade has completed, turn off the oscilloscope, remove the flash drive and then turn the oscilloscope back on.
After a new firmware upgrade, the instrument will require more than the usual amount of time for the initial boot up since saved setups, if any, have to be restored. Once the oscilloscope has completely powered up, a message will appear that the upgrade has been successful. At this time, do not turn the oscilloscope off.
Wait a full minute after the success message appears before turning off the oscilloscope, as some firmware versions subsequently update other parts of the instrument, requiring up to a minute.
Then, after booting up, the oscilloscope may ask the user to perform a signal path compensation, which may take up to 20 minutes. To perform this procedure, disconnect all probes. Then press the Utility button. Press the soft key that corresponds to Utility Page, and from the menu that shows up, select Calibration. Below the display, press the Signal Path soft key. Then press Compensate Signal Paths. At this point, the firmware installation has completed. It may or may not suffice to solve the problem described earlier.
The oscilloscope will not load an older version or the same version of the firmware that is in place in the instrument. If you attempt this, a message will be displayed stating that the firmware in the flash drive is not newer than the firmware in the oscilloscope. It is possible to override this blockage by making an empty file named “forceinstall.txt” in the USB drive’s root file.
If the firmware does not load, you must verify that the scope supports the USB device. Push the Save/Recall Menu button and attempt to save setup on the flash drive. However, this test cannot be performed if the instrument is failing to complete a boot up. Alternatively, the flash drive could be checked in another oscilloscope that is the same model. But it is usually simpler to try another USB device. Also, try a different port in the affected instrument. If that fails, begin a new download from the manufacturer’s website and repeat the entire process.
Because firmware is an integral part of many types of contemporary electronic equipment, it is worthwhile to take a closer look at its makeup. There are no formal, well-defined boundaries between firmware and software. Software resides first as a notion in the minds of the programmers, and finally as symbols written into some sort of disc or storage medium. Firmware, in contrast, is embedded directly into the microprocessor substrate. It wouldn’t seem possible that firmware could be revised or overwritten, but this can indeed take place.
For types of electronic equipment other than the oscilloscope, firmware plays an equivalent role. Embedded systems including consumer appliances, traffic lights, industrial control systems, digital cameras and even wristwatches l make use of firmware. Most firmware can be updated as a matter of economy in bringing out new features in existing models. On the other hand, some firmware is fixed and cannot be revised or updated. This limits the manufacturer’s options in terms of extending a product’s lifetime, adding functionality and, with greater flexibility, enhancing user experience.
In some cases, to install new firmware, ROM integrated circuits must be physically replaced. Another scenario is for flash memory to be reprogrammed, which takes place through a variety of procedures, primarily but no exclusively electrical.
A prominent example of firmware is the ROM BIOS of a personal computer, which contains only rudimentary or fundamental functions in the context of the overall system. In some instances, firmware such as the program of an embedded system is the sole means of making an appliance or tool actually work.
Prior to the development and widespread use of integrated circuits, firmware devices often consisted of a matrix of discrete diodes.
Usually, in a personal computer, firmware cannot update itself to repair lost or missing functions. However, BIOS can be updated by the user by means of a utility program. In storage devices such as the flash drives mentioned earlier, firmware is not generally updated, although sometimes it may be re-installed at the user’s site.
A vast and disturbing development in today’s world is the hacking of firmware. This can become a problem of monumental proportions when we think of the way we are dependent on machine intelligence, and it is likely this trend will assume greater importance in the future.