Author Topic: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?  (Read 5673 times)

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Offline 0culus

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Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« on: October 17, 2018, 09:43:59 pm »
Hi all!

First, a little background on me.

I am a hobbyist in electronics (cybersecurity research is my day job, so to speak) and I've been finally working on getting back into the hobby and building myself a small lab. I've been acquiring test equipment and other things slowly this year, most recently a nice refurbished Tek 2465B scope that I have really been enjoying. RF is something I've always been interested in (I would like to get my ham license at some point too), so I've been looking at spectrum analyzers, including reading many older threads right here on this forum.

I really have a thing for top quality old test equipment, and I understand the risks of buying them now because of caps degrading and other reliability issues that can result in repairs and scrounging for old parts. One of my goals is to eventually acquire knowledge to work on things like this myself. So my question is primarily 2 things:

1) What are reasonable prices in 2018 to be paying for working HP "big iron" SAs such as 8566, 8568? Some of the ones I'm seeing on ebay seem to be very highly priced considering their age, even considering the instrument cost as much as a nice car or even a house new.

2) I understand that the low end modern SAs from Rigol and Siglent simply don't match up with the RF performance of the top end old ones, but what do I really lose as a hobbyist by getting one instead of going old, other than bandwidth? On the flip side, these are often seem to be around the same price as old HPs but you aren't getting as much for your money, at least looking at it from my perspective.

I guess as an addendum, I've also looked at stuff like the HP 8562A (which is portable, at least compared to the 66 and 68). Are these worthwhile?

Thanks!
 

Offline Tony_G

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #1 on: October 17, 2018, 10:11:11 pm »
I haven't tracked the prices but I feel that around $500 for an 8568 and around $1500 for an 8566 would be reasonable. They're big beasts though which is why I spent more to get an 8563E.

For my use I was happy with an 8590E as a starter but they're nowhere near as good as the 856XE for similar frequencies. I've never used a new Rigol/Siglent SA so my guess would be that you would have smaller space and quieter operation for the same money at the cost of bandwidth, noise floor, etc.

TonyG

Offline 0culus

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #2 on: October 17, 2018, 10:53:08 pm »
I haven't tracked the prices but I feel that around $500 for an 8568 and around $1500 for an 8566 would be reasonable. They're big beasts though which is why I spent more to get an 8563E.

For my use I was happy with an 8590E as a starter but they're nowhere near as good as the 856XE for similar frequencies. I've never used a new Rigol/Siglent SA so my guess would be that you would have smaller space and quieter operation for the same money at the cost of bandwidth, noise floor, etc.

TonyG

Hi Tony, thanks for your reply. I simply don't have space for a 140 lb beast right now, but I want one when I have a bigger bench. :)  But if  I found a deal, I might not be able to pass it up. If anything though, something smaller and lighter to cut my teeth on is probably better. If I can score it for under $1000 it may still beat out the new ones on bandwidth and stuff. Some of the Siglents are listed for 2-3k, USD.
 

Offline tkamiya

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #3 on: October 17, 2018, 11:28:27 pm »
HP8568 and 8566 prices vary widely.  A couple of things to be aware....  If cables do not come with it, you'll need additional $150 for a set of cables.  Try to get B models.  A models are awfully slow.  I have a several 8568Bs here.  They may be big but performance/price is great.  It goes down to 10Hz resolution.

HP859x models (smaller portable) ones are fairly reasonably priced.
HP856x models are still priced at premium.

They are both the same size.  856x models have better resolution.  (10Hz verses 1Hz) I have HP8591EM and 8592E.

Where are you in US?  Are you close to Central Florida?
 
