The Short Workbench

Imagine an electronics lab. If you grew up in the age of tubes, you might envision a room full of heavy large equipment. Even if you grew up in the latter part of the last century, your idea might be a fairly large workbench with giant boxes full of blinking lights. These days, you can do everything in one little box connected to a PC. Somehow, though, it doesn’t quite feel right. Besides, you might be using your computer for something else.

I’m fortunate in that I have a good-sized workspace in a separate building. My main bench has an oscilloscope, several power supplies, a function generator, a bench meter, and at least two counters. But I also have an office in the house, and sometimes I just want to do something there, but I don’t have a lot of space. I finally found a very workable solution that fits on a credenza and takes just around 14 inches of linear space.


How can I pack the whole thing in 14 inches? The trick is to use only two boxes, but they need to be devices that can do a lot. The latest generation of oscilloscopes are quite small. My scope of choice is a Rigol DHO900, although there are other similar-sized scopes out there.

If you’ve only seen these in pictures, it is hard to realize how much smaller they are than the usual scopes. They should put a banana in the pictures for scale. The scope is about 10.5″ wide (265 mm and change). It is also razor thin: 3″ or 77 mm. For comparison, that’s about an inch and a half narrower and nearly half the width of a DS1052E, which has a smaller screen and only two channels.

A lot of test gear in a short run.

If you get the scope tricked out, you’ve just crammed a bunch of features into that small space. Of course, you have a scope and a spectrum analyzer. You can use the thing as a voltmeter, but it isn’t the primary meter on the bench. If you spend a few extra dollars, you can also get a function generator and logic analyzer built-in. Tip: the scope doesn’t come with the logic analyzer probes, and they are pricey. However, you can find clones of them in the usual places that are very inexpensive and work fine.

There are plenty of reviews of this and similar scopes around, so I won’t talk anymore about it. The biggest problem is where to park all the probes. Continue reading “The Short Workbench”

Fixing Noisy Measurements On An Owon XDM2041 Bench Multimeter

After purchasing an Owon XDM2041 bench multimeter for an automated test setup, [Petteri Aimonen] was disappointed to find that at especially the higher mega Ohm ranges, the measured values were jumping around a lot and generally very inaccurate. Since this is an approximately $170 bench multimeter and Owon support wasn’t cooperating, [Petteri] set out to fix the issue, starting with a solid teardown.

As noted by [Petteri], there’s not a whole lot inside one of these multimeters. The main board with the guts of the whole system contains a GigaDevices GD32F103CBT6 MCU coupled with the star of the show: the HYCON Technology Corporation’s HY3131 multimeter chip. After a peek at the HY3131 datasheet, the culprit was quite apparent: while sampling the presence of mains voltage noise is usually suppressed through the selection of an appropriate crystal.

Unfortunately, instead of the recommended 4.9152 MHz crystal per the reference schematic for the HY3131, Owon’s engineers had apparently opted for a 4 MHz crystal instead, and so it’s essentially aliasing the line noise.

[Petteri] figured that the resulting sampling timing might work well enough with 60 Hz line frequency, but clearly with 50 Hz there was a lot of noise sneaking into the measurements. After swapping the crystal with a 3.072 MHz one, there was a marked improvement, as the plot shows.

OWON Oscilloscope Teardown

We sympathize with [learnelectronic’s] statement: “I’m ashamed. I may have bought another oscilloscope.” We get it and we enjoyed watching him tear down the OWON SDS1102. (Video, embedded below.) As you might guess, this is a 100 MHz, two-channel scope, and very similar to many other Chinese scopes you can get inexpensively.

The last ten minutes are so of the video below shows him removing the case. There’s only three little boards inside. One is clearly a power supply. The other two don’t have much on them. There’s a tiny RF shield over one part of the board, so you assume that’s the input section.

Continue reading “OWON Oscilloscope Teardown”

Digital Oscilloscope Does Its Best Analog Impression

Do you ever find yourself yearning for the days before digital storage oscilloscopes (DSOs)? Where even the basic scopes commanded four figures, and came in a bench-dominating form factor? No, of course you don’t. The DSO is a wonder of modern technology: for a couple hundred bucks you can have capabilities that previously would have been outside the reach of hobbyists, all in a package that’s small enough to fit on even the most cramped workbenches.

Which is why the good folks of the EEVblog forums are so confused about the OWON AS101, a modern digital oscilloscope that’s designed to look and operate like the analog CRT monsters of old. Despite the 3.7 inch LCD, users are treated to the classic analog scope look, and the switches and knobs on the front should trigger a wave of nostalgia for hackers of a certain age.

But this isn’t just some “retro” look-alike, OWON is committed to delivering on that analog experience by taking away all those modern digital features we’ve become so dependant on. This single-channel scope can’t save data to USB, doesn’t have any sort of protocol decoding capabilities, and forget about automatic…well, anything. It’s even limited to 20 MHz, just like the old-school CRT scopes that you pick up for a song at any swap meet. All for the low, low, price of $150 USD from the usual importers.

