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An oscilloscope (often abbreviated o'scope or scope) displays signal voltages as a 2-D graph, usually as voltage (vertical axis) as a function of time (horizontal axis).

The o'scope is one of the most important pieces of test equipment because it lets you look at what is happening in different parts of a circuit. Without it you are almost blind ( multimeters and logic analyzers can also help you "see" ).

The probe of a o'scope is held against, or is clipped to, the metal wire carrying the signal of interest.

dual-trace o'scope has 2 probes, so 2 different signals can be seen -- so not only the shape of the signal can be seen, but also the exact time from events on one signal to events on the other signal.




Sometimes one wants to look at a 8-bit data bus -- typically one uses a "logic analyzer" to look at lots of time-aligned digital signals. For a given number of signals to look at, oscilloscopes (which show the true analog waveform) are much more expensive than logic analyzers (which only show if a digital waveform is hi or low, above or below the logic threshold). Many people buy both a (dual-trace) o'scope and a 16-trace logic analyzer, which together have a total cost less than one true 8-trace o'scope.

... more techniques ...

Hardware issues

Here is a useful discussion comparing low-cost USB oscilloscopes with older analog scopes available for comparable prices; it is a 9-minute video, with a useful forum-type discussion (some mildly rude language is used to describe USB scopes). The conclusion is that the low-cost USB DSOs have attenuators and triggering circuits which do not perform well at higher frequencies, and are not recommended. Quality DSOs do not suffer from these problems, but all except the very best and most expensive have storage limitations which cause problems in the particular case of observing a high frequency signal at a time/div setting much longer than its period, e.g., two complete TV fields at a setting of 40msec/div.

Open Source Oscilloscopes

Of course, you have to already have a working o'scope in order to build and test another o'scope, making this the same sort of chicken-and-egg problem as the RepRap project, the GCC project, and other projects David Cary finds interesting.

This problem in respect to oscilloscopes can be solved by incremental development. First start of working your way towards acquiring analog data using an ADC connected to some sort of processor or controller. Then build a cheap device that provides a somewhat defined test signal (simple timer works just fine). Now you can go to the next step of learning about and building an analog front-end that will be connected to the ADC. Then you'd start thinking about how data flows through the system, beyond the ADC and the processor (definitely to to memory and later on the display, maybe to non volatile storage like USB mass storage). That's basically it. Okay, you need to build and hookup a display and a keyboard but what you have is (at least in theory) the central parts of an oscilloscope.

PC Oscilloscopes

Open Hardware for PC Oscilloscopes


All 100MHz, 40MS/sec, 2 analog and several logic channels (3.3/5V CMOS/TTL). Buffer sizes range from 12kB to 1MB.

  • AU$495 BS100U: 2 analog inputs + 8 digital inputs, optically isolated, from BitScope Designs (MetaChip Pty. Ltd.) [1]review by Endolith
  • $695 BS325U: 2 analog inputs + 8 digital inputs, optically isolated, from BitScope Designs (MetaChip Pty. Ltd.) [2]
  • $1495 BS445N: 4 analog inputs + 8 digital inputs, ethernet connection, from BitScope Designs (MetaChip Pty. Ltd.) [3]
  • $295 BS10U: 1 BNC analog input + POD (2 analog or 8 digital inputs), usb powered, from BitScope Designs (MetaChip Pty. Ltd.) [4]


Some people on the PIClist have been discussing designing an open-source oscilloscope.


XMEGA Xmegalab Development Kit and Oscilloscope

  • $249 The Xmegalab is a development board for AVR XMEGA microcontrollers, a dual channel oscilloscope, an arbitrary waveform generator and a scientific calculator. Xmegalab. Alpha version of the firmware (mostly in C) has been released under the GPL. Serial port; SD Card with FAT File System support, etc.

Xprotolab - Miniature Oscilloscope and Waveform Generator

Miniscope v2b & v2c

Miniscope v2b is a simple AT91SAM7S64 based signal acquisition device with low sampling speed (single channel, 500 kSps internal ADC) but large sample buffer sizes (up to 512 kSamples) and continuous signal recording capability.

Miniscope v2c (2 channels, sampling 2x461 kSps) is using smaller (LQFP48) and cheaper STM32F103C8T6 microcontroller and DIY-friendly single sided PCB.

