What to look for in a USB Protocol Analyzer

Are you in the market for a USB analyzer and are not sure which product to buy? Given the range of options available for USB protocol analysis at various price points, here are a few things that we think are important to consider:

  1. Reliability - Can you be sure that your USB analyzer will work every time you use it? At first, some analyzers will appear to be up to the task, but when you do something as simple as leaving a device connected before starting a capture, the analyzer becomes confused and does not see the data.
  2. Functionality - Does the USB analyzer live up to its advertised claims? For example, one USB analyzer vendor stresses their real-time display, but the software can lag when dealing with realistic data transfer sizes. You may need to wait for over a minute before all of the data is displayed. During this lag time, if the on-board buffer gets overrun, the capture will be corrupted.
  3. Usability - Is the software easy to use? Different products will organize and display data differently, so it is worthwhile to download the analysis software to see how clearly the data is presented. Furthermore, it is important to ensure that you can install the analyzer, plug in your target device, and start seeing the data quickly and easily.
  4. Performance - Can the analyzer software filter and/or search through large datasets (e.g., 10 to 50 MB) quickly? A vendor's analysis software may be responsive with small example files, but slow to a crawl when dealing with more realistic scenarios.

Reviews can be a good way to get additional insight from other people's experiences. With reviews, consider this:

  1. Timeliness - Technology moves at a rapid pace; you should ensure that reviews are up-to-date and cover the latest hardware and software.
  2. Bias - Who was the source of the review? Was it an independent third party or a consulting company that may have been hired to write the review?

As an example, one low-cost provider of USB analyzers tries to legitimize their product by referring customers to a comparative review on the Internet. The catch? The "review" was written by their own hardware designer, and the tone is naturally favorable to their own product. Unfortunately, neither the vendor nor the reviewer disclose this potential conflict of interest.

Tip: There is more to a USB analyzer than meets the eye. Visit the manufacturer's website, download the software and samples, and contact them if you have any questions. The company's level of responsiveness to you can be a good indicator of your future user experience with their analyzer. At the end of the day, a good analyzer can only make your job easier.

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