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Offline jjoonathan

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #4 on: October 18, 2018, 12:11:26 am »
Big Iron Advantages (Advantest, but HP is similar):
* More Bandwidth (see those harmonics!)
* Faster Large-Span Sweep (seriously underrated, especially in comparison to low-end rigol/siglent which are awful)
* IF Out (so you can put it in zero span and time correlate events with an oscilloscope or use it as a frequency converter for an analog discovery and make a ghetto RTSA -- bolded because I think this is especially relevant for a security researcher)
* LO Out (nominally to support harmonic mixers for waveguides and ludicrous bandwidth but also useful for tracking circuits -- either DIY TG or DIY TG+Offset for mixer measurement)
* EMI is standard, not optional (not on HPs but maybe they're hacked?)
* Access to schematics
* Better phase noise

Disadvantages:
* Big, heavy
* No USB -- so you either need GPIB (I bought an adapter) or to be comfortable with the sticky-note-and-phone-camera workflow (what I actually do, even for devices with USB, but I'd never put these in a professional report).
« Last Edit: October 18, 2018, 12:15:37 am by jjoonathan »
 
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Online tautech

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #5 on: October 18, 2018, 12:17:58 am »
I haven't tracked the prices but I feel that around $500 for an 8568 and around $1500 for an 8566 would be reasonable. They're big beasts though which is why I spent more to get an 8563E.

For my use I was happy with an 8590E as a starter but they're nowhere near as good as the 856XE for similar frequencies. I've never used a new Rigol/Siglent SA so my guess would be that you would have smaller space and quieter operation for the same money at the cost of bandwidth, noise floor, etc.

TonyG

Hi Tony, thanks for your reply. I simply don't have space for a 140 lb beast right now, but I want one when I have a bigger bench. :)  But if  I found a deal, I might not be able to pass it up. If anything though, something smaller and lighter to cut my teeth on is probably better. If I can score it for under $1000 it may still beat out the new ones on bandwidth and stuff.
Really how much BW will you need ?
If you're gunna be working predominantly in the HAM range a 1.5 GHz SA will serve your needs.

Be aware a lot of the 'old iron' doesn't have a tracking generator which means further additional cost.

Quote
Some of the Siglents are listed for 2-3k, USD.
Only the SSA3032X, a 3.2 GHz unit @ ~$2600.

But as others have mentioned just the SA is only the start, cabling, adapters, attenuators, loads, and directional couplers can soak up a heap more funds to become even moderately well equipped.

Based on the bit of RF I do and if BW is of little concern I'm getting to think the new SVA1015X is a better RF hobbyist SA, particularly for the VNA option it has and the antenna work you can do with it without the need for a directional coupler as in these models it's inbuilt.
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Offline DaJMasta

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #6 on: October 18, 2018, 01:08:55 am »
How big are you talking?  There are larger, capable, affordable (or affordableish.... it is an SA) that are 40 pounds or so and are a 3 or 4 U rack sized cases - not small, not like the Rigol or Siglent, but not the 80+ pound multipart boat anchors some of those older HP SAs can get to.  If that form factor sounds doable, there are a good number of other options: advantest, anritsu, rohde and schwarz (they command a premium, but something like the FSE series can sometimes be found reasonably (and while physically large, they aren't particularly heavy).

There's also the portable SA option, which is going to have a similar footprint to the Rigol or Siglent, but usually offer good features/bandwidth/noise floor though often at the expense of sweep speed.
 
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Offline TK

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #7 on: October 18, 2018, 01:11:38 am »
The Agilent E4406A is a good cheap option (some are listed for around $300 on eBay).  7MHz to 4GHz.  The main drawback is the 10MHz SPAN, but it is a nice introductory SA for novice RF hobbyist.
 
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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2018, 01:19:02 am »
Depending on your needs. I have a Signal Hound SA44B, which is probably the cheapest one rest of those eBay DIY kits.
For my needs (very occasionally troubleshoots EMI/EMC issues -- not even for pre-compliance testing, just to find which chip f*s the whole system), it serves well with a set of short field probes.
 
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Offline tkamiya

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2018, 01:47:05 am »
It's kind of hard to recommend anything because OP's intended use isn't clear.  Being a ham (me, too), I'm guessing he wants SpecAn to play with and being able to see his own signal, as well as his future projects.

Even then, spec requirement will vary wildly if he wants to see far harmonics or close end one with two tone test of SSB transmitters. 

To give you a real example....  My 8668B ended up costing me around $1000 after it was acquired ($600), repaired, and calibrated. ($500)  Then I spent few hundred for adapters, cables, attenuators, and directional couplers.  I'm waiting for tracking signal generator in mail.  ($400).  So total of about $2000

My HP8591EM with tracking generator was purchased for $1800 ready to go with calibration.

