Review – Agilent U1272A True-RMS Digital Multimeter

Hello everyone

The purpose of this article is to initially examine the Agilent Technologies U1272A water and dust resistant digital multimeter. This is an extremely well specifed instrument, and according to the Agilent promotional material a better alternative to the venerable Fluke 87V. So let’s dive in and take a look.

Initial impression

The retail box as always is impressive and well decorated. Opening it up reveals a range of items:

including the meter itself, a calibration certificate and calibration results sheet, probe set, thermocouple, quick start guide and four AAA cells. It was a little disappointing to not find alligator clip adaptors nor a carrying case. For those interested, a full range  of documentation isavailable here.

The meter measures 207 x 92 x 59 mm (hwd) and is quite solid, not too heavy and surrounded by a good orange non-slip rubber layer. This no doubt helps provide some shock resistance, as this unit has survived a 2.5 meter drop from my ceiling to the concrete. It is refreshing to see that the keypad is laid out in an organised way, much better than the random-looking layout on the U1250 series:

The meter

Installing or changing the the battery (four AAA cells) is easily accomplished, and thankfully the fuses are also in the same compartment. The included AAA cells are thecheaper “GP brand”, and should do for the first few months. The dust and moisture protection is evident as shown by the o-ring seal around the perimeter of the compartment:

As mentioned earlier, the U1272A is water and dust resistant to IP54 specifications – 54 meaning “protected against dust limited ingress”/”protection against water sprayed from all directions – limited ingress permitted.”. It is possible to turn the function selector with one hand whether you have the meter standing up or laying on your desk. The included test leads are just over 1200mm in length and are rated at Cat III 1000V, 15A. Two pairs of probes are included, with 4mm and 19mm tips:

Again, it is unfortunate that alligator-clip adaptors nor probes are included – these are very useful especially to those who are colourblind and need to sort resistors or measure tiny through-hole capacitors. Furthermore, a K-tyle thermocouple and non-compensation transfer adaptor are also included:

The thermocouple’s temperature range is -20~200 degrees Celsius, however with an optional thermocouple the maximum temperature can be increased to 1200 degrees C. As for the othermeasurement ranges, they are detailed in the data sheet which you can download here (.pdf).

Furthermore there is a diode test  function, and a continuity beeper. The backlight also flashes when using the continuity function which would be very convenient for those working in a noise environment. There has been some discussion around various forums as to the speed of the continuity function, so here is a small video demonstration of it in action:

In use

Although readers would not have any problem using the meter without reading the manual, doing so will illustrate the particular features of the U1272A as well as operation of the menu system that allow various settings to be changed. These can include: beep frequency (!), backlight duration, data communication parameters, default temperature units, scale conversion values, and activating the low-pass filter available when measuring DC voltage and current.

At the risk of shortening the battery life, I extended the backlight duration immediately to thirty seconds; and set temperature units to degrees Celsius. When taking measurements that only require the main numeric display, the ambient temperature is shown in the secondary numeric display. I must admit to discovering another feature by accident, if the leads are in the current and COM terminals and you select a non-current measurement function – the meter will beep like crazy, blink the backlight and show an error message. This is useful when you’re tired and probably should be doing something else.

Measuring AC voltage provides various data upon request. Apart from the RMS voltage value, you can also turn on a low-pass filter which blocks unwanted voltage above 1 kHz.

The frequency measurement function allows the display the frequency, duty cycle and pulse-width when measuring AC or DC current or voltage. Furthermore, you can display both voltage/current and also display the frequency, pulse-width and duty cycle at the same time, for example:

In a previous article the U1272A was used to measure frequency and duty cycle, which you can observe in the following short clip:

Measuring DC voltage is straightforward, and there is also the option to measure both AC and DC components and display them combined or separately, for example:

You can also display voltage as a decibel value relative to 1 mW (dBm) or a reference value of 1V (dBv). And the dB reference impedance can also be set to fall between 1 and 9999 ohms. Another interesting voltage measurement function is “Zlow”. Using this function, the meter changes to a very low input impedance, and can remove “ghost” voltages from the measurement by dissipating the coupling voltage. This function can also be used to test if a battery is still usable, if the voltage of the battery under test decreases slowly, it doesn’t have the capacity to deliver the required voltage. However I wouldn’t put a battery under this test method for too long due to the meter acting close to a short circuit.

Measuring resistance is simply done with the U1272A, and for more precise measurements one can short the probes to measure their resistance then set a null point so your measurements will not be affected by probe resistance. There is also an Agilent feature called SmartOhm which can be used to remove unexpected DC voltages that can add errors to resistance measurements. You can also use SmartOhm to measure leakage current or reverse current for junction diodes. I look forward to spending more time examining SmartOhm.

Furthermore, one can also measure conductance (the reciprocal of resistance) which is measured in Siemens. According to the manual one can measure extremely high resistance values up to 100 gigaohms. Interesting.

Diode measurement works as expected, the standard setting displays the voltage drop across the diode. However by pressing Shift on the meter, you can use the “Auto-diode” function which forward and reverse bias simultaneously using both numeric displays. For example, measuring a 1N4004 diode produces the following display, the forward voltage and the Good/Not good result:

Measuring capacitance is also quite simple, and the manual recommends setting a null value while the probes are open to compensate for residual capacitance. Interestingly the LCD shows when it is charging and discharging the capacitor under test, using the following segments:

Temperature measurement is possible with the included thermocouple and adaptor. Note that the included K-type thermocouple is only rated for up to 200 degrees Celsius, however with an optional unit the meter can measure up to 1372 degrees C. The display can show Fahrenheit as well as Celsius. The meter also shows ambient temperature using the secondary numeric display when it is not in use with other measurement display functions. Finally, measuring AC or DC current is completed as expected, and as noted earlier when switching to another non-current function, the meter will remind you to change the positive lead.

Compared to other meters, there are a few things that irritated me slightly with this unit. The auto-ranging can be somewhat slower than other meters, especially the frequency measurement – it can take around four seconds to measure a constant frequency… my old Tektronix CFC-250 is faster than that. And the exclusion of alligator-clip adaptors and case was disappointing considering the price of the meter. However on a positive note, the meter is supplied with minimal paper documentation, and a full range of manuals, service guides and so on are available for download from the Agilent website.

Over the last three months I have been using the U1272A and would call it a success. The dual line LCD display really is useful, as well as the low current measurement and especially the Zlow function. There is a short video you can watch that explains a few of the unique features very well. Furthermore, there is a distinct lack of fragility which gives you one less thing to worry about when looking after your tools. Finally there is also the data-logging, however this does require an optional cable. If you are in the market for a full-function electronics multimeter, put this meter on your evaluation list.

The Agilent U1272A True RMS Multimeter is available from your local element-14/Farnell/Newark or other Agilent distributors.

As always, thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments and so on. Furthermore, don’t be shy in pointing out errors or places that could use improvement. Please subscribe using one of the methods at the top-right of this web page to receive updates on new posts, follow on twitterfacebook, or join our Google Group.

High resolution images are available from flickr.

[Disclaimer – the Agilent U1272A in this review is a sample made available by Agilent Technologies via element-14]

Otherwise, have fun, be good to each other – and make something! :)

By John Boxall

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