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I'm thinking about getting an oscilloscope as my next tool purchase but I don't really know what I should be looking for or what the options are. Ideally I'd prefer something that was stand alone, but I expect a device that hooks up to a PC for the display would be cheaper and offer more functionality. Right now my projects are reasonably simple but I'd prefer to buy a tool that I wont outgrow too quickly.

Thanks for all the answers so far, that's a lot of information to look at!


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Here are some things to consider when looking at digital storage oscilloscopes. –  tyblu Jan 4 '11 at 14:01
Is $200 fine by your budget? Consider a USB scope from Pico Tech (UK). Great PC-based scopes that have a really intuitive software and has all the functions of a much more expensive DSO. Plus you can store/view/share waveforms as files on the PC. Most engineers recommended bench-top scopes, but I think they are old fashioned and reinvent features that can be done on the PC. Check my answer for more info : electronics.stackexchange.com/a/187648/8853 –  Geotarget yesterday

12 Answers 12

You don't mention exactly what work you do, but a good digital storage oscilloscope (DSO) will last you a while (and I guarantee it won't go out of date for a while). Sure, you can grab a secondhand Tektronix analog oscilloscope, but my storage scope has saved my frustration bacon more than once.

I have a Rigol DS1052E (a good review from a proper electronics engineer is here) which is a 50 MHz 1 GSa/s scope direct from the factory; they are about AU$675 on eBay. In my opinion, they are the best high-end hobbyist scopes on the market; considering what you get for the price I wouldn't trade mine for anything.

Since people appear to be interested, here are some of the features: 2 channel with external trigger, math functions (addition, fft, etc), tons of measurement functions(freq, vrms, vpeak, etc) colour LCD, USB host to dump waveforms/screen captures on a USB drive, USB slave for computer control (windows only but works in vmware on my mac), multiframe recording, single trigger mode (this is why I bought it; freeze scope on trigger for analysis or storage) and a lot more that I can't remember off the top of my head! –  penjuin Jan 14 '10 at 3:06
I have a Rigol DS1052E and bought it because of the review at the eevblog. I haven't used it that much until now but what I've seen, it's seem to be really good value for the money. –  tinkerlog Jan 15 '10 at 8:03
I have one of these as well, as so far it's proved quite useful for my needs. It does what it says on the box, and seems to do it well. –  Lawrence Johnston May 21 '10 at 22:30
I second the DS1052E, it really is a nice scope, just be sure to mod it to 100 MHz bandwidth. However, if you can get a good Analog scope for cheap, then it's a good way to start and for some situations it can be really good supplement to the DSO. At my Hackerspace we have a stack of Tektronix scopes (2247A, 2246, TAS 250) and they are all quite usable and I can highly recommend either of them. –  dren.dk Jan 4 '11 at 8:14
What I personally love about DS1052E is that it has a proper amount of memory. Cheapest Agilent at three times the price has only 20K samples, but this one has 1M, allowing you to properly zoom in when necessary. Can be a real lifesaver for certain glitches! –  romkyns Apr 13 '11 at 20:03

Since no-one has mentioned it yet, I'll post the link to the afrotechmods guide on purchasing an oscilloscope thinga-ma-jiggy.


first video on that page is the discussion about what kind you should buy etc.


I never had any luck finding a good used 'scope on eBay or Craigslist; there are tons out there, but they're typically missing probes or documentation. I ended up buying an MSO-19 from Link Instruments for about $250. It's a computer-based USB single-channel digital storage oscilloscope and 7-channel logic analyzer. It works well on Windows XP running in VMWare Fusion on my MacBook Pro running Snow Leopard. I have not found any USB-based 'scope with OS X-native software. I find the fact that it's a single-channel scope to be a limitation: it'd be really nice to compare a raw signal to one that's been processed in some way (through an RC filter or op-amp), but it's proven to be extremely useful.

Parallax has two oscilloscopes, the $250 PropScope, and $140 USB Oscilloscope. I don't have any experience with either of these. They do appear to both be 2-channel scopes, but neither seem to have any kind of logic analyzer.