I also have HP9593E and it was $1000.  It did not include tracking generator.  Calibration was spot on.

With tracking generator and a directional coupler, it can turn itself into a lab grade antenna analyzer.  For evaluating filters and amplifiers, signal source is necessary.  TrackGen can do this.  HP959x series are small (but deep) and semi-portable.  Price has dropped since my purchase, too.  Difficult part is to get one that doesn't need repairs.  One of mine needed extensive repair that I ended up trading it in for parts and buy anew. 

The one I use the most is HP8591EM with tracking generator. 
 

Offline Mr. Scram

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #10 on: October 18, 2018, 01:59:52 am »
The Agilent E4406A is a good cheap option (some are listed for around $300 on eBay).  7MHz to 4GHz.  The main drawback is the 10MHz SPAN, but it is a nice introductory SA for novice RF hobbyist.
That 10MHz kills it, but is probably why you can pick them up cheaply.
 

Online BravoV

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #11 on: October 18, 2018, 02:03:53 am »
A member here compiled list of used SA and it's details (avg. price too) -> Used spectrum analyzer buyer's guide
 
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Offline 0culus

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #12 on: October 18, 2018, 02:31:41 am »
To add a little more context, I would like to work in the ham region, but also have the bandwidth to look at harmonics and do other exploratory stuff later as I learn more and find things I want to play with. I realize this will probably ultimately mean more than one SA, but I'm trying to narrow down what might be a good purchase for a first SA that will also be reasonably capable.

 

Offline DaJMasta

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #13 on: October 18, 2018, 02:48:29 am »
No need for more than one, unless you mean one and then upgrade it.  While maybe considering one product generation of older gear you may run into limitations that would need multiple units, but if you're comparing what's available on the whole used market, there are a lot of general purpose, very capable units around.  I'd say away from dedicated modulation analyzers or units that need the SA software option to use as one, as you're generally going to be more limited on your choice of RBW and your noise floor, but finding an SA with some additional outputs, some signal analysis capability, hardware demodulation, tracking generators, etc., is all very doable given the choice of models.

The used SA buyer's guide mentioned above is a good place to get your bearings.  Then when you have an idea of what's out there and what features seem useful (maybe you really want THD analysis or phase noise plotting and lots of models don't offer it or don't have the option installed), then you can narrow the list to things with enough performance and options and start looking around.
 
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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #14 on: October 18, 2018, 02:55:17 am »
It could also be advisable to look carefully at RF input ratings especially with limited SA use experience as many older models have delicate front ends.
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Offline 0culus

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #15 on: October 18, 2018, 03:03:19 am »
No need for more than one, unless you mean one and then upgrade it.  While maybe considering one product generation of older gear you may run into limitations that would need multiple units, but if you're comparing what's available on the whole used market, there are a lot of general purpose, very capable units around.  I'd say away from dedicated modulation analyzers or units that need the SA software option to use as one, as you're generally going to be more limited on your choice of RBW and your noise floor, but finding an SA with some additional outputs, some signal analysis capability, hardware demodulation, tracking generators, etc., is all very doable given the choice of models.

The used SA buyer's guide mentioned above is a good place to get your bearings.  Then when you have an idea of what's out there and what features seem useful (maybe you really want THD analysis or phase noise plotting and lots of models don't offer it or don't have the option installed), then you can narrow the list to things with enough performance and options and start looking around.

Been reading through the buyer's guide, definitely a big help. I've been looking at HP 8562As  on ebay, which is "portable", RBW 100 Hz to 1 MHz. 22 GHz though, which none of the other models listed in the buying guide even get close to other than the boat anchors. No tracking generator though.
 

Offline DaJMasta

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #16 on: October 18, 2018, 03:25:43 am »
Been reading through the buyer's guide, definitely a big help. I've been looking at HP 8562As  on ebay, which is "portable", RBW 100 Hz to 1 MHz. 22 GHz though, which none of the other models listed in the buying guide even get close to other than the boat anchors. No tracking generator though.

