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USB Power Sensor: The Ultimate Buying Guide for Electrical Engineers

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Did you know that a USB power sensor can measure power levels as small as those emitted by a single cell phone signal, while also being capable of analyzing the output of a powerful microwave transmitter? 

This remarkable range makes the USB power sensor a vital tool in the arsenal of today's electrical engineers. With its ability to deliver precise, real-time data across a wide spectrum of applications, the USB power sensor enhances the accuracy of projects and drives innovation in ways previously unimaginable. 

Whether you're fine-tuning the efficiency of a wireless charger or ensuring a satellite's communication system is at peak performance, the right USB power sensor is key to unlocking the full potential of your engineering projects. 

In this guide, we'll explore how these sensors work, why they're crucial for your projects, and what to consider when choosing one.

What is a USB Power Sensor?

A USB power sensor is a sophisticated device designed to measure and analyze the power of electromagnetic signals. Unlike traditional power measurement tools, it eliminates the need for additional power meters or complex setups. 

The combination of a power meter and power sensor makes the USB power sensor an affordable solution for signal measurement. This integration simplifies the measurement process and allows for real-time data analysis and recording.

Fundamental Operating Principles

The core principle behind a USB power sensor involves the direct conversion of RF (radio frequency) or microwave power into a measurable voltage, which is then processed by an internal microcontroller. 

The sensor quantifies this voltage to determine the power level of the signal. Advanced models can also analyze power variations over time, enabling detailed monitoring of signal stability and performance.

Essential Tool in Electrical Engineering Tasks

USB power sensors have become essential tools for electrical engineers due to their precision, versatility, and convenience. 

  1. Design and testing: For prototyping and testing RF components, ensuring the designs meet the required specifications.
  2. Maintenance and troubleshooting: In identifying problems within systems by monitoring signal power, which can indicate malfunctions or inefficiencies.
  3. Calibration: Ensuring that equipment operates within specified power ranges, maintaining accuracy in measurements and operations.
  4. Research and Development: In cutting-edge research where precise power measurements are critical to developing new technologies and solutions.

    Typical Use Cases of USB Power Sensors

    • RF power measurement in telecommunications
    • Wireless charger efficiency optimization
    • Signal strength assessment in broadcasting
    • Laboratory research and experimentation
    • Quality control in manufacturing of RF components
    • Monitoring and maintenance of radar systems
    • Satellite signal tracking and analysis

    USB Power Sensors vs. Regular Power Sensors

    FeatureUSB Power SensorRegular Power Sensor
    ConnectivityDirect USB interface for data logging and analysisRequires connection to a power meter or similar device
    PortabilityCompact and portable, easy to integrate into setupsOften bulkier, less convenient for mobile applications
    Ease of UsePlug-and-play operation with minimal setupRequires more complex setup and calibration
    Data AnalysisIntegrated software for real-time analysis and recordingAnalysis dependent on external devices and software
    VersatilitySuitable for a wide range of frequencies and applicationsMay have limitations based on design and frequency range


    USB power sensors offer a unique blend of precision, convenience, and versatility, making them invaluable tools. Their ability to directly interface with computers and other USB-enabled devices for real-time data analysis and logging significantly enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of engineering tasks from the lab to the field. 

    Discover Keysight: Your Partner in Precision Power Measurement

    • Like-new Condition
    • Updated Firmware
    • Full Calibration
    • New Accessories
    • Like-new Warranty
    • Customization possible

    Learn more

    • Savings of up to 90%
    • Working Condition
    • Calibrated or Tested
    • 30-Day Right-of-Return
    • No Customization
    • Shipping to limited countries

    Learn more

    Essential Features of USB Power Sensors

    When selecting a USB power sensor for your project, understanding its key features can guide you to the right choice, ensuring that the tool meets your specific needs.

    Measurement Parameters

    USB power sensors are designed to capture critical parameters that include voltage, current, and power. These measurements are fundamental for tasks ranging from simple power monitoring to complex system analysis, enabling engineers to measure:

    • Voltage: Essential for understanding the electrical potential across components, helping in optimizing circuit efficiency and safety.
    • Current: Critical for assessing the flow of electricity through a circuit, which is vital for determining power consumption and identifying potential overloads or inefficiencies.
    • Power: Combines voltage and current data to give a comprehensive view of the energy being consumed or transmitted by a system.

    Choosing a sensor based on these parameters impacts its suitability for specific applications. For example, a project focusing on energy efficiency in low-power devices would benefit from a sensor with high accuracy in low current and power measurements. Conversely, applications involving high-power RF transmitters require sensors that can handle high voltage and power levels without sacrificing precision.

