This is probably a newbie question, but I am looking to buy some tools and start playing around with more embedded electronics and robotic stuff. The digital oscilloscopes such as the DSO nano http://littlebirdelectronics.com/products/dso-nano-v2-pocketsized-digital-oscilloscope seem to be highly recommended and was thinking of getting one. If I get one of these, would I still need a multimeter? What can a multimeter do that an oscilloscope such as this can't do? ( measuring capacitance for example?)

Is it even worth getting the oscilloscope in these days of prevalent laptops or is there an easier, cheaper, more comprehensive solution, some sort of cheap board or device that plugs directly into the laptop? Or does it not matter and if I am serious, that I should get both a multimeter and a good digital oscilloscope?

Any recommendations/advice would be greatly appreciated

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    \$\begingroup\$ what are you interested in working on? Digital? Analog? do you need to work with mains voltages?, etc. Try to provide much more detail on your expected usage and you'll get a much more accurate answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Oct 22 '11 at 1:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can your digital oscilloscope measure resistance? :) \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Oct 22 '11 at 3:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mark, Not sure yet. As I said, I am starting out on Embedded system, Electronics etc. Got an Arduino board, a few servos etc. Filling out my toolbox and component box at the moment and was wondering what would be good purchases. \$\endgroup\$ – Chaitanya Oct 22 '11 at 8:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have a DSO nano. Honestly, it's kind of crap. Unless you need a really portable oscilloscope, a used HP or Tektronix scope of ebay is probably a FAR better option. \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Oct 22 '11 at 11:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Multimeters are very, very cheap; they're easier to set up to take a quick measurement, and they can measure things that can't easily be measured with a scope. They're also harder to damage and cheaper to replace. Why not pick up a cheap one? \$\endgroup\$ – pjc50 Jul 5 '12 at 9:07

I agree with the others, you will need both.

A digital scope is optimal, but depending on funds available bear in mind that you will get a wider bandwidth for the same money with an analogue scope.

For example the DSO nano v2 has a 1Msps sample rate which means it will only be able to display any signals reasonably up to around 200kHz. It goes up to 80V p-p.
Beware of adverts for digital scopes mentioning e.g. 20MHz analog bandwidth, check the real time sample rate and divide it by 5 to get a reasonable idea of the highest frequency you will be able to display usefully. If the scope has ETS (equivalent time sampling) you will be able to see higher than the (real time) sample rate for repetitive signals and make use of the analogue bandwidth.
To give an example of a misleading advert (conveniently using the DSO nano adverts) note on this page it says 1MHz analogue bandwidth, but in this page it says 200kHz (1 Msps). You have to wonder whether that's a genuine mistake :-)

In comparison, for the same price as a DSO nano v2, you can probably pick up a 100MHz bandwidth analogue scope (500 times the bandwidth of the DSO nano) which can be used at up to maybe 400V p-p. I just looked on eBay and picked one at random. People are almost giving away 20Mhz analogue scopes (still 100 times the DSO nano v2 bandwidth)
You will miss out on a few useful features that digital scopes have (storage, pre-trigger capture, etc) but if you are working with microcontrollers you will struggle with 200kHz (e.g. even a simple PIC16F may be running at 16MHz with SPI/UART/I2C faster than 200kHz)

Either way, a bad scope is better than no scope. Shop around a bit, if you can find a decent DSO within your price range that has the bandwidth to cope with what you expect to be working with then grab that. I would try for something with at least 10MHz bandwidth (so around 50Msps for digital)
Check out the Picoscope range for PC oscilloscopes, they are pretty good from what I hear.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I second the analogue scope recommendation. There in the US you should easily be able to get one around or under the $100 mark. If you want to capture individual packets then you'll need a good DSO. Watch this video for more tips on what a good electronics lab needs: youtube.com/… \$\endgroup\$ – snoopen Oct 22 '11 at 4:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ An analogue scope + Logic Analyser is FAR more useful then a DSO alone. It's never a good idea to try to get one tool that does everything. \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Oct 22 '11 at 11:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ It looks like your requirement for MHz makes USB digital oscilloscope more feasible like "Hantek PC Based USB Digital Storage Oscilloscope 6022BE, 20Mhz Bandwidth,48MSa/s" (random scope from ebay) -- but only old Windowses supported, wish some *ix version. This kind of scope seems to have things like pre-trigger capture and about the same price as the pocket size. \$\endgroup\$ – hhh Apr 16 '13 at 18:22

Buy both.
They are complementary in functionality and you will never regret having both.

A multimeter is your basic tool. Utterly indispensable.
Having several cheapish multimeters for everyday work and knowing their limitations is a good idea. Know about how accurate they are for each sort of measurement. Have an approximate idea of the input resistance. Know the resistance of the current ranges (most people don't, it varies quite widely and it can matter). [[I probably own more than 20 multimeters :-). Most are cheap ones which allow multiple simultaneous metering of experimental setups.]]

A high accuracy or extended digit count multimeter is a luxury. You want it if you can afford it but you can do without it.

An oscilloscope is your heavy artillery. It can do things that a meter can never do. It gives your brain the ability to visualize things happening in the time dimension. It is an utterly indispensable tool for anyone even vaguely serious about electronics. Even quite a bad scope is better than no scope - but a half good scope is far far better.

Scope add ons for PCs are great. They provide value for money performance not readily achieved by other means. BUT it is very very hard to beat the physical space division twist a knob and push a button interface of a more traditional oscilloscope interface. Even modern scopes which are all electronic use a mechanical interface with substantial resemblance to a traditional one.


Multimeters are far more accurate than oscilloscopes. This is what you gain in exchange for living with near-DC only. Oscilloscope channels usually have only 8 to 12 bits of resolution, which is like having a 2.5 to 3.5 digit meter. Also, scopes generally can't handle high voltages; you have to get special (read: expensive) probes.

Also, multimeters can measure things like resistance, current, capacitance, temperature, and diode voltage drops easier than a scope. Some multimeters also have neat features like min/max and true RMS AC.

Truth is, you will probably need both.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Don't forget continuity. \$\endgroup\$ – starblue Oct 22 '11 at 7:22

Most oscilloscopes require that all inputs be referenced to a common ground, and many expect that that to be earth ground. Multimeters, by contrast, are almost invariably designed so they can measure potential differences between arbitrary points. If you have two multimeters, you can perform simultaneously display two voltage readouts even if the things being read have no common reference point. For example, if you have a 1ohm resistor in series with a board's input, a meter across that resistor will have no problem reporting the current flowing into the board even though neither terminal of the meter is at ground (note that one advantage of using a resistor and volt meter rather than a current meter is that if one leaves the resistor in the board, it will work the same whether the meter is present or absent). Using a scope to measure current in that way would be much harder.


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