DSO Nano Oscilloscope Reviewed


We’ve been eyeing Seeed Studio’s DSO nano digital storage oscilloscope with a mix of intrigue and skepticism. A pocket-sized $89 storage ’scope? This is a joke, right? Hack a Day reader [Blair Thomson] has written a thorough review based on his experience with one of the beta test units, and it might be a winner after all.

[Blair] feels the unit compares favorably to buying a similarly-priced secondhand analog oscilloscope. The DSO nano wins major points for ease of use, a good range of functionality, and of course the whole portability thing (the enclosure is a repurposed portable media player). Can’t say we’re entirely convinced though. As a single-trace ’scope with 1 MHz bandwidth, the DSO nano may be extremely limiting for anything but basic hobbyist use…which, to be fair, is exactly how they’re marketing it. We can see a place for this the same way there’s a place for $10 multimeters — an inexpensive, toss-in-the-toolbag second ’scope to quickly test for vital signs, something that might complement but not replace a good bench unit.

51 thoughts on “DSO Nano Oscilloscope Reviewed

  1. Why does this post sound so critical?

    “anything but basic hobbyist use”? You mean like most of the projects that this website features?

    Most people don’t have >$2k to spend on a scope. If this works it is a good thing and there is no reason to qualify it.

  2. I have been waiting for a project like this to spring up. I mean the technology is there, it just takes the right group to realize the money making potential. An 89$ hobbyist scope is a wonderful idea, And the only limitation i see is that even a hobbyist will want 2 channels on a scope. Tho I can see why they are limited to one, and i think i would still be interested in purchasing it.

    Also i agree with Sobachatina.
    Not to be to much of a snot. But for a web site that posed a Card board box PC case “Mod” yesterday i think you are being a little critical of what appears to be a really decent project.

  3. I really wonder where the casing and display comes from. It would be a shame to only use it as a scope (the device should have more capabilities – like a swiss knife of electronics :)). 2 channels and >25MHz sample rate please!

  4. @Sobachatina, @Robert: touché, quite right. I was trying to head off the inevitable, “Just buy a REAL oscilloscope!” comments from power users, and stepped on the toes of beginners in the process. Wasn’t my intent, and I apologize for that. Boy, I am on such a roll lately! :)

    @Moogle: indeed, seeing it drag down Firefox pretty hard, though no crash here. Safari FTW.

  5. A 1-Mhz bandwidth scope is phenomenally narrow. This would basically allow you to measure very slow speed analog signals, time the flash of an LED, verify that an I/O pin is toggling. Consider that a PIC or AVR can toggle an I/O pin faster than this. It’s really not even fast enough to accurately measure power supply ripple, except for what 60Hz will impose.

    The only aspect of this that’s really useful is that it’s analog. So unless you’re dealing with things that aren’t 0 and 1, you’d be better off with something like a Saleae or USBee logic analyzer that has 8 channels, and a MUCH higher sampling rate.

    While this thing does have a certain “je ne se qua” cool factor, it has some drawbacks. It’s slow, the probe impedance is *really* low (>500K ohms, most ‘scope probes are the 10Mohm+ range), and it’s single channel. Usually when I’m at the point of digging out a ‘scope, I need 2 or 3 channels.

    The fact that it uses an SD card is nice, as is the fact that it will measure signal periods, etc (something I keep wanting to trade in my Tektronixs 2445 for a 2465B to get).

    For me, the portability aspect is of limited usefulness. If you’re into the Make-a-thon type things, it’s probably handy. When I’m debugging, I’ve usually got a test-bench full of project and gear, and portability is an issue.

    The fact that they repurposed an existing product to do this is way-cool. And I like Seeed products: I have a pair of Bus Pirates that get used fairly often. Would *I* buy this ‘scope? No. But I’m also not the market demographic they’re interested in, really.

  6. I have , and still use a very old Velleman P7105 kit/scope ( http://cba.sakura.ne.jp/kit01/kit_174E.htm ) with a very limited input bandwidth ( 750KHz :) ) , put together in 1993 or so.
    A current velleman model with similar bandwith to the DSO nano , the velleman 2MHz HPS 10 model is about 170 euro. So this DSO nano is good $$ value at first sight and even this limited bandwidth is still use full in for lot of things, for example certainly is when dealing with audio amps/designs or so.

    When I did my electronics degree in the dark ages a 50MHz scope was top notch to have and costed a fortune. Now you can get a second hand 100MHz Fluke for a bit over 300 euro on ebay…

  7. Cool idea but not very practical becuase of the low bandwidth. For $90 I got a Tek 475A 2 channel 250Mhz scope w/ 3 probes. It doesn’t have the storage capability but having a voltage input up to 400v (using a standard 1x or 10x probe) has been very useful. That thing probably won’t survive if anything more than 5v is applied to the input. I’d say save your money and start off with a good analog scope.