    Measurement Range

    Measurement range is crucial in selecting a USB power sensor, as it defines the bounds within which the sensor can provide accurate measurements. This range is crucial for several reasons:

    • Ensures accuracy: Selecting a sensor with a measurement range that matches your application guarantees accurate data collection, essential for reliable analysis and decision-making.
    • Versatility: A wider measurement range offers greater versatility, allowing the sensor to be used across various projects and applications, from low-power to high-power tasks.

    Examples of different range requirements include:

    1. Low-power applications: Such as battery-powered sensors or IoT devices, where the focus is on microwatt to milliwatt levels. Here, sensors with fine resolution and low-end sensitivity are preferred.
    2. Medium-power applications: Including consumer electronics testing, where power levels can range from milliwatts to several watts. Sensors should offer a balanced range to accurately measure standby and operational power.
    3. High-power applications: For industrial machinery, RF communication systems, and power transmission equipment that require sensors that can measure up to several watts or kilowatts, ensuring they can handle high power levels without degradation of accuracy or performance.

    Understanding these features and how they apply to your specific needs is essential when choosing a USB power sensor. It ensures not only the accuracy and reliability of your measurements but also the efficiency and success of your project.

    Accuracy and Precision

    In the context of USB power sensors, accuracy refers to how close a measured value is to the true value of the parameter being measured, such as power, voltage, or current. Precision refers to  the consistency of repeated measurements under the same conditions. Both factors are paramount in determining the reliability of the measurements provided by USB power sensors.

    1. Accuracy ensures that the sensor readings reflect true measurement values, which is crucial for applications where precise power levels must be maintained or monitored, such as in calibration processes or quality assurance testing.
    2. Precision is vital for applications that require consistent measurements over time to track changes or trends, such as in long-term performance testing or environmental monitoring.

    The implications of these factors are significant. High accuracy and precision increase the reliability of measurements, allowing engineers to make informed decisions based on dependable data. Conversely, sensors with poor accuracy or precision can lead to incorrect conclusions, potentially compromising the safety, efficiency, and effectiveness of electrical systems and devices.

      Frequency Range

      The frequency range of a USB power sensor indicates the spectrum of frequencies over which it can accurately measure power. This range is crucial because different applications emit or operate at different frequencies, and the sensor must be able to accurately capture measurements within those specific ranges.

      Applications requiring different frequency ranges include:

      • Low-frequency applications: Such as power supplies or audio electronics, typically operate below 30 kHz. Sensors for these applications need to accurately measure at these lower frequencies.
      • RF and microwave applications: Including wireless communications, radar systems, and microwave links, which may operate anywhere from a few hundred MHz to several GHz. Sensors must cover a broad frequency range to accommodate the diverse frequencies used in these technologies.
      • High-frequency applications: Such as satellite communications and high-speed data links, which can operate in the GHz range, including the millimeter-wave bands above 30 GHz. Here, sensors need to be specifically designed to handle these high frequencies with accurate measurement capabilities.

      The relevance of the frequency range extends beyond mere compatibility; it affects the accuracy and reliability of the measurements. A sensor's ability to accurately measure power across its specified frequency range ensures that engineers can trust the data for making critical decisions, whether they are designing a new device, conducting research, or performing routine maintenance.

      Calibration and Traceability

      Calibration is a critical process for maintaining the accuracy of USB power sensors over time. It involves adjusting the sensor's measurements to align with known standards, ensuring that it continues to provide accurate data. 

      This process is essential because sensors can drift or deviate from their original calibration due to factors like aging, environmental changes, or mechanical stress. Regular calibration ensures that measurements remain reliable, which is crucial for applications requiring high precision, such as quality control, research, and development.

      Traceability refers to the ability to relate individual measurement results back to national or international standards through an unbroken chain of comparisons. This aspect is vital for ensuring measurement standard compliance because it provides confidence in the accuracy of the measurements. 

      Traceability is necessary for industries and applications where adherence to specific standards and regulations is mandatory, ensuring that the measurements are universally recognized and accepted.

      Data Interface

      The data interface of a USB power sensor is the medium through which measurementdata is transferred to and from the sensor for analysis, logging, or real-time monitoring. Different types of data interfaces can impact the usability and integration of the sensor in various systems.

