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I'm about to start a course about electronic interfaces. My intention is to learn to debug hardware by doing measurements etc. with oscilloscopes and multimeters.

According to the course, the recommended device to buy (digital oscilloscope / multimeter) is the following:

National Instruments myDAQ

The main problem with the above is that it needs LabView to work (which is not for free). I want to buy a tool that I can use without paying exorbitant software licenses.

Looking on the internet, I have found this one:

PicoScope 2000 series.

I see that it is an oscilloscope, but I'm not sure if it will work as a digital multimeter.

Is the PicoScope a valid option to replace the NI myDAQ? If not, do you know anyone I can buy that doesn't need non-free software to run?

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    \$\begingroup\$ You probably don't need a DAQ. They are different from oscilloscopes. DAQs are made for recording and replaying data for long periods of time (think of a minutes or hour long single-shot trigger mode for an oscilloscope). I recommend a hardware scope instead of a software scope. You can get multimeters for $20 from the hardware store. Maybe a logic analyzer if focusing on serial or parallel comms \$\endgroup\$ – DKNguyen Jan 27 at 14:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ My university-supplied myDAQ package included software for oscilloscope, spectrum analyzer, wave recorder/playback, function gen, digital in/out. Very Nice package worth the price (5 yrs ago). Software included was a somewhat hobbled-version of NI's ELVIS. I didn't search for any 3rd-party software....without software myDAQ is really only useful as a source of +15V, -15V, 5V DC. \$\endgroup\$ – glen_geek Jan 27 at 15:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ Check this forum topic eevblog.com/forum/testgear/… \$\endgroup\$ – peufeu Jan 27 at 15:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ "According to the course, the recommended device to buy (digital oscilloscope / multimeter) is the following: National Instruments myDAQ" - I don't think that qualifies as an oscilloscope. It looks more like a DAQ. From glancing over the datasheet, it appears it can measure analog signals at 200ksps max, which is glacially slow for an oscilloscope. \$\endgroup\$ – marcelm Jan 27 at 17:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @marcelm If you thought the recommend textbooks for a course were expensive, just look at the DAQ they recommend! \$\endgroup\$ – DKNguyen Jan 27 at 23:31
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National Instruments makes great stuff, I used NI products for 20+ years at work, but is a poor choice for a hobbyist.

IMO, a serious hobbyist should have a stand-alone scope and DMM, not something that attaches to a computer. I have always used Tektronix at work, so I wanted the same for home. I got the TBS1052B for $100 off from Amazon during their holiday sale last year.

If you aren't tied to one brand, there are many other choices that will give you more features for the same price.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ While Tektronix are very good scopes, they require the little dongle plug-in to get any serial decoding functionality. I've always disliked that feature of Tektronix scopes. \$\endgroup\$ – CalMachine Jan 27 at 15:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ "If you aren't tied to one brand, there are many other choices that will give you more features for the same price." - And if budget is a concern, old analog scopes can often be found cheaply :) \$\endgroup\$ – marcelm Jan 27 at 18:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ @marcelm - Good point. Before the TBS1052B, I was using an old low-end Tek analog scope I bought on ebay for $75. \$\endgroup\$ – Mattman944 Jan 27 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mattman944 You won't want an analog scope if you expect to apply it to observing digital communication waveforms, however. No one-shot memory mode. \$\endgroup\$ – DKNguyen Jan 27 at 23:35
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NI equipment is usually very expensive for what it is.

I'd go with the Picoscope. They have many serial decoding schemes which will be useful for learning "electronic interfaces". I'm not quite sure what the NI DAQ offers. While you can measure voltages on a picoscope, you've got to be careful with it being referenced to ground (Outer shell / common point is tied to ground). So be careful with what you put the common alligator clip on, as you could be shorting something to ground that shouldn't be. The picoscope also comes with an arbitrary function generator, which can be handy.

As for multimeter, I'd pick up a cheap fluke on Ebay. An 87V or 187/189. You can usually get on for ~$100 or so. This multimeter will allow you to measure currents, resistance, capacitance, and higher voltages than the oscilloscope can (unless you have a high voltage probe, which they don't normally come with).

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Hantek have very affordable and high quality scopes. There is no need to have a multi-meter function on the scope. In fact, it is better to buy a separate multi-meter which is more handy than having to wait till the scope powers on let alone it is more portable. Uni-T have very high quality and affordable ones.

Having a bench power supply and function generator also helps with your course.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Beware that the base model Hantek USB things are not really scopes, having absurdly limited analog range and no actual trigger capability except when running within the streaming USB bandwidth. Suitable for some extremely unique tasks, but not for general use as an oscilloscope. They may also have some better models, but the brand spans some things that are a definite "avoid" \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Jan 28 at 4:08
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I would look into the Digilent Analog Discovery 2 for anything upwards of a few megahertz it is excellent.

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I'd like to frame-challenge this. I don't think you should use a digital 'scope at all, just starting out. Find a good analog one instead. (as deep as your arm, heavy, green CRT display, etc.) Same for the other gear.

The reason is to connect you closer to what's actually going on, instead of abstracting things away in an attempt to be helpful. (the auto-set button on a digital 'scope, for example)

Once you know what's going on, how to set everything manually to see what you want to see, and found a few oddities in the process that can't possibly be caused by smarts gone awry because there aren't any, then you can look for smart tools.

They are nice, and very helpful IN CERTAIN SITUATIONS! But they can also outsmart themselves and end up lying to you. If you can't tell the difference, then you're going to have to unlearn some things later.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If the (implicitly used) analog scope is cheap and works, sure. Otherwise it's not a good investment. Very capable digital scopes cost less than the inflation-adjusted prices of what base model hobbyist analog scopes sold for. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Stratton Jan 28 at 4:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisStratton It may not be the best tool in the bag for someone with experience, and so they'll also have a digital 'scope by that point. (and maybe sell the analog one to someone else just getting started) But I think the learning experience is priceless, and thus worth the cost and effort. \$\endgroup\$ – AaronD Jan 28 at 4:15

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