The Crystal (Testing) Method

It used to be any good electronics experimenter had a bag full of crystals because you never knew what frequency you might need. These days, you are likely to have far fewer because you usually just need one reference frequency and derive all the other frequencies from it. But how can you test a crystal? As [Mousa] points out in a recent video, you can’t test it with a multimeter.

His approach is simple: Monitor a function generator with an oscilloscope, but put the crystal under test in series. Then you move the frequency along until you see the voltage on the oscilloscope peak. That frequency should match the crystal’s operating frequency.

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Playing Doom on Keysight Oscilloscope via Windows CE

We all know the drill when buying a digital oscilloscope: buy the most hackable model. Some choose to void the warranty right away and access features for which the manufacturer has kindly provided all the hardware and software but has disabled through licensing. Few of us choose to tap into the underlying embedded OS, though, which seems a shame.

When [Jason Gin]’s scope started giving him hints about its true nature, he decided to find a way in. The result? An oscilloscope with a Windows desktop that plays Doom. The instrument is a Keysight DSOX1102G which [Jason] won during the company’s “Scope Month” giveaway. Relatively rare system crashes showed the familiar UI trappings of Windows CE.

Try as he might, [Jason] couldn’t get the scope to crash on cue — at least not until he tried leaving an external floppy drive plugged into the USB port on startup. But in order to use the desktop thus revealed, a keyboard and mouse were needed too. So he whipped up a custom USB switch cable, to rapidly toggle in the keyboard and mouse after the crash. This gave him the keys to the kingdom, but he still had a long way to go. We won’t spoil the story, but suffice it to say that it took [Jason] a year and a half, and he learned a lot along the way.

It was nice to hear that our review of the 1000X series scopes helped [Jason] accomplish this exploit. This hack’s great for bragging rights, as one way to prove you’ve owned a system is telling people it runs Doom!

Tearing Into a $1.3 Million Oscilloscope

Most hackers are rankled by those “Warranty Void If Broken” seals on the sides of new test equipment. Even if they’re illegal, they at least put the thought in your head that the space inside your new gear is off-limits, and that prevents you from taking a look at what’s inside. Simply unacceptable.

[Shahriar] has no fear of such labels and tears into just about everything that comes across his bench. Including, most recently, a $1.3 million 110-GHz oscilloscope from Keysight. It’s a teardown that few of us will ever get the chance to do, and fewer still would be brave enough to attempt. Thankfully he does, and the teardown video below shows off the remarkable engineering that went into this monster.

The numbers boggle the mind. Apart from the raw bandwidth, this is a four-channel scope (althought the unit [Shahriar] tested is a two-channel) that doesn’t split its bandwidth across channels. The sampling rate is 256 GS/s and the architecture is 10-bits, so this thing is dealing with 10 terabits per second. We found the extra thick PCBs, which are perhaps 32-layer boards, to be especially interesting, and [Shariar]’s tour of the front end was fascinating.

It all sounds like black magic at first, but he really makes the technology approachable, and his appreciation for fine engineering is obvious. If you’ve got even a passing interest in RF electronics you should check it out. You might want to brush up on microwave topics first, though; this Doppler radar teardown might help.

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The Pre-CRT Oscilloscope

Oscilloscopes are especially magical because they translate the abstract world of electronics into something you can visualize. These days, a scope is likely to use an LCD or another kind of flat electronic display, but the gold standard for many years was the ubiquitous CRT (cathode ray tube). Historically, though, CRTs were not very common in the early days of electronics and radio. What we think of as a CRT didn’t really show up until 1931, although if you could draw a high vacuum and provide 30 kV, there were tubes as early as 1919. But there was a lot of electronics work done well before that, so how did early scientists visualize electric current? You might think the answer is “they didn’t,” but that’s not true. We are spoiled today with high-resolution electronic displays, but our grandfathers were clever and used what they had to visualize electronics.