      • USB interface: The most common interface for USB power sensors, offering plug-and-play convenience, easy integration with computers, and direct compatibility with software applications for data analysis and logging. This interface is ideal for laboratory settings and applications where quick setup and ease of use are priorities.
      • Wireless interface: Some USB power sensors come with wireless connectivity options, such as Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, allowing for remote monitoring and data logging. This interface enhances usability in field applications or in situations where physical wiring is impractical or undesirable. It provides flexibility in positioning the sensor and accessing the data from a distance, although it may introduce concerns about data security and transmission reliability.
      • Ethernet interface: For applications requiring integration into networked systems, some sensors offer an Ethernet interface. This option facilitates the integration of measurement data into industrial control systems, enabling remote monitoring and analysis across a network. Ethernet interfaces are particularly useful in large-scale operations and when data needs to be accessible across different departments or locations.

      Each interface type offers distinct advantages depending on the application requirements, including ease of use, flexibility, and integration capabilities. Choosing the right data interface is crucial for ensuring that the sensor can be seamlessly incorporated into the existing workflow, providing reliable and accessible data for analysis and decision-making.

      Navigating Measurement Range and Accuracy

      Determining the ideal measurement range and accuracy for specific applications is a nuanced process that requires a thorough understanding of the project's requirements and constraints. This decision-making process is pivotal for engineers aiming to ensure that the data collected are not only reliable but also relevant to the task at hand. Achieving the right balance between measurement range and accuracy is essential for various engineering scenarios, from research and development to maintenance and quality control.

      Understanding Application Needs

      The first step in navigating measurement range and accuracy involves a deep dive into the specific needs of the application. This includes considering the expected range of values to be measured, the importance of precision in these measurements, and the potential impact of measurement errors. 

      For example, in a sensitive RF communication project, even minor inaccuracies can significantly affect system performance, requiring a sensor with high accuracy across the relevant frequency range.

      Assessing Measurement Range

      The measurement range of a sensor should be closely aligned with the maximum and minimum values expected in the application. 

      A sensor with a range too narrow may not capture the full extent of data required, while one with an excessively broad range might not provide the necessary resolution for smaller, more precise measurements. 

      Engineers must evaluate the dynamic range of their systems to select a sensor that can accurately measure the lowest and highest power levels of interest.

      Evaluating Accuracy Requirements

      Accuracy is not a one-size-fits-all model. The required level of accuracy varies greatly depending on the application. 

      For high-stakes applications such as medical device testing or aerospace engineering, the margin for error is minimal, and highly accurate sensors are a must. 

      In contrast, for routine power monitoring in consumer electronics, a slightly lower level of accuracy might be acceptable, provided it meets the minimum requirements for the task.

      Balancing Range with Accuracy

      Finding the right sensor involves balancing the measurement range with the required level of accuracy. This balance is critical because a wide measurement range can sometimes come at the expense of reduced accuracy at the extremes of that range. Engineers must consider this trade-off, especially in applications where precision is critical across a broad range of measurements.

      Practical Considerations

      Practical considerations such as cost, availability, and compatibility with existing systems also play a role in this decision-making process. Engineers must weigh these factors against the technical requirements to find a solution that not only meets the technical demands but is also feasible and sustainable within the project's operational constraints.

      The process of determining the ideal measurement range and accuracy is a critical step in ensuring successful data collection and analysis in engineering projects. By carefully evaluating the specific needs of the application and balancing the technical requirements with practical considerations, engineers can select the most appropriate USB power sensor, ensuring the reliability and relevance of their data collection efforts.

      Integration With Existing Systems and User Interaction

      The integration of USB power sensors and user-friendly software interfaces into existing measurement and monitoring systems plays a critical role in enhancing operational productivity and data accuracy. Intuitive software interfaces and seamless integration capabilities are paramount, as they directly influence the efficiency of data collection, analysis, and the overall user experience.

      Intuitive Software Interfaces

      The importance of user-friendly software interfaces in USB power sensors cannot be overstated. Engineers and technicians often juggle multiple tasks, and asoftware interface that is intuitive minimizes the learning curve and allows users to perform complex measurements and analyses with ease. 

      This user-centric design approach ensures that users can fully leverage the sensor's capabilities. By simplifying procedures, productivity is increased and the risk of errors in data collection and interpretation is reduced.

      Seamless Integration with Existing Systems

      Integrating USB power sensors with existing measurement and monitoring systems is vital for creating a cohesive and efficient workflow. This integration allows for the automated collection and analysis of data, streamlining processes and facilitating real-time monitoring and decision-making. Effective integration involves:

      • Software compatibility: Ensuring that the sensor's software can communicate with existing systems, possibly requiring middleware or custom software solutions to bridge any gaps.
      • Hardware compatibility: Verifying that the sensor can physically connect to and function within the existing setup, which may involve considerations regarding connectors, cables, and power requirements.