  8. “A pocket-sized $89 storage ’scope? This is a joke, right?”
    you absolutely right with rate 1Msps it is a joke and forget about 1 MHz bandwidth it not analog so it tell absolutely nothing, divide sample rate by 10 or 20 to get some reasonable bandwidth you can measure

  9. Contrary to what the article says it does not even compare to a 20 year old analog scope. Take 20 points per period to get a decent view of a waveform and you get at maximum workable frequency of 50kHz. Alright for audio, but apart from that all events will be too fast for this scope to pick up. Even for audio, you will almost always need 2 channels to compare. The storage feature might compensate for this but it does not seem very practical.

    I don’t get either why the resolution is 12 bits, considering the screen is only 240 pixels high. They would probably have been able to get a higher sampling rate with 8 bits.

    If you intend to examine something else than audio, then don’t buy this. You’ll realize the limitations quite quickly and end up either not using it, or buying a real one, losing money.

  10. I’ve been looking for something just like this for automotive work. it’s quite often I need a scope to determine the frequency and range of a particular sensor on a car when doing customizations… unfortunately it’s a HUGE pain to lug a full sized scope out to the garage or in some cases the driveway.

    Single channel is fine for me as I typically only need one Chanel at a time, the portability factor is AWESOME, though the rate is a bit low… 1MHz will work for most applications but some of the higher speed sensors would require ~25MHz at least for this to be useful.

    Even still I might pick one up as it will be useful for at least 75-80% of what I need to probe in the garage.

  11. people dont get focused about analog bandwidth of 1MHz, it hot capable measuring 1MHz, actually analog bandwidth on digital scopes is very dirty marketing trick to confuse people and it is not a parameter at all, divide sample rate by 20 to get real useful bandwidth

  12. As the head of field service repair for a large a music electronics company, this is a godsend. Our independent field service guys cant afford most portable oscilloscopes and if they could , they only need a small feature set at hand in the field. Usually doesn’t justify the price.

    If the one I buy works as well as it seems to, I will be sending dozens of people Seeed’s way. Ramp up that production, boys.

  13. To answer a question in the article itself – I assume the spare backplate is either an accident or because they anticipate the original becoming bent if you remove it to replace the battery.

    Of course you could just use a flat knife to pry it up gently, but whatever, that’s my two cents.

  14. “As the head of field service repair for a large a music electronics company, this is a godsend.”

    think tvise, you will not be able to catch noise coming from power supply or anythingexcept basic audio signal, and do you rally need to see just sine wave amplitude ?

  15. Therian-
    I really haven’t looked at these low-cost USB devices because I’ve got dedicated oscilloscopes and a logic analyser. Is the bottleneck on the microcontroller side (mips) or the USB side?

  16. While I like the idea, I can’t see a purpose other than playing with RC circuits.
    Anything with signals or any AC circuit is beyond the bandwidth of this.

    The only useful frequencies under 1MHz are 50Hz and 60Hz that I can think of, and last time I hooked a hobbyist measuring tool up to 60Hz, it did not end well. 10A fuses are too big!

  17. Look at Andrew Yeomans post above. Seeed Studio also sells the JYE Tech pocket DSO for $35 kit or $49 USD pre-built. This isn’t as flashy but it has five times the bandwidth at 5Msps. I own two high-end Tektronix scopes, one DSO and one high bandwidth analog. I still use my little JYETech scope when lugging around one the Teks isn’t required. Very useful, espeically for $49.

    I agree with all posts criticizing the bandwidth of this new DSO. The JYETech achieves five times the bandwidth with just a single ATMega8.

    All that said, the new scope is quite flashy. It might even help you pick up girls.

    Parallax will release a new Propeller based DSO in the next coule-few weeks. Supposedly 25Msps. Don’t know about the price, but I’ll be it is going to be on par with other USB based scopes.

  18. @pippo

    turns out there is no firmware on Saleae unit, only USB descriptor, every time you plug it in it downloads latest firmware from your computer. Theres Linux software package with firmware and code to use it, all you need is a board with Cypress chip and correct descriptor in serial flash (you can read it from the code). Project name saleae-logic-libusb

  19. What I’d love to see would be a plugin for Rockbox which could handle the software side of things, and a 3.5mm-BNC adaptor to use real scope probes (hell, you could even just knock up a set yourself considering).

    Any MP3 player with an ADC would be able to handle this – granted a pretty low sampling rate – but it’d definitely be a cost effective solution…

  20. I am planning on getting JYE Tech scope for debugging analogue stuff, but then again I already have a Saleae for digital.

    For the money you really can’t complain, and bandwidth isn’t the be-all and end-all. If you need to debug a higher frequency signal you can always just slow it down for testing and then speed it back up when everything works. Not ideal but also not costing £££.

  21. I want one of these to put in my synthesizer toolbox .. it’d be perfect to mount in a modular synthesizer rig for audio visualization .. but if anyone knows of a better solution I’d love to hear it .. getting a cheap second hand one would be an option, if it were available in the same small-n-light form factor, though ..