Keep in mind, you couldn’t even get an electronic amplifier until the early 1900s (something we’ve talked about before). The earliest way to get a visual idea of what was happening in a circuit was purely a manual process. You would make measurements and draw your readings on a piece of graph paper.

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You’ve Never See A Solid-State Oscilloscope Like This One

Remember a the time before oscilloscopes had a brain? It’s easy to forget as we’ve become accustomed to a class of simple solid state oscilloscope using a microcontroller as signal processor and a small LCD display to show the resulting waveforms. They are commonly available as inexpensive kits, and while their bandwidth is not huge they give a good account of themselves in low frequency applications. But of course, originally the signal processing was handled in a much simpler way.

[SimpleTronic] reminds us that a small solid state oscilloscope does not need a microcontroller, with a ‘scope on a breadboard that displays waveforms on an LED matrix in a much more traditional manner. This is very much an analogue oscilloscope, in which the X deflection circuitry of the CRT is replaced by a decade counter stepping through the columns of LEDs on the display, and the Y deflection circuitry by some analogue signal conditioning followed by an LM3914 bar graph display chip driving the display rows. There are a few refinements such as a trigger circuit, but it remains a very understandable and surprisingly simple device.

It has a claimed bandwidth of 40 kHz defined by its sweep ranges rather than its analogue bandwidth, and an input voltage range from 50 mVpp to 50 Vpp. It’s hardly a useful instrument due to its low bandwidth, but its strength lies in novelty and in understanding a traditional oscilloscope rather than in its utility. You can see it in action in the video we’ve placed below the break.

‘Scopes of limited use appear from time to time on these pages. A favourite of ours is this soldering iron.

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Gameduino + Mystorm = Oscilloscope!

There has to be more than one of us who over the years since the launch of systems like the original Game Boy have eyed up these handheld platforms and thought “You could make a really neat little oscilloscope with that!” But the commercial systems are closed-source, locked down, and proprietary, so in many cases there’s little easy prospect of such a device being created.

Fortunately though, there are now very accessible handheld gaming platforms, and [James Bowman], the creator of the Gameduino series of boards, writes in to tell us about an oscilloscope project for the Gameduino 3 created by [Lawrie Griffiths]. It uses a Mystorm FPGA board with an AN108 analogue board, and while the heavy lifting of acquisition is handled by the FPGA it is left to the Mystorm’s STM32 to talk to the Gameduino. There are a few teething troubles such as the Gameduino complaining when it is fed data too quickly, but the result is an effective 8 MHz bandwidth instrument with a touchscreen interface. He does however admit that the interface is a little fiddly at the moment. All the code is available via GitHub, so should you wish to pursue this particular avenue yourself, you can.

The Mystorm has made more than one appearance here over the years, and we’re sure we’ll see more. We saw it emulating a small OLED display to put Arduboy graphics on the big screen, for example, and implementing a complete Acorn BBC Micro home computer.

Learn Six Oscilloscope Measurements with One Arduino

We won’t mention names, but we are always dismayed to see people twist knobs randomly on a scope until it shows a good picture. These days, there’s the dreaded auto button, too, which is nearly as bad. If you haven’t spent the time to learn how to properly use a scope [Bald Engineer] has a great introduction to making six measurements with an Arduino as a test device.

To follow along you’ll need an Arduino UNO and a two-channel (or better) scope. Actually, most of the measurements would probably work on any Arduino, but there are some that require the separate USB to serial chip like that found on the UNO and similar boards.

The six measurements are:

  1. The auto reset programming pulse
  2. Capture and decode serial data
  3. Noise on the power rail
  4. Observe probe loading effects
  5. PWM duty cycle
  6. The timing of pin manipulation code

Some of these measurements use a bit of Arduino code, while others just make use of the circuitry on the board no matter what software is running.

Not only does the post show you where to make the measurements and what the result should look like, there’s also a discussion of what the measurement means and some suggested things to try on your own.

If you go through this post, you might also enjoy learning more about probes. If you are feeling adventurous, you can even build your own current probe.