With those somewhat older units, you can get a fair amount of GHz for your dollar, but do you think you need anywhere near 22GHz?  Once you get above 8GHz or so the price of cables and connectors really start going up, and while there are certainly applications that need the huge bandwidth, most radio applications, EMI measurements, tinkering projects... it's unlikely that those double digit GHz ranges will be of much use.  Since you generally pay pretty well for the extra bandwidth, it's not always the best way to spend your bucks.

Personally, I'd pick sweep speed, low RBW (down to 1Hz is isn't always expensive), and low phase noise over raw bandwidth beyond applications you're thinking about, just because looking at the very faint signals and looking in very fine detail is more of interest.  That said, if you have a satellite dish and want to look at X band signals, while the low RBW and DANL is really helpful, if you've got an LNA on the dish, you don't need a downconverting mixer and source if you have the bandwidth to read it directly.

Tracking generators are great for filter measurements, but they very often aren't full the full bandwidth of the instrument, so while a 3GHz SA probably has a 3GHz tracking gen, a 10GHz SA is almost never going to have a 10GHz source... it probably has a 3GHz, in some cases maybe a 6GHz.  You can also do this same kind of transmission measurement with a wideband noise source, not the same, but perfectly functional for characterizing filters and such.
 

Offline 0culus

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #17 on: October 18, 2018, 04:13:49 am »
Been reading through the buyer's guide, definitely a big help. I've been looking at HP 8562As  on ebay, which is "portable", RBW 100 Hz to 1 MHz. 22 GHz though, which none of the other models listed in the buying guide even get close to other than the boat anchors. No tracking generator though.

With those somewhat older units, you can get a fair amount of GHz for your dollar, but do you think you need anywhere near 22GHz?  Once you get above 8GHz or so the price of cables and connectors really start going up, and while there are certainly applications that need the huge bandwidth, most radio applications, EMI measurements, tinkering projects... it's unlikely that those double digit GHz ranges will be of much use.  Since you generally pay pretty well for the extra bandwidth, it's not always the best way to spend your bucks.

Personally, I'd pick sweep speed, low RBW (down to 1Hz is isn't always expensive), and low phase noise over raw bandwidth beyond applications you're thinking about, just because looking at the very faint signals and looking in very fine detail is more of interest.  That said, if you have a satellite dish and want to look at X band signals, while the low RBW and DANL is really helpful, if you've got an LNA on the dish, you don't need a downconverting mixer and source if you have the bandwidth to read it directly.

Tracking generators are great for filter measurements, but they very often aren't full the full bandwidth of the instrument, so while a 3GHz SA probably has a 3GHz tracking gen, a 10GHz SA is almost never going to have a 10GHz source... it probably has a 3GHz, in some cases maybe a 6GHz.  You can also do this same kind of transmission measurement with a wideband noise source, not the same, but perfectly functional for characterizing filters and such.

Thanks for the insights. So I get the impression from what you wrote that going for 22 GHz isn't going to be worthwhile unless I'm also getting one of the huge 2 part HP boat anchors anyway? Are there any specific SAs that meet the criteria you mention, including phase noise? That isn't mentioned in the buyers guide.
 

Offline 0culus

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #18 on: October 18, 2018, 04:14:25 am »
HP8568 and 8566 prices vary widely.  A couple of things to be aware....  If cables do not come with it, you'll need additional $150 for a set of cables.  Try to get B models.  A models are awfully slow.  I have a several 8568Bs here.  They may be big but performance/price is great.  It goes down to 10Hz resolution.

HP859x models (smaller portable) ones are fairly reasonably priced.
HP856x models are still priced at premium.

They are both the same size.  856x models have better resolution.  (10Hz verses 1Hz) I have HP8591EM and 8592E.

Where are you in US?  Are you close to Central Florida?

Unfortunately I'm not; southwest region.
 

Offline DaJMasta

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #19 on: October 18, 2018, 04:40:26 am »
Thanks for the insights. So I get the impression from what you wrote that going for 22 GHz isn't going to be worthwhile unless I'm also getting one of the huge 2 part HP boat anchors anyway? Are there any specific SAs that meet the criteria you mention, including phase noise? That isn't mentioned in the buyers guide.

