An oscilloscope is an essential tool when trying to understand what is going on inside your electronics. It is an expensive piece of kit: even a simple model costs several hundreds of euros/dollars. While it is possible to buy great second-hand analog oscilloscopes for a lot less, they are very bulky and don’t have the digital storage capabilities of modern oscilloscopes. In this post I’ll list the sub-€400 digital storage oscilloscopes I evaluated before purchasing one for Nut & Bolt.
Oscilloscopes are often specified by their bandwidth. The bandwidth – specified in MHz – specifies the frequency at which the signal on screen drops by 3dB. Why Oscilloscope Bandwidth Matters on the Adafruit blog provides a nice explanation on how this influences what you want to measure. In short, having a higher bandwidth allows you to measure faster signals.
A digital storage oscilloscope (DSO) can store signals in its memory. This allows you to capture a signal and then take as long as you want to examine it on the scope. The DSO’s in this list sample up to 1 billion samples per second (1GS/s), so having a large memory buffer to store these samples is a big advantage.
Rigol DS1052E and DS1102E
When discussing affordable oscilloscopes it is impossible to skip the Rigol DS1052E. It’s a very popular 50MHz bandwidth digital storage scope that, in earlier revisions, could easily be hacked to 100MHz. The hack is now harder to do and Rigol is lowering the prices on the DS1102E, which is the 100MHz version. The specifications for the Rigol DS1052E and DS1102E are as follows:
- Screen: 5.7″ TFT, 320×234 pixels
- Sample rate: 1GS/s
- Bandwidth: 50MHz (DS1052E) or 100MHz (DS1102E or hacked DS1052E)
- Memory depth: 1 million measurements
- Price: €269 (DS1052E), €326 (DS1102E)
The Rigols see a nice combination of low price, good specifications and a large user base. The downsides are a small screen and, according to reports on various forums, a loud fan.
Owon SDS6062 and SDS7102
The Owon oscilloscopes aren’t as well-known as the Rigols. Their previous versions had outdated STN screens and average specs, but the SDS series are a lot better. Let’s have a look at the specifications:
- Screen: 8″ TFT, 800×600 pixels
- Sample rate: 500MS/s (SDS6062) or 1GS/s (SDS7102)
- Bandwidth: 60MHz (SDS6062) or 100MHz (SDS7102)
- Memory depth: 10 million measurements
- Price: €288 (SDS6062), €377 (SDS7102)
The Owons have good specifications and large screens. The fan isn’t as loud as the Rigol’s. The scopes can be outfitted with a battery for portable operation and the SDS7102 has a VGA output. The downsides are a higher price and a user interface that isn’t as polished as the Rigol’s.
Troniq DSO100 / Siglent SDS1102CM / Atten ADS1102C / LeCroy WaveAce 112
This is basically the same oscilloscope sold under many different brand names. A 100MHz, 500 megasamples per second oscilloscope with a screen the same size as the Rigol’s. The memory depth is only 4K samples so these are not really comparable to the Rigols and Owons. While they used to be very inexpensive, the recent price drop of the Rigol DS1102E has made this type of oscilloscope a lot less attractive:
- Screen: 5.7″ TFT, 320×234 pixels
- Sample rate: 500MS/s
- Bandwidth: 100MHz
- Memory depth: 4K (Troniq, Atten, LeCroy) or 1M (Siglent)
- Price: €294 (Troniq DSO100)
I only plan to buy an oscilloscope once, so 100MHz seemed a more future-proof investment than a 50MHz or 60MHz one. For my studio, I finally settled for the most expensive oscilloscope in this list: the Owon SDS7102. Its large screen, quiet fan and large memory won me over. If you want to spend a bit less, the Rigols are still a very good combination of low price and good specs.
Bonus: DSO Nano and friends
Before settling on a real oscilloscope I had a long look to see if the DSO nano would be enough for my needs. The DSO nano V2 is a portable device like an MP3 player. It’s an ARM-based 1-channel oscilloscope that’s cheap and can be thrown into your bag. Here are the specs:
- Screen: small TFT, 320×234 pixels
- Sample rate: 1MS/s
- Bandwidth: 200kHz
- Memory depth: don’t know
- Price: $89
I like the idea of the DSO Nano a lot. It’s small, innovative, inexpensive and open source. However, its bandwidth is too limiting for being the only scope in the workshop. 200kHz bandwidth means you can measure signals up to about 40kHz, which is way too low for measuring switching power supplies, PWM signals and digital communication protocols. If you are only measuring audio signals or are looking for a second DSO to bring with you on the road, the DSO Nano V2 is a nice scope.
If you liked this post, please head over to JeeLabs for Jean-Claude Wippler’s article on how he chose and oscilloscope: getting an oscilloscope.