      Addressing Compatibility Issues

      Compatibility issues can arise when engineers upgrade or expand their current setups, especially with the introduction of new technologies or when integrating equipment from different manufacturers. Solutions to these challenges include:

      • Software updates and drivers: Regularly updating software and drivers to ensure compatibility with new hardware and operating systems.
      • Adapters and converters: Using physical adapters or converters to connect new sensors to existing hardware, ensuring that signals and power are appropriately matched.
      • Custom integration solutions: Developing custom software or firmware solutions that allow new sensors to communicate with legacy systems, preserving the investment in existing infrastructure.

      Tools such as vector network analyzers, spectrum analyzers, signal generators, cable and antenna testers and FieldFox RF analyzers are now compatible with the Keysight USB power sensors.

      Impact on Productivity and Data Accuracy

      Ease of use and efficient software integration contribute significantly to operational productivity by reducing setup times, minimizing errors, and allowing for the quick interpretation of results. 

      When sensors and their software are designed with the user in mind, engineers can focus more on analysis and decision-making rather than troubleshooting integration issues. Seamless integration ensures that data flows smoothly from the sensor to analysis applications, maintaining data integrity and accuracy throughout the process.

      The successful integration of USB power sensors into existing systems, coupled with intuitive and user-friendly software interfaces, is essential for maximizing operational efficiency and data accuracy. By optimizing software and hardware integration and emphasizing user-friendly interfaces, engineers can significantly enhance their productivity and the reliability of their measurements, leading to better-informed decisions and outcomes in their projects.

      Ensuring Safety and Standards Compliance in USB Power Sensors

      Adhering to safety standards and obtaining compliance certifications for USB power sensors are not just regulatory requirements; they are essential practices that ensure the safety of users and the reliability of the devices. 

      These standards are designed to prevent electrical hazards, including shocks, fires, and explosions, which could arise from the malfunctioning of electrical instruments. Compliance with recognized standards underscores a sensor's quality and reliability, fostering trust among users and across industries.

      Safety Checks for Keysight’s Refurbished Equipment

      Keysight always  ensures that its refurbished equipment, including USB power sensors, undergoes rigorous safety checks. These checks typically include:

      1. Electrical safety inspections: Verifying that the equipment is free from electrical hazards and complies with international electrical safety standards.
      2. Performance verification: Ensuring that the equipment performs according to its original specifications, guaranteeing reliability in measurements.
      3. Calibration: Adjusting the instrument's measurements to align with standard values, ensuring accuracy and precision in its readings.
      4. Physical inspection: Checking for any physical damage that could compromise the safety or functionality of the equipment.
      5. Firmware and software updates: Updating the equipment’s firmware and software to the latest versions to include the newest safety features and bug fixes

      Implications of Safety and Compliance

      The implications of safety and compliance in USB power sensors extend far beyond meeting regulatory requirements. They play a critical role in ensuring user security and device reliability.

      • User security: Compliance with safety standards protects users from potential electrical hazards, ensuring the equipment is safe to use in any environment. This protection is crucial in labs, industrial, and educational settings where users may not be fully aware of the inherent risks associated with electrical measurements.
      • Device reliability: Sensors that meet compliance standards are more likely to deliver consistent and accurate measurements over time, as they are built to withstand the rigors of use without degradation in performance. This reliability is essential for critical applications where measurement accuracy can affect safety outcomes, such as in medical devices or aviation systems.

      The commitment to safety standards and compliance certifications in the design and refurbishment of USB power sensors is fundamental to ensuring the safety of the users and the reliability of the devices. 

      By undergoing comprehensive safety checks these sensors not only meet regulatory expectations but also provide engineers and technicians with the confidence that their tools are both safe and dependable for any application.

      Balancing the Scales: Budget and Cost-Effectiveness in Sensor Selection

      Balancing budget constraints with the necessity for quality and reliability in engineering tools is a critical aspect of project management and planning. Assessing the cost-effectiveness of a USB power sensor involves considering not just the initial purchase price but also associated costs such as maintenance, calibration, and the potential for additional accessories or software required for optimal operation.