Not specifically in regards to the boat anchors, but just generally.  The price scales up pretty significantly with bandwidth and with product generation, so if you don't need those top 10-15GHz, going with the lower bandwidth option will probably get you a product generation or better more advanced of an instrument which will mean lower noise, probably higher sweep speed, and more features, so if you don't have a direct need for the bandwidth, you can save a bit or get some other performance and quality of life benefits instead.  Nearly every newer generation of SAs by the same company is going to have somewhat better performance across the board, and is more likely to have nice UI enhancements, connectivity options, or extra analysis features.


For phase noise, generally finding something with an upgraded oscillator will almost always be better than the base version, but if you look through the datasheet and find a phase noise analysis software option, then the rest of the system's hardware is already designed around being able to measure those aspects.  You also very rarely find it on instruments without 10Hz RBW or lower - the small fluctuations just don't show up that well with a 100Hz RBW.  But in mentioning it, don't forget to figure what options it comes with into what you're considering - sometimes you can still buy upgrades, but they will be expensive, so if you find a unit that has some extra options enabled that look interesting, it could be worth some premium over a regular unit since it's otherwise difficult to get them.
 

Offline Bud

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #20 on: October 18, 2018, 04:50:17 am »
Old big iron for work, new Chinese plastic for shelf decoration. Your choice.
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Offline 0culus

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #21 on: October 18, 2018, 05:34:00 am »
Thanks for the insights. So I get the impression from what you wrote that going for 22 GHz isn't going to be worthwhile unless I'm also getting one of the huge 2 part HP boat anchors anyway? Are there any specific SAs that meet the criteria you mention, including phase noise? That isn't mentioned in the buyers guide.

Not specifically in regards to the boat anchors, but just generally.  The price scales up pretty significantly with bandwidth and with product generation, so if you don't need those top 10-15GHz, going with the lower bandwidth option will probably get you a product generation or better more advanced of an instrument which will mean lower noise, probably higher sweep speed, and more features, so if you don't have a direct need for the bandwidth, you can save a bit or get some other performance and quality of life benefits instead.  Nearly every newer generation of SAs by the same company is going to have somewhat better performance across the board, and is more likely to have nice UI enhancements, connectivity options, or extra analysis features.


For phase noise, generally finding something with an upgraded oscillator will almost always be better than the base version, but if you look through the datasheet and find a phase noise analysis software option, then the rest of the system's hardware is already designed around being able to measure those aspects.  You also very rarely find it on instruments without 10Hz RBW or lower - the small fluctuations just don't show up that well with a 100Hz RBW.  But in mentioning it, don't forget to figure what options it comes with into what you're considering - sometimes you can still buy upgrades, but they will be expensive, so if you find a unit that has some extra options enabled that look interesting, it could be worth some premium over a regular unit since it's otherwise difficult to get them.

Awesome, thanks again for your feedback. This has been a huge help! I'm going to keep shopping around for a while till I become very familiar with what's out there...and who knows? Could find a good deal. :)
 

Offline Mr. Scram

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #22 on: October 18, 2018, 09:20:51 am »
Old big iron for work, new Chinese plastic for shelf decoration. Your choice.
We know that you have a strong dislike for anything Chinese, but can you back your point of view up with arguments?
« Last Edit: October 20, 2018, 03:18:22 am by Mr. Scram »
 

Offline 0culus

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #23 on: October 18, 2018, 04:31:32 pm »
It could also be advisable to look carefully at RF input ratings especially with limited SA use experience as many older models have delicate front ends.
You wouldn't want to fry a new toy !  :scared:

Will do! Thanks for the reminder!
 

Offline taydin

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Re: Spectrum Analyzers: Old Big Iron or New from China?
« Reply #24 on: October 18, 2018, 05:49:58 pm »
Nobody mentioned this so far, but another BIG difference is, old SA's have YIG oscillators and YIG filters in them, which means much cleaner LO generation. That's one reason I'm working hard to get my 22 GHz HP 8592B to work!

The lower price SA's from Siglent and Rigol don't have YIG oscillators/filters in them. But the big bux Keysight/Tektronix/RS probably have YIG's in them, not sure about that. How much impact will the YIG vs VCO LO generation have, that I don't know ...
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