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Tektronix 517
50 MHz scope
Tektronix 517 at VintageTek Museum

Produced from 1951 to 1965

(All manuals in PDF format unless noted otherwise)
Manuals – Specifications – Links – Pictures

The Tektronix 517 is a 50 MHz scope introduced in 1950 or 1951. The power supply is an external box, like the 507, 551 and 555. The 517 does not take plug-ins. There is also a 517A (1955-1965).

Key Specifications

Bandwidth AC (?) to 50 MHz (−3 dB)
Rise time 7 ns
Input Impedance 170 Ω
Sweep Rates 10 ns/div to 20 μs/div
Calibrator ~25 kHz, 150 mVp-p to 50 Vp-p, 4% accuracy
Power consumption 1250 W
  • Indicator: 76 pounds
  • External Power Supply: 72 pounds

Historic Context

The 517 closely resembles a scope that Tektronix developed under a contract for the US military during 1949 and 1950. (See link below.)

Tektronix engineer Frank Hood recollects:

"A lot of progress was made in 1949 and 1950. Work was well underway by Logan Belleville, Dick Rhiger and Howard on the high speed scope, the 517.

This used some brand new circuitry, distributed (or chain) amplifiers, using 16 to 20 tubes in each stage to get the power needed to handle the high frequencies.

Our best prediction at that time was that there were only about 30 to 50 people in the whole world who had need of a scope with 60 to 100 megacycle bandwidth. As it turned out, when we brought out a higher speed scope, people were able to design equipment of greater bandwidth and needed even faster measuring instruments. The cycle was regenerative. Having faster, more accurate measuring tools created a demand for even more measuring tools.

We eventually sold several thousand of this instrument."


External Power Supply

The external power supply and oscilloscope are connected by a removable cable with a Jones plug on one end and a Jones socket on the other end. Units with serial numbers from 101 through 1739 use 12-pin Jones 2412 connectors; after that it is a 16-pin Jones connector. (Was a 16-pin Jones connector used or did they go directory from the 12-pin Jones connector to the 16-pin Amphenol power connector used by the 555?)

The voltages on the 12-pin connector are:

  • Pin 1: +750 V, regulated
  • Pin 2: +475 V, regulated
  • Pin 3: +350 V, unregulated
  • Pin 4: +225 V, regulated
  • Pin 5: +150 V, regulated
  • Pin 6: Ground
  • Pin 7: −250 V, regulated
  • Pin 8: +180 V, unregulated

Later 517A units uses the same cable as the 551 and 555. Although they use the same cable, they are completely incompatible – the voltages are different. The 517's external power supply provides +750 V to the indicator unit. The highest voltage provided by the 555 and 551 power supplies is +500 V. Also, for example, the 517A has +180 V on pin 8 of the 16-pin connector while the 555 and 551 have -150 V on pin 8.

Distributed Amplifiers

The 517 makes extensive use of the distributed amplifier concept. Originally the 5XP CRT was used, which has 38 V/cm vertical deflection sensitivity when operated with 24 kV acceleration voltage. (Is this correct? It doesn't agree with the 5XP datasheet.)

Since the vertical sensitivity at the input connector is 0.1 V/cm, we can calculate that the voltage gain from the input connector to the vertical deflection plates is 380. For 4 cm deflection, a 152 V differential output swing is required. There are DC blocking capacitors at various places in the signal path. The slowest sweep is 20 μs/cm. The 517 is not designed for low-frequency use.