In the EEVblog thread, the best idea anyone can come up with is that the OWON AS101 is designed for educational markets in developing countries, where outdated equipment is so common that there may actually be a need for faux-analog oscilloscopes to match what’s already in use. These new-manufactured “analog” trainers can be used to get students ready for a professional life of using antiquated technology. It’s hard to believe, but sometimes we can forget how fortunate many of us are to have easy access to cheap tools and equipment.

Even still, when you can get a pocket-sized 10 MHz DSO for around $50, it’s difficult to imagine how this analog-digital hybrid could possibly attract any takers at 3x times the price. If any of our readers would care to shed some light on this unusual piece of gear, we’d love to hear it.

Continue reading “Digital Oscilloscope Does Its Best Analog Impression”

Reverse Engineering The OWON SDS7102 Oscilloscope

It is something of a rite of passage for an electronics enthusiast, the acquisition of a first oscilloscope. In decades past that usually meant a relatively modest instrument, maybe a 20MHz bandwidth and dual trace if you were lucky. Higher spec devices were eye-wateringly expensive monsters, not for the Common People.

We are fortunate that like most other areas of technology the world of test equipment has benefited in the last few years both from developments in digital technology and from the growth in Chinese manufacturing. If your first ‘scope is that second-hand 20MHz CRT you will probably secure it for pennies, and the first ‘scope you buy new will probably have a spec closer to those unattainable super-scopes of yesteryear. Gone is the CRT and timebase generator, in its place a TFT, system-on-chip, and super-fast A to D converter.

[Christer Weinigel] has just such an entry-level modern digital ‘scope, an OWON SDS7102. He comments that it’s got an impressive spec for its price, though the input is noisier than you’d expect on a more expensive device, and the software has one or two annoying bugs. Having owned it for a while, he’s now subjected it to a lengthy teardown and reverse engineer, and he’s posted his findings in a succession of blog posts.

[Christer]’s interest lay mainly in the OWON’s digital section, it seems there is already a substantial community paying attention to its analog front end. He’s deduced how its internals are connected, ported Linux to its Samsung SoC in the scope, succeeded in getting its peripherals working, and set to work programming the Xilinx FPGA that’s responsible for signal processing.

The series of posts is a fascinating read as a run through the process of reverse engineering , but he points out that it’s quite a lot of information. If you are just interested in how a cheap modern oscilloscope works, he says, he suggests reading his post in which he recaps on all its different components.

He also makes a plea for help, he’s no slouch on the ‘scope’s software but admits he’s a bit out of his depth on some aspects of the FPGA. If you’re an FPGA wizard with an interest in ‘scopes, he’d like to hear from you.

This isn’t the first time we’ve featured ‘scope reverse engineering here at Hackaday, though it may be more in-depth than others. In the past we’ve seen a Uni-T screen grab protocol laid bare, and an investigation of a Rigol 1054Z.

Two Portable Oscilloscopes: Shootout

Last time I introduced you to two relatively inexpensive and somewhat portable scopes: the EM125, which is a cross between a digital voltmeter and an oscilloscope, and the Wave Rambler, which is a scope probe with a USB connector attached. Both of the devices cost about $100, and both have their plusses and minuses.

This time, though, I wanted actually to look at some real-world signals. To make that easy, I grabbed yet another scope-like thing I had handy: an Embedded Artists Labtool. This is an interesting board in its own right. It is an LPC-Link programmer attached to an LPC ARM board that has several high-speed A/D channels. However, I’m not using any of that capability for now. The board also has a cheap ARM processor (an LPC812) on it that serves only to generate test signals. The idea is you can use the Labtool in a classroom with no additional equipment.

The Labtool’s demo CPU generates a lot of different signals, but with only one channel on the test scopes, it didn’t make sense to look at, for example, I2C data. So I stuck with two different test signals: a varying pulse width modulation signals and a serial UART transmitter.

Continue reading “Two Portable Oscilloscopes: Shootout”

A Tale Of Two (Sub $100) Oscilloscopes

Hi, I’m Al, and I’m an oscilloscope-holic. Just looking around my office, I can count six oscilloscope or oscilloscope-like devices. There are more in my garage. If you count the number of scopes I’ve owned (starting with an old RCA scope with a round tube and a single vertical scale), it would be embarrassing.

On the other hand, if you are trying to corral electrons into doing useful things, a scope is a necessity. You can’t visualize what’s happening in a circuit any better than using an oscilloscope. Historically, the devices were expensive and bulky. I’ve had many Tektronix and HP scopes that stayed in one place, and you brought what you were working on to them (sometimes called a “boat anchor”). It wasn’t that long ago that one of my vintage Tek scopes had its own dedicated cart so I could wheel it to where it was needed.

These days, scopes are relatively cheap, depending on what you have in mind for performance. They are also highly portable, which is nice. In fact, it is an indication of how spoiled I’ve become that my main bench scope–a Rigol DS1104Z–weighs seven pounds, yet I still look for something smaller for quick jobs.

That’s how I came into possession of two cheap scopes I wanted to talk about. They are similar in ways but different in others. Neither are going to replace a real bench scope, but if you want something portable, or you are budget-limited, they might be worth a look.

Continue reading “A Tale Of Two (Sub $100) Oscilloscopes”