I'd avoid the $140 USB Oscilloscope...it only samples at a max rate of 1MHz. And at $250, the PropScope still only does 25MHz. Decent, but the MSO-19 does much faster it looks like. –  davr Jan 13 '10 at 17:04

Just get a used one on eBay. It's much cheaper than a PC scope. My family got me an old "Lizen" 20 MHz scope, which works well enough for what I do. I suspect it was under $50.

There's also this thing for $89, if it meets your requirements: http://www.seeedstudio.com/depot/micro-digital-storage-oscilloscopedso-nano-p-512.html

I have a BitScope, because I saw one for cheap on eBay, but I rarely use it.

Late +1 for old analog. –  tyblu Jan 4 '11 at 14:03
+1 I own one of the DSO Nano (V1) and it is really a useful scope. The software has been upgraded to include many new features. There is a new V2 Nano available which has even more features and is the same price sparkfun.com/products/10244. The seedstudio forum has a large following, where you can download firmware upgrades seeedstudio.com/forum. –  SteveR Sep 7 '11 at 23:15
I have a V2 Nano now and it's useful, but limited. The Quad looks better. –  endolith Sep 8 '11 at 1:48

Do you need the analog oscilloscope features, or are you planning to use it more for digital logic analysis? There are some decent PC-based logic analyzers that you can get for very cheap considering their capabilities, if you don't mind forgoing the ability to do analog signal analysis.

As far as actual analog-capable PC-based oscilloscopes, this is the only one I know of that has decent capabilities at a reasonable price: Link Instruments MSO-19. It actually combines 1 channel oscilloscope with an 8-bit digital logic analyzer, so you're getting a good set of features. Supposedly it can sample the oscilloscope at 2GHz, and the digital logic analyzer channels at 200MHz. It's mentioned by another poster above, for $250.

If you just want a digital logic analyzer, the best low priced one I've found is the Zeroplus Logic Cube LAP-C 16032 with a 32kbit/channel buffer, 16 digital channels, and can sample up to 100MHz, it's only $120.


Owon standalone oscilloscopes are pretty cheap (25MHz less than $200 if ordered from the manufacturer) and quite good for their price. http://www.owon.com.cn/eng/pdsSeries.asp

How do you order from the manufacturer? I can't see any purchase methods on their site. –  Mr. Hedgehog Oct 22 '10 at 11:18
I've got an owon and very pleased with it - purchased ebay though –  SimonBarker Sep 7 '11 at 14:04

There's an article in the January edition of Elektor Magazine about building your own multi channel Logic Analyzer based on ATM18 board that they sell(?). This in turn is based on an earlier article about building your own Storage Oscilloscope using the same board. Depending on your requirements, either of these might be suitable as a stop gap until you settle on a final one.

You appear to have about a week to get to WHSmith's before the next issue comes out, alternatively you can pay about £1.10 to download the article about the Logic Analyser here or the Storage Oscilloscope here (you need to buy Elektor credits from the left hand menu). The board it's based on appears to be here.


I've got a dual trace PC based one made by Parallax. It has very limited capabilities because it's limited to the speed of the USB bus while taking samples. This makes it easy to use when you have a laptop or desktop PC handy, but also makes it useless when working on any higher speed signals. In all I only spent about a hundred $ on mine and it has served my prototype and hobby needs quite well. It just isn't any good for radio or microwave work.