The vertical signal path is as follows:

  • Optional B170-V external input attenuator
  • Gain Stage 1: single-ended, six sections, distributed, 6AK5 pentodes
  • Gain Stage 2: single-ended, six sections, distributed, 6AK5 pentodes
  • Gain Stage 3: single-ended, seven sections, distributed, 6AK5 pentodes
  • Trig Pickoff: one common-cathode 6CB6 pentode
  • Signal Delay: 51 feet of RG63U 125-ohm coaxial cable (65ns)
  • Phase Splitter: single-ended in, differential out, three sections, distributed, 6CB6 pentode
  • Gain Stage 4: differential, six sections, distributed, 6CB6 pentodes
  • Gain Stage 5: differential, twelve sections, distributed, 6CB6 pentodes

There is a trigger amplifier in the 517 which can take its input from an external source, or from the trigger pickoff in the vertical pre-amp, or from the internal rate generator circuit. The trigger amplifier circuit has five stages:

  • Phase Splitter: 6J6 dual-triode connected as a differential amplifier
  • Gain Stage 1: single-ended, three sections, distributed, 6AK5 pentodes
  • Gain Stage 2: single-ended, three sections, distributed, 6AK5 pentodes
  • Gain Stage 3: single-ended, common-cathode, 6AG7 pentode
  • Gain Stage 4: single-ended, common-cathode, 6AG7 pentode

High Voltage Power Supply

The 517 uses 24 kV total acceleration voltage on the CRT. This is generated by the Type 420 High Voltage Power Supply subsystem in the 517. It uses a 1.8 kHz oscillator to produce the high voltage, unlike other Tek scopes which use HV oscillators in the ultrasonic range.

The 517 has a switch on the front panel that selects between normal vertical sensitivity, which uses the full 24 kV acceleration voltage, and "X2" mode, which drops the acceleration voltage to 12 kV for a doubling of the vertical sensitivity. The control works by switching the voltage division ratio of the feedback to the error amplifier in the HV supply.

CRTs Used in the 517

517 units with serial numbers 101 through 925 use the DuMont 5XP CRT. Later units use a Tek-made CRT, the T517PxH/T54PxH, where "x" designates the phosphor type: 1, 2, 7, 11, or 16. The 5XP used multi-band acceleration and has three anode connections, at 6.6 kV, 13.3 kV, and 20 kV. The Tek-made CRT has just one anode connection, 20 kV, and has 15 V/cm sensitivity at 24 kV total acceleration voltage.

The 517 might be the only Tektronix instrument to have a part made of wood - a support for a large electrolytic capacitor, C826, which filters probe power. (The 437-0065-00‎‎ carrying case also has wood parts.)

Comparison of 517 with 547

In 1965, following the introduction of the 50 MHz 547, the 517 was discontinued. The 547 uses a non-distributed solid-state vertical amplifier, tunnel diode triggering, and a 6.5 V/cm CRT, thereby achieving good performance with lower cost, size, weight, complexity, and power consumption than the 517.

Comparison of 517A with 547
517A 547 with 1A1
Bandwidth 50 MHz 50 MHz
Sensitivity 50 mV/cm 50 mV/cm
Cost in 1964 $3500 $2475
Size scope + power supply all in one
Weight 148 lb / 67 kg 71 lb / 32 kg
Complexity 130 tubes 45 tubes
Power Consumption 1250 W 510 W

Some 517 modification kits are listed on page 181 of the 1959 catalog.

Tek sold the 108 pulse generator as a tool for maintaining the 517, since a fast scope requires a fast pulse generator to test it.

The P170CF cathode-follower probe was designed for use with the 517.


Pictures of 517

Pictures of 517A

Some Parts Used in the 517

Page Class Description Used in
1X2 Vacuum Tube (Diode) high-voltage rectifier 507 517 565 420
5XP CRT family of flat-faced 5" CRTs 513 517
6AG7 Vacuum Tube (Pentode) 9 Watt power pentode 104 105 112 511 512 513 514 517 524
6AK5 Vacuum Tube (Pentode) RF pentode B C CA G K L S Z 517
6AN8 Vacuum Tube (Triode/Pentode) triode-pentode combo 360 502 502A 517 575
6CB6 Vacuum Tube (Pentode) pentode 105 112 513 517 541 535 545

Some Parts Used in the 517A

Page Class Description Used in
T517 CRT family of CRTs 517A