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”

Android-Powered Rigol Scopes Go Wireless

The Rigol DHO800 and DHO900 series use Android underneath, and as you might expect, this makes them easier to hack. A case in point: [VoltLog] demonstrates that you can add WiFi to the scope using a cheap USB WiFi adapter. This might seem like a no-brainer on the surface, but because the software doesn’t know about WiFi, there are a few minor hoops to jump through.

The first issue is that you need a WiFi adapter the built-in OS already knows how to handle. The community has identified at least one RTL chipset that works and it happens to be in the TP-Link TL-WN725N. These are old 2.4 GHz only units, so they are widely available for $10 or less.

But even with the correct hardware, the scope doesn’t have any menus to configure the WiFi interface. To solve that, you need to temporarily use a USB hub and a USB keyboard. Once you have everything plugged in, you can use the Super + N keyboard shortcut to open up the Android notification bar, which is normally hidden. Once you’ve setup the network connection, you won’t need the keyboard anymore.

Or maybe not — it turns out the keyboard does allow you to change a few other things. For example, [VoltLog] used it to increase the screen brightness more than the default maximum setting.

The only other issue appears to be that the scope shows it is disconnected even when connected to WiFi. That doesn’t seem to impact operation, though. Of course, you could use a WiFi to Ethernet bridge or even an old router, but now you have a cable, a box, and another power cord to deal with. This solution is neat and clean. You bet we’ve already ordered a TP-Link adapter!

WiFi scopes are nothing new. We suspect Rigol didn’t want to worry about interference and regulatory acceptance, but who knows? Besides, it is fun to add WiFi to wired devices.

Continue reading “Android-Powered Rigol Scopes Go Wireless”

Scope GUI Made Easier

Last time, I assembled a Python object representing a Rigol oscilloscope. Manipulating the object communicates with the scope over the network. But my original goal was to build a little GUI window to sit next to the scope’s web interface. Had I stuck with C++ or even C, I would probably have just defaulted to Qt or maybe FLTK. I’ve used WxWidgets, too, and other than how many “extra” things you want, these are all easy enough to use. However, I had written the code in Python, so I had to make a choice.

Granted, many of these toolkits have Python bindings — PyQt, PySide, and wxPython come to mind. However, the defacto GUI framework for Python is Tkinter, a wrapper around Tk that is relatively simple to use. So, I elected to go with that. I did consider PySimpleGUI, which is, as the name implies, simple. It is attractive because it wraps tkinter, Qt, WxPython, or Remi (another toolkit), so you don’t have to pick one immediately. However, I decided to stay conservative and stuck with Tkinter. PySimpleGUI does have a very sophisticated GUI designer, though.

About Tkinter

The Tkinter toolkit lets you create widgets (like buttons, for example) and give them a parent, such as a window or a frame. There is a top-level window that you’ll probably start with. Once you create a widget, you make it appear in the parent widget using one of three layout methods:

  1. Absolute or relative coordinates in the container
  2. “Pack” to the top, bottom, left, or right of the container
  3. Row and column coordinates, treating the container like a grid

The main window is available from the Tk() method:

import tkinter as tk
root.title('Example Program')
button=tk.Button(root, text="Goodbye!", command=root.destroy)

That’s about the simplest example. Make a button and close the program when you push it. The mainloop call handles the event loop common in GUI programs.

Continue reading “Scope GUI Made Easier”

How To Talk To Your Scope

It used to be only high-end test equipment that had some sort of remote control port. These days, though, they are quite common. Historically, test gear used IEEE-488 (also known as GPIB or, from the originator, HPIB). But today, your device will likely talk over a USB port, a serial port, or a LAN connection. You’d think that every instrument had unique quirks, and controlling it would be nothing like controlling another piece of gear, especially one from another company. That would be half right. Each vendor and even model indeed has its unique command language. There has been a significant effort to standardize some aspects of test instrument control, and you can quickly write code to control things on any platform using many different programming languages. In a few posts, I will show you just how easy it can be.

