[VoltLog] never has enough space on his bench. We know the feeling and liked his idea of mounting his oscilloscope on an articulated arm. This is easy now because many new scopes have VESA mounts like monitors or TVs. However, watching the video below, we discovered there was a bit more to it than you might imagine.
First, there are many choices of arms. [VoltLog] went for a cheap one with springs that didn’t have a lot of motion range. You may want something different. But we didn’t realize that many of these arms have a minimum weight requirement, and modern scopes may be too light for some of these arms. Most arms require at least 2 kg of weight to balance the tensions in their springs or hydraulics. Of course, you could add a little weight to the mounting plate of the arm if you needed it. The only downside we see is that it makes it hard to remove the scope if you want to use it somewhere else.
Assuming you have a mount you like, the rest is easy. Of course, your scope might not have VESA mounting holes. No problem. You can probably find a 3D printed design for an adapter or make (or adapt) your own. You might want to print a cable holder at the same time.
Honestly, we’ve thought of mounting a scope to the wall, but this seems nicer. We might still think about 3D printing some kind of adapter that would let you easily remove the scope without tools.
An oscilloscope can be an expensive piece of equipment, but not every measurement needs four channels and gigahertz sampling rates. For plenty of home labs, old oscilloscopes with CRTs can be found on the used marketplace for a song that are still more than capable of getting the job done, but even these can be overpowered (not to mention extremely bulky). If you’re looking for something even cheaper, and quite a bit smaller, this ESP32 scope from [BojanJurca] might fit the bill.
The resulting device manages to keep costs extremely low, but not without a trade-off. For this piece of test equipment, sampling is done over the I2C bus on the ESP32, which can manage a little over 700 samples per second with support for two channels. With the ESP32 connected to a wireless network, the data it captures can be viewed from a browser in lieu of an attached screen, which also keeps the size of the device exceptionally small. While it’s not a speed demon, that’s more than fast enough to capture waveforms from plenty of devices or our own circuit prototypes in a form factor that can fit even the smallest spaces.
Of course for work on devices with faster switching times, it’s always good to keep a benchtop oscilloscope around. But as far as we can tell this one is the least expensive, smallest, and most capable we’ve come across that would work for plenty of troubleshooting or testing scenarios in a pinch. We’ve seen others based on slightly more powerful microcontrollers like this one based on the STM32 and this other built around the Wio Terminal with a SAMD51, both of which also include built-in screens.
Even if you don’t have a Rohde Schwarz oscilloscope, you can still enjoy their recent video about using an oscilloscope to measure power supply efficiency. Of course, you don’t have to have a scope to do this. You can use a voltmeter and an ammeter, but it is very straightforward if you have a four-channel scope with a pair of current probes.
Of course, if you can measure the voltage and the current at the input, you can calculate the input power. Then again, most scopes these days can do the math for you. Then, you make the same measurement and calculation at the output. If you know the input and output power, you can calculate a percentage or many scopes can do it for you now.
The modern oscilloscope is truly a marvelous instrument, being a computer with a high-speed analogue front end which can deliver the function of an oscilloscope alongside that of a voltmeter and a frequency counter. They don’t cost much, and having one on your bench gives you an edge unavailable in a previous time. That’s not to dismiss older CRT ‘scopes though, the glow of a phosphor trace has illuminated many a fault finding procedure. These older instruments can even be pretty simple, as [Mircemk] demonstrates with a small home-made example that we have to admit to rather liking.
At its heart is a small 5 cm round CRT tube, with an off-the-shelf buck converter supplying the HT, a neon lamp relaxation oscillator supplying the timebase, and a set of passive components conditioning the signal to the deflection plates. The whole thing runs from 12 V and fits in a neat case. It has one huge flaw in that there is no trigger circuit, and sadly this compromises its usefulness as an instrument. Our understanding of a neon oscillator is a little rusty but we’re guessing the two-terminal neon lamp would have to be replaced by one of the more exotic gas-filled tubes with more electrodes, of which one takes the trigger pulse.
Even without a trigger it’s still a neat device, so take a look at it. Perhaps surprisingly we’ve seen few CRT ‘scopes made from scratch here at Hackaday, but never fear, here’s one used as an audio visualiser.
