Do you remember your first oscilloscope? Maybe we have entered the era in which younger readers think of a sleek model with an LCD screen, but for the slightly older among us the image that will come to mind is likely to be a CRT-based behemoth. Mine was a 2MHz bandwidth Cossor from the 1950s, wildly outdated by the 1980s, but it came to me at no cost. It proudly proclaims itself as a “Portable Oscillograph”, but requires its owner to be a weightlifter to move it. I still have it, as a relic and curio.
For most of us a new ‘scope is still a significant investment. Even affordable current models such as the extremely popular Rigol instruments are likely to cost several hundred dollars, but offer measurement functions undreamed of by those 1950s engineers who would have looked on the Cossor as an object of desire.
Oscilloscope buyers on a budget may not have the cash for a Rigol, a Hantek, or any of the other affordable ‘scopes. Someone starting on the road of electronic engineering can scout around for a cheap or free second-hand CRT model, but thanks to the ever advancing march of technology they also have another option. Modern microprocessors and microcontrollers have analogue-to-digital converters and processor cores that are fast enough to provide the functions of a simple oscilloscope, and to that end a variety of very cheap ‘scopes and ‘scope kits have come on the market. These invariably have a rather small LCD screen and a relatively low bandwidth, but since they can be had for almost pocket-money prices their shortcomings can be overlooked in the name of value. It’s been a matter of curiosity for some time then: are these instruments any good? For around £16 ($21) and the minor effort of an online order from China, we decided to find out.
If you look at most stockists of electronic kits these days, you are likely to find an oscilloscope kit in their range. These are volume produced in China, and the same design trends appear across different models. You can buy surface mount or through-hole, and most of them feature a bare board with maybe a piece of laser-cut Perspex standing in for a case. There are one or two models appearing that come with a case though, and it was one of these that we ordered. The JYE Tech DSO150 is a single-channel ‘scope with a 2.4″ 320×240 pixel colour LCD screen and a 200kHz bandwidth. Its specification is typical of the crop of similar kits, though its smart case sets it apart and made it an easy choice.
We ordered one, and when it arrived, it was packed in a small cardboard carton that had suffered some crushing in transit, but had protected the internal contents well enough that no harm had been done. A layer of foam protected the LCD, and the case parts appeared rigid enough to protect the rest of the components. There was a bag of discretes, the case parts, two PCBs, a test lead with crocodile clips, and two pages of instructions.
When looking at a kit, it’s best to start with the instructions, because no matter the quality of the kit itself it is the quality of the instructions that make or break a kit. If you can’t build it then it doesn’t matter how good it might be, it’s effectively junk.
The DSO150 instructions are two sheets of high quality double-sided colour print, with the emphasis on pictures rather than words, The front page introduces the kit and gives a quick soldering guide, then the next two pages step through each stage of construction. The final page has basic instructions for use, specification, and a troubleshooting guide. Our kit had all surface-mount parts already fitted, if we’d known the kit could also be had with SMD parts to fit we’d have bought that version instead.
The instruction steps are long on images and short on text, but there are sometimes few cues as to where the component in question lies on the board. Sometimes some careful examination of board and picture is necessary to ensure correct placement. The first step though doesn’t involve any soldering, wire the main board up to a 9V supply, and watch the LCD boot into the oscilloscope software. There is support via a forum on the JYE Tech website, we presume you’d go there if it failed to boot out of the box. A 9V PSU isn’t included, you’ll need to find one with a 2.1mm centre positive plug. Fortunately a suitable candidate was in the box of wall warts here, formerly being used by a router.
The main board assembly is straightforward enough, being the assembly of larger through-hole parts such as switches and connectors. The analogue board has a brace of small through-hole resistors and ceramic capacitors to fit, of these the resistors were of the tiny variety which made distinguishing between some of their colour stripes a little difficult. Bring your multimeter to check. There is a BNC connector that requires significant heat on there too, so make sure you have a suitably beefy iron to hand. Finally there is a small board for the rotary encoder, then the front of the case can be assembled to the main board, the analogue board attached, and the ‘scope set up. Verify on-board voltages, attach the test clip to the calibration output and adjust the compensation capacitors for a square wave, and the rest of the case can be added to complete the unit.
In use, the DSO150 makes a simple and straightforward enough oscilloscope. The usual volts/division and timebase selection is easy enough, and the various trigger modes can quickly be selected. If you’ve used an oscilloscope before then you will have no problems getting started with it. But of course, the DSO150 isn’t just a simple oscilloscope, it’s a digital storage ‘scope. And with 1024 sampling points it can do the usual storage ‘scope thing of allowing the user to examine a stored waveform in great detail, scrolling back and forth through the stored points. Here the instruction sheet falls short, not mentioning that a double tap on the V/div or Sec/div buttons allows you to scroll.
Connecting the signal generator to our DSO150 allowed the exploration of its bandwidth. The claimed 200kHz is pretty spot-on, winding the signal generator far beyond that point showed a tail-off in displayed amplitude. Also the minimum 10µS per division limits the usefulness of a waveform display at these frequencies.
The DSO150 is supplied with a short test lead terminated in a pair of crocodile clips. This is somewhat less useful than the oscilloscope probes we’re used to, though happily it can also be used with a standard 1x/10x probe. Looking at the square wave on the test terminal through a standard probe reveals a sharp corner on the waveform, so there seems not to be any problems between the compensation on-board and that in the probe. It’s likely that either the DSO150 here will be used with a standard probe, or that the crocodile clip will swiftly be replaced with a probe of some kind.
So then, the JYE Tech DSO150 oscilloscope kit. A nice little ‘scope within the limitations of the STM32F103C8 microcontroller that drives it. If you can put up with a 200kHz bandwidth and a 50V peak input voltage then it’s a useful pocket instrument. Its calibration will depend on the STM’s crystal and voltage reference, but as with the rest of its specification, when you consider its pocket-money price those become minor considerations. Add in that its software is open-source , and you have a very nice platform indeed. If we wanted to nitpick we’d ask for a battery compartment and a proper probe, but since both of those would put up the price we wouldn’t make too much noise about it. If you need a pocket ‘scope to supplement your bench scope when working on lower frequencies, or if you have a youngster in the family looking for their first ‘scope, buy one! Our review unit will definitely see some use rather than gathering dust.