Oscilloscope: Get The Best At The Best Price

Sani Theo


Are you planning to buy an oscilloscope? Pause and read this article first, because it might help you get complete value for your money. box 172When you look at the latest generation of oscilloscopes, it is evident that a higher price does not necessarily mean higher performance or better features. This article aims to help you judge which factors really matter and which do not when buying an oscilloscope, and also points out some of the trendiest features in the latest products, so you can pick the right, budget-friendly oscilloscope for your needs.

With an oscilloscope, also known as scope, you can box 272observe  electrical signal waveforms such as amplitude, frequency, distortion and time intervals. Broadly, there are two types of oscilloscopes: analogue and digital.

One key difference between an analogue scope and a digital one is that the former uses a cathode ray tube. As compared to the digital variant, an analogue scope is generally less expensive. You can get an analogue scope that provides adequate performance and functions for use in many laboratories and service stations.

Typical pocket-size oscilloscope
Fig. 1: Typical pocket-size oscilloscope

Budget-friendly oscilloscopes, generally speaking, are general-purpose entry-level oscilloscopes with good price-performance ratio. Such scopes are now becoming popular among hobbyists, students and experimenters. These are available in various form factors such as traditional benchtop, handheld, pocket and PC based. A few of these are handy instruments that you can easily carry in your toolbox or bag.

Currently, low-cost pocket-size oscilloscopes are mostly designed and manufactured in China, but are readily available on eBay and Amazon. A typical pocket-size oscilloscope is shown in Fig. 1 and a handheld oscilloscope in Fig. 2.

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Typical handheld oscilloscope
Fig. 2: Typical handheld oscilloscope

A PC based oscilloscope becomes a handy tool because you can observe the waveforms, like on any other oscilloscope, on your computer screen. Of course, it requires a specialised signal-acquisition board that normally uses a microcontroller or processor. The board is interfaced with a computer using an external USB or an internal add-on PCI or ISA card. The user interface and signal-processing software runs on the PC rather than on an embedded system, as in the case of a conventional scope.

A PC based oscilloscope is available at a much lower cost as compared to a conventional oscilloscope and is ideal for students. A typical PC based oscilloscope is shown in Fig. 3. Some commonly-available PC based oscilloscopes are listed in Table I.

Typical PC based oscilloscope
Fig. 3: Typical PC based oscilloscope
Typical analogue oscilloscope (benchtop)
Fig. 4: Typical analogue oscilloscope (benchtop)

Many high-bandwidth oscilloscopes have wide applications but cost much higher. However, high bandwidth is not always required. Some medium-range bandwidth (15MHz-100MHz) oscilloscopes are available for less than US$ 300 as budget-friendly oscilloscopes from various sources.

There are some oscilloscopes having rich features but are box 372available for just over US$ 300. For example, a budget-friendly analogue oscilloscope such as the one shown in Fig. 4 is a modern 30MHz digital readout oscilloscope with built-in component tester, computer interface (option), colour LCD readout and other built-in options (at extra cost) like function generator, curve tracer, logicscope, power supply, frequency counter or digital voltmeter.

Amidst a plethora of brands and specifications available in the market, and with a limited budget, getting the right oscilloscope is a daunting task. Let us explore some important aspects in low-cost, budget-friendly oscilloscopes.


  1. I very recently purchased a DS203, (also referred to as a DSO203 or DSO Quad), Analog/Digital scope for hobby-experimental use. I’m new to scopes, so I expected some degree of a learning curve.
    First, it is a very nice looking device and comes with some connectors and a carry bag.
    Second, this scope comes with absolutely no printed documentation. Instead, it comes with a mini-CD which contains several folders which contain various files, but, no clear instructions as to how to operate the device or simple analog examples, such as testing an analog signal.
    You are given a very brief, difficult to understand instruction about loading the operating system from the disc and a link for more recent updates.
    Apparently, it is quite easy to “brick”, (crash, make unusable), the device during the software update process, because much of the discussion on the forum at the provided link concerns that topic.
    It appears that this device is entirely user supported with no real instructions, tutorials or documentation from the manufacturer.
    I’ve spent several hours trying to figure out this device and I’m still at square one !
    I can’t seem to get it to display a simple audio signal I provide it. It leaves me wondering if it’s Me, if its really that hard, or if its just broken…
    I googled DS203 to see what I could find, in the way of instruction or help, but, there isn’t much of anything.
    There is one app, written by a user, that looks like it is supposed to take an audio input and display it, but, it doesn’t seem to work, at all.
    There is a calibration function, but, I can’t figure out how it works. There are no hints.
    For a beginner, this scope is not for you.
    If you have one of these scopes and have figured out how to use it, I’d like to hear from you, as I’m at the point where I’m ready to send this thing back and buy a “Real” analog scope.


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