The key is to use VISA. This protocol is defined by the IVI Foundation that lets you talk to instruments regardless of how they communicate. You do have to build an address that tells the VISA library how to find your device. For example: “TCPIP::” But once you have that, it is easy to talk to any instrument anywhere.

I say that thinking it is a problem is half right because talking to the box is one task of the two you need to complete. The other is what to say to the box and what it will say back to you. There are a few standards in this area, but this is where you get into problems. Continue reading “How To Talk To Your Scope”

Putting The Magic Smoke Back Into A Dodgy Spectrum Analyzer

The trouble with fixing electronics is that most devices are just black boxes — literally. Tear it down, look inside, but it usually doesn’t matter — all you see are black epoxy blobs, taunting you with the fact that one or more of them are dead with no external indication of the culprit.

Sometimes, though, you get lucky, as [FeedbackLoop] did with this Rigol spectrum analyzer fix. The instrument powered up and sort of worked, but the noise floor was unacceptably high. Even before opening it up, there was clearly a problem; in general, spectrum analyzers shouldn’t rattle. Upon teardown, it was clear that someone had been inside before and got reassembly wrong, with a loose fastener and some obviously shorted components to show for it. But while the scorched remains of components made a great place to start diagnosis, it doesn’t mean the fix was going to be easy.

Figuring out the values of the nuked components required a little detective work. The blast zone seemed to once hold a couple of resistors, a capacitor, a set of PIN diodes, and a couple of tiny inductors. Also nearby were a pair of chips, sadly with the markings lasered off. With some online snooping and a little bit of common sense, [FeedbackLoop] was able to come up with plausible values for most of these — even the chips, which turned out to be HMC221 RF switches.

Cleaning up the board was a bit of a chore — the shorted components left quite a crater in the board, which was filled with CA glue, and a bunch of missing pads. This called for some SMD soldering heroics, which sadly didn’t fix the noise problem. Replacing the two RF switches and the PIN diodes seemed to fix the problem, albeit at the cost of some loss. Sometimes, good enough is good enough.

This isn’t the first time [FeedbackLoop] has gotten lucky with choice test equipment in need of repairs — this memory module transplant on a scopemeter comes to mind.

Continue reading “Putting The Magic Smoke Back Into A Dodgy Spectrum Analyzer”

Remote Code Execution On An Oscilloscope

There are a huge number of products available in the modern world that come with network connectivity now, when perhaps they might be better off with out it. Kitchen appliances like refrigerators are the classic example, but things like lightbulbs, toys, thermostats, and door locks can all be found with some sort of Internet connectivity. Perhaps for the worse, too, if the security of these devices isn’t taken seriously, as they can all be vectors for attacks. Even things like this Rigol oscilloscope and its companion web app can be targets.

The vulnerability for this oscilloscope starts with an analysis of the firmware, which includes the web control application. To prevent potentially bricking a real oscilloscope, this firmware was emulated using QEMU. The vulnerability exists in the part of the code which involves changing the password, where an attacker can bypass authentication by injecting commands into the password fields. In the end, the only thing that needs to be done to gain arbitrary code execution on the oscilloscope is to issue a curl command directed at the oscilloscope.

In the end, [Maunel] suggests not connecting this oscilloscope to the Internet at all. He has informed the producer about it but as of this writing there has not been a resolution. It does, however, demonstrate the vulnerabilities that can be present in network-connected devices where the developers of the software haven’t gone to the lengths required to properly secure them for use with the modern Internet. Even things not connected to a traditional Internet connection can be targets for attacks.

FNIRSI Vs Rigol: An Alternate View

We’ve heard of the FNIRSI 1014D scope, but we’ve had the impression that it might not be a great scope, although it is economical. [Learn Electronics Repair] had heard from another YouTuber that it was “a piece of junk.” However, he wanted to look at it compared to another inexpensive scope, the Rigol DS1052E. His results were different from what we usually hear. To be clear, he didn’t think it was a perfect scope, but he did find it very usable for his purpose.

The 46-minute-long video does more than just a casual look. He uses both scopes in some real-world measurements. If you are in the market for a scope in this price range, it is worth the time to watch.

Continue reading “FNIRSI Vs Rigol: An Alternate View”