      Strategies for balancing budget and quality:

      1. Evaluate total ownership cost: Look beyond the purchase price to include maintenance, calibration, and potential repair costs over the sensor's lifetime.
      2. Consider refurbished equipment: High-quality refurbished equipment, such as that offered by Keysight, can provide significant savings while still delivering reliable performance.
      3. Assess calibration and maintenance needs: Regular calibration and maintenance are essential for accuracy but come at a cost. Factor these into the total cost of ownership.
      4. Prioritize essential features: Determine which features are essential for your applications to avoid paying for unnecessary capabilities that inflate costs.
      5. Look for vendor support and warranties: Good vendor support can reduce long-term costs by providing assistance with issues, and warranties can mitigate repair expenses.

      New vs Used Equipment

      FactorNew Equipment AdvantagesUsed/Refurbished Equipment Advantages
      CostHigher initial investment.Lower initial purchase price, offering significant savings.
      DepreciationHigher initial depreciation.Lower depreciation as the initial loss in value has already occurred.
      Quality and ReliabilityLatest technology with manufacturer's warranty. Guaranteed quality and performance.Quality assured through rigorous testing and calibration. Includes a warranty, providing reliable performance at a reduced cost.
      Environmental ImpactIncreased production impacts due to the manufacture of new units.Reduced environmental footprint by extending the lifecycle of existing devices and minimizing e-waste.
      AvailabilityPotential lead times for manufacturing and delivery.Often immediately available, avoiding manufacturing and delivery wait times.
      CompatibilityState-of-the-art features and compatibility with the latest standards.Access to models that may no longer be in production, beneficial for compatibility with existing systems.
      Warranty and SupportFull manufacturer's warranty and support services.Many refurbished items come with a warranty and support, though terms may vary compared to new.
      Budget FlexibilityHigher cost may limit the number of units or additional equipment that can be purchased.Savings enable stretching of budgets further, possibly allowing for additional or higher-specification equipment purchases.


      "Only KS offers warranty on used equipment. Other resellers don’t. If they are cheaper, they are cheaper for a reason” – Keysight Account Manager 

      After-Sales Support and Warranty

      The importance of after-sales support and comprehensive warranty terms cannot be overstated in the purchase of power sensors. These elements are crucial for ensuring that the devices continue to operate effectively and accurately over their lifespan, providing users with confidence in their investment. 

      Strong after-sales service and favorable warranty conditions offer long-term peace of mind and support, safeguarding against potential issues and ensuring that any problems are promptly and efficiently addressed.

      For users, the benefits of effective after-sales support and a comprehensive warranty include:

      • Assurance of product reliability: Knowing that support is available if issues arise reinforces the product's reliability.
      • Cost savings on repairs: Warranty coverage can significantly reduce the cost of repairs or replacements, protecting against unforeseen expenses.
      • Technical support: Access to expert advice and technical support can help users maximize the utility of their USB power sensors, enhancing productivity and performance.

      Keysight, a leader in electronic measurement solutions, provides its used equipment customers with robust post-purchase support and services, including:

      • Comprehensive warranty: Keysight offers a standard warranty on used equipment, ensuring it meets operational specifications and performs reliably.
      • Technical support: Customers have access to Keysight’s technical support team, offering expert advice and troubleshooting assistance.
      • Calibration services: Options for calibration services are available to maintain measurement accuracy and compliance with industry standards.

      These after-sales support elements and warranty conditions are critical for users who rely on USB power sensors for precise and accurate measurements. They not only ensure the equipment’s longevity and reliability but also reinforce the user’s trust in the manufacturer, making it a pivotal factor in the decision-making process when purchasing used or new electronic measurement equipment.

      “For all used equipment, we offer clients calibration and 1 y warranty.” – Keysight Account Manager

      Expedited Solutions: Explore Our Quick-Delivery Equipment

      • Like-new Condition
      • Updated Firmware
      • Full Calibration
      • New Accessories
      • Like-new Warranty
      • Customization possible

      Learn more

      • Savings of up to 90%
      • Working Condition
      • Calibrated or Tested
      • 30-Day Right-of-Return
      • No Customization
      • Shipping to limited countries

      Learn more

      Conclusion: Harness the Power of Precision with the Right USB Power Sensor

      In this guide, we've covered important aspects of choosing the right USB power sensor for electrical engineering projects, including measurement parameters, accuracy, and calibration. We've also talked about the impact of data interfaces on usability and system integration.

      Equipping yourself with the right USB power sensor is vital for success and innovation with the assurance of Keysight's quality and support. This commitment to precision and reliability ensures that you're not only prepared to meet the challenges of today but are also poised to drive the innovations of tomorrow.

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