Have you tried USB scopes from PicoScope? No one seems to have heard of them but I own multiple devices and am really satisfied with their performance. See my answer : electronics.stackexchange.com/a/187648/8853 –  Geotarget yesterday

Hey! I'm glad to have discovered a place like this. I am a beginning enthusiast, and was searching for the exact same thing--a decent little scope with a price I can handle. I too searched the eBay and Craigslist sites for hours. The scopes there all seem risky, since only one of hundreds of sellers offered a guarantee, and due to the (already mentioned) fact that many are offered incomplete. I found something GREAT tonight, though. There's a pro hobbyist selling "project" scopes for under $100 new! The site even offers FREE probes for those who purchase the fully assembled or kit versions. Info concerning the "DPScope" can be found here: http://www.pdamusician.com/dpscope/index.html The obvious compromise of this design is also its meager max bandwidth of 1.3Mhz. I'm new at this, too, so some of you experienced ones can check the spec's on the same site. One of my many books listed a 20-25Mhz maximum as the perfect starting point for a hobbyist, with two channels (dual-trace) as a must-have, and "storage" as a great help, but not a necessity. The said book is about two decades old, though! Happy hunting :--)

20MHz is a good place to start as it is a common bandwidth on midrange (low end, nowadays) analog scopes (50MHz-60MHz is a common bandwidth on low end DSOs). As they were once common, they are now cheap. 20MHz allows you to capture rise times down to ~17ns. I my opinion, every enthusiast needs an analog 'scope as a reality check, as they display exactly what goes up the probes. DSOs are more versatile, in that you can capture and analyze data for FFT, computer logging (for custom display programs, screen capture, further analysis) and capture and/or trigger on single-shot events. –  tyblu Jan 4 '11 at 1:46
Beginner or not, seriously consider a PC based scope! For $200 you can get a 100 MS/sec rugged device from PicoScope that has all kinds of advanced features. Stop paying money for bench-top devices that are (should have been) outdated with PCs around. See my answer for more info. electronics.stackexchange.com/a/187648/8853 –  Geotarget yesterday

You need to clarify the difference between bandwidth and sample rate. For example, the PropScope is 25 million samples per second. It will barely be able to accurately digitize a 5 MHz square wave.

The Rigol is an awesome deal if you can get the hack going (see the mega thread on www.eevblog.com). I have a DS1102E that didn't need the hack, and it's a good scope.

The Link MSO19 you will outgrow very quickly. It has a single analog channel and cannot measure signals much below 50 mV

The best scope for me right now is the QA100 because it has logic analyzer built in. It has 100Msps sample rate, 25 MHz bandwidth, and 12 or 16 logic channels (can't remember). And $350. The Rigol scopes don't have any logic channels in the base unit. You can add them, but the scope price isn't very good anymore. In fact, it's outright expense.


The QA100 also has protocol decoding. I can't imagine any engineer today not needing even a simple logic analyzer with protocol decoding at some point.

About 4/5 of the way down the QA link you gave is a helpful chart comparing most of the 'scopes mentioned in this thread. –  scobi Oct 29 '11 at 16:47
Ah, a direct link is here: quantasylum.com/content/Products/QA100/CompetitiveOverview.aspx –  scobi Oct 29 '11 at 17:01

Consider a PC-based USB oscilloscopes from Pico Tech (UK). They are great scopes that have a really intuitive software and has all the functions of a much more expensive DSO. Very portable, most models fit in your hand! For example, their entry-level scope is a 100 Megasample/sec device that has all the electronics in the probe! They call it a "pen scope", and is priced at $200, but don't lets its simple looks deceive you! Since the PC software is the same for all devices, you get advanced triggers, waveform decoding for serial protocols, FFT, masks and whatnot, even with the entry level scope. You can even add custom/math channels to do advanced processing. All captured waveforms can be saved as files for later analysis/viewing.

Its clear that they have not limited/cut-down the features of their entry-level range, unlike most of the other manufacturers that make you pay more for "advanced" features which are really quite useful when you need them.

Most engineers recommended bench-top scopes, but I think they are old fashioned and reinvent features that can (lately) be done on the PC. This is their entry level series, of which I am already a super-satisfied customer. (I have the pen scope and another).


No complaints from my Rigol DS1102E. Feels like an Agilent I used to use in college, in a much smaller footprint. More info here if interested: Rigol DS1102E on Amazon for the 100MHz model, or you can get the 50MHz and mod it as mentioned above to save a little.


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