    BTW, if any of you beta testers of this DSO want to sell yours now you’ve played with it, I’d be willing to take it off you .. kinda bummed that they’re sold out. I’d definitely put this to use.

  22. Forgot to add – it’s a 10bit adc not 12 as claimed elsewhere and luminary themselves say 100KHz useful bandwidth from the 1Ms/s sample rate in their docs for their own scope application. I’ve used it quite successfully for audio.

    Should be seriously hackable – you can re-purpose it completely just by uploading new code and dual channel should be possible albeit at half the sample rate per channel.

    Great fun to play with.

  23. You guys are spoiled rotten. My first CRO was a 1-inch 1CP1 on an old mantle radio chassis, no graticule, AC only. It eventually grew a Y-amp and thyratron timebase (which was horribly non-linear but still a huge improvement over the initial 50Hz sine sweep). But even in its most basic form it was helpful to a teenager building valve guitar amps.

    This DSO does have obvious limitations, but it is important to know, understand, and work within the limitations of *all* your testgear lest you wind up chasing your own tail. As long as you understand the implications of 1Msample and 12 (or is it 10) bits, then a cheap instrument like this (or the one linked above) can be very useful – much like cheap DMM’s which aren’t too great either.

    As a professional tech I would have one of these for the toolkit to use *as well as* the multi-knob analogue CRO on the bench, not *instead of*.

    Elektor did a Gameboy hack like this a while back.

    “you can re-purpose it completely just by uploading new code”

    And that *has* to make it more interesting.

  24. This is a cute first (or third, I’ve seen a couple of cheapie micro and LCD scopes for sale) step towards low cost portable scopes. Grab a device with a higher sample rate, and perhaps some ram to use as a buffer for capturing data from trigger mode and you have a really handy tool.

    Or if I could be so bold as to suggest the $10 multimeter be paired with a $10 scope? Neither tool replaces professional grade, but I’d rather cause harm to the “dollar store” item vs, say, a fluke…

    I’ve also seen low bandwidth audio scopes people seem to love to hate… What’s a better way to get that kind of data in to a PC? Could someone stuff an ADC and supporting circuitry inside last generation’s PCMCIA cards and stick it in a laptop? Could the port handle the bandwidth? Should I just put my ebay’d tektronix 465 and a spare battery backup power supply inside an old suitcase and call it good?

  25. I think this product is great – its exactly what I need, since I don’t have the space for a gargantuan CRO, nor do I have the need for a lot more features, since I’m only building analog synthesizers and such small things in my lab ..

    If the demand is there – from people like us – I’m sure the future will hold more devices in this form factor and price range with more features. If I could buy this today, I would ..

  26. I just got my DSO Nano in the mail today and I’ve had the JYTech scope for a couple of months. I *am* a hobbyist and I tend to take projects with me when I travel. (I *always* get tapped out for security screenings due to the amount of electronics in my carry-on.) I bought both units to have something I could travel with. The limitations vs. weight & cost ratio are pretty hard to argue with…

    I haven’t had enough time to get into the code that powers the Nano, but I assume that many of the complaints can be overcome in software. There are trade offs, but, as it is with everything, you just have to find the balance that works best for you.

  27. I received an email from marketing today and they tell me that a second-generation DSO Nano is in the works. It will have two-channel and possibility utilize extended flash. My guess is it will have more bandwidth and a higher input impedance.

    I am a systems engineer working offshore globally. I deal with timing issues associated with data acquisition systems. A two-channel or external-trigger input is a must. This little scope, although limited in bandwidth, will be a great addition to my very-small field tool case. I currently carry a Tektronix 223, dual-channel battery operated analog scope that I picked up on eBay for $50. It will be a treat to leave this scope behind when I travel. I will be able to leave my pocket DMM behind as well. So, for me, this is a win-win situation.

  28. Ordered one of these from a Chinese ebay seller for £55 shipped. Displays car sensors nicely such as camshaft, crackshaft and ABS signals. Show’s duty cycling of actuators and CAN bus signals, glad I didn’t buy a Picoscope :)

  29. Unless you need to be able to hang it around your neck, forget this. Check eBay. I got a Tek 475A for $75, 2430A for $102.50, Tek TDS 310 with Tek probes for $119, TDS 380 for $240, etc.

  30. This is great product, mostly because of its small size and price. I use it to see signals on industrial machines. The 1MGh is OK for that purpose. It can be used to 200-300 kHz digital signals too. Screen layout and commands are nice. The software could be better (there is delay in displaying on some modes, which theoreticaly can be removed, …), but it satifies basic needs. The bast product I buy for its price. Very very useful product. For professional use: when you are traveling and/or you do not have a space on system you test, which is usually the case.

  31. Hi Folks,

    So this unit may not meet the strigent requirements of advanced electronic hobbyists, but it fits the bill for my particular need: automotive diagnostics. There are many feedback circuits in your car that are controlled by pulse width modulated signals (0-12V) that do not require leading edge specs to monitor. Compared to the cost of other automotive diagnostic tools, this is a very economical addition to any toolbox.

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