Last time, we looked at some powerful trigger modes found on many modern scopes, including the Rigol DHO900 series we used as an example. Those triggers were mostly digital or, at least, threshold-based. This time, we’ll look at some more advanced analog triggers as well as a powerful digital trigger that can catch setup and hold violations. You can find the Raspberry Pi code to create the test waveforms online.
In addition to software, you’ll need to add some simple components to generate the analog waveform. In particular, pin 21 of the Pi connects to 2uF capacitor through a 10K resistor. The other side of the capacitor connects to ground. In addition, pin 22 connects directly to the capacitor, bypassing the 10K resistor. This allows us to discharge the capacitor quickly. The exact values are not especially important.
A runt pulse is one that doesn’t have the same voltage magnitude as surrounding pulses. Sometimes, this is due to a bus contention, for example. Imagine if you have some square waves that go from 0 to 5V. But, every so often, one pulse doesn’t make it to 5V. Instead, it stops at 3V.
Will Rogers once said that veterinarians are the best doctors because their patients can’t tell them where it hurts. I’ve often thought that electronic people have a similar problem. In many cases, what’s wrong with our circuits isn’t visible. Sure, you can visually identify a backward diode, a bad solder joint, or a blown fuse. But you can’t look at a battery and see that it is dead or that a clock signal isn’t reaching some voltage. There are lots of ways to look at what’s really going on, but there is no substitute for a scope. It used to be hard for the average person to own a scope, but these days, it doesn’t require much. If you aren’t shopping for the best tech or you are willing to use it with a PC, oscilloscopes are quite affordable. If you spend even a little, you can now get scopes that are surprisingly capable with features undreamed of in years past. For example, many modern scopes have a dizzying array of triggering options. Do you need them? What do they do? Let’s find out.
I’ll be using a relatively new Rigol DHO924S, but none of the triggering modes are unique to that instrument. Sometimes, they have different names, and, of course, their setup might look different than my pictures, but you should be able to figure it out.
What is Triggering?
In simple terms, an oscilloscope plots time across the X-axis and voltage vertically on the Y-axis. So you can look at two peaks, for example, and measure the distance between them to understand how far apart they are in time. If the signal you are measuring happens repeatedly — like a square or sine wave, for example — it hardly matters which set of peaks you look at. After all, they are all the same for practical purposes.
The problem occurs when you want to see something relative to a particular event. Basic scopes often have level triggering. They “start” when the input voltage goes above or below a certain value. Suppose you are looking at a square wave that goes from 0 V to 5 V. You could trigger at about 2.5 V, and the scope will never start in the middle of a cycle.
Digital scopes tend to capture data before and after the trigger, so the center of the screen will be right on an edge, and you’ll be able to see the square waves on either side. The picture shows two square waves on the screen with the trigger point marked with a T in the top center of the display. You can see the level in the top bar and also marked with a T on the right side of the screen.
What happens if there are no pulses on the trigger source channel? That depends. If you are in auto mode, the scope will eventually get impatient and trigger at random. This lets you see what’s going on, but there’s no reference. If you are in normal mode, though, the scope will either show nothing or show the last thing it displayed. Either way, the green text near the top left corner will read WAIT until the trigger event occurs. Then it will say T’D.
There was a time when getting a good oscilloscope not only involved a large outlay of capital, but also required substantial real estate on a workbench. The situation has improved considerably for the hobbyist, but a “real” scope can still cost more than what a beginner is looking to spend. Luckily, plenty of modern microcontrollers are capable of acting as a basic oscilloscope in a pinch, provided there’s a display available to interface with it. Combined with the right software, the Wio Terminal looks like a promising option.
The Wio Terminal is a platform gaining some popularity due to its fairly capable SAMD51 microcontroller and also its integration with a display and a number of input buttons. On the hardware side, [mircemk] mounted the Terminal in a convenient vertical orientation and broke out a pair of connectors for the inputs.
But it’s the software that really makes this project work. [Play With Microcontroller] originally developed the firmware for the PIC24 back in 2017, but ported the code over to the Wio Terminal a couple years back. Noting that the microcontroller is not particularly fast, the project doesn’t exactly match the specifications or capabilities of a commercial unit. But still, it does an impressive job of recreating the experience of using a modern digital scope