Closed, COTS Hardware for PC Oscilloscopes

  • For low frequencies, pretty much any external sound card with a line input will work. External card line inputs generally have a range around 0-1 V whereas onboard microphone inputs only have up to about 50 mV, which just isn't enough sensitivity. The Virginia Tech Lab-in-a-Box recommends the Behringer UCA202. To use a sound card oscilloscope on a regular basis, a circuit with variable attenuation is recommended (i.e. 1x and 10x). Compensation for the hardware and software gain can be done as part of the attenuator circuit or in software.

For mixed-signal development, where debugging requires you to see both analog and digital signals at the same time, oscilloscopes intgrated with logic analyzers are needed. More advanced features here include protocol decoding, which allows you to easily see the values sent over digital interfaces.

Examples here include:

The Parallax PropScope PropScope ($200) offers 25Msps sample rate and 4 bits of logic analyzer and 4Kbytes of buffer.

The QuantAsylum QA100 ($349) offers dual 100Msps sample rate and up to 32 logic channels with 2Mbytes of buffer.

The PicoScope 100 ($575) offers a single channel at 40 Msps, 8 logic analyzer channels and 16Kbytes of buffer depth.

PC Oscilloscope Software

Free software

  • SourceForge welecw2000a Open Source firmware for the 1 GS/s Welec W2000 Series DSO hardware (which costs €800-1500 in spring 2012) under GPL.
  • Sourceforge: xoscope is a digital oscilloscope for Linux that uses input from a sound card or EsounD and/or a ProbeScope/osziFOX and will soon support Bitscope hardware. The sound card device is hard-coded but instructions for modifying it are on the VTLUUG wiki.
  • Baudline GPL version is a signal analyzer designed for scientific visualization, using input from recorded data files or from a sound card. For Linux / Solaris. The source code is expensive and it is intended for corporate buyers.
  • Miniscope v3 and Miniscope v4 are digital oscilloscope software for Windows. They connect to device using external dll. Libraries are available to connect with sound card, Microchip MCHPUSB Generic HID Demo and custom AT91SAM7S64 hardware. V4 supports an unlimited number of channels, but is more complex than single-channel V3.
  • Digital Soda is a simple GTK+ frontend for the DSO-2250 USB oscilloscope for Unix/Linux.
  • Osqoop is an open source software oscilloscope. Osqoop project features an arbitrary number of channels and long acquisition durations. Signal processing and external peripherals control is possible through a plugin architecture.
  • oscilloscope pic microcontroller demo oscilloscope PC based oscilloscope embedded system parallel port LPT.
  • [8] DIY USB connected Oscilloscope based on dsPIC30F4011 with simple hardware. Windows GUI software and PIC Hex file provided along with construction details.

Non-free software

  • "Multi-Instrument" converts a PC into multiple test & measurement instruments such as oscilloscope, spectrum analyzer, signal generator, spectrogram, distortion analyzer, network analyzer, data logger, LCR meter, vibrometer, etc. Besides sound cards, it can use many models of ADC/DAC cards. Versions at US$50, 100, 200; free trial with full functionality for 21 days.
  • Baudline gratis download (dual-licensed, see Free Software entry).
  • Zelscope Converts your PC into a dual-trace storage oscilloscope and spectrum analyzer. It uses your computer's sound card as analog-to-digital converter. Windows trialware.
  • BitScope DSO is a digital oscilloscope logic analyzer for Linux and Windows. Software itself is free, but works with BitScope hardware, at AU$300-1500.
  • Zeitnitz Souncard Scope and function generator. For Windows but runs under Wine. Free of charge (but explicitly described as not freeware) for private and educational use, otherwise available for purchase.
  • Oscilloscope analysis software from Tektronix for their oscilloscopes. E.g. technology-specific measurement and compliance software, application solutions for jitter and timing analysis, and channel emulation and equalization tools.

Non-PC Oscilloscope Projects

  • "TinyScope": "A simple all-valve 1-inch oscilloscope by Ian Wilson K3IMW and Hans Summers G0UPL". Includes detailed circuit diagrams and construction notes and tips for reducing interference.
  • "Mini-Scope": "An even simpler all-valve 1-inch oscilloscope by Len Hall G3IGI (SK)". Include

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