PC based scopes: are they worth it?

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by NetDoc, Sep 19, 2014.

  1. NetDoc

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jan 6, 2014
    I am a basic noob hobbyist when it comes to electronics, but I learn when I can. As a former auto mechanic and current Scuba Instructor, I simply love tools and other gadgets that help you to suss out what's happening. To that end, I bought a $70 silly scope last year and could never figure out how to make it work. It had all sorts of bad reviews I hadn't seen when I first bought it on impulse.

    I still would like a scope, and I really would like it to be PC based. No, I won't budget a thousand dollars for it as I have other things I would like first, like a rebreather. However, I saw this and thought it was reasonable.


    I want to look at live info and not at a single stored pop. I still dabble into automotive and used an engine scope back in the dark ages of points and condensors up until DIS took over. They still are useful when watching sensors and solenoids so this could be multi-functional for me. What are your thoughts and concerns. Is there a better unit out there that won't break the budget?

    Also, is there any online training that would bring me up to speed in it's uses? If so, which is the best/worst?
  2. bertus


    Apr 5, 2008

    What is the brand and type of the "silly" $70 scope?
    Did you get a manual with it?

  3. faley


    Aug 30, 2014
    In the FWIW department, I'm pretty much one notch past "old school" when it comes to scopes. The old CRT's had little tolerance for mistakes, which leaves me out. I tend to prefer Fluke LCD's the old 105 being and example. Latency and sampling are the two turn-offs for me in PC based scopes. For best results you need a fat RAM, a clean, pristine, minimalist OS (with all 7583 updates) and no Internet connectivity. All unnecessary background services should be disabled as well. Even then, real-time readings will not be achieved. Most of these scope apps sample at a given rate, not real-time. Also, there is always some inherent delay in the time it takes to display a sample. By then, your probes are seeing something else. The fact that they require a machine such as a notebook or laptop also tends to make them a bit unwieldy and fragile. Yet, for tinkering they're probably fine.

    I should add that they're probably a great, inexpensive way to learn the basics. That, in and of itself makes them worthwhile.
    Last edited: Sep 19, 2014
  4. ISB123

    Well-Known Member

    May 21, 2014
    You could use Arduino to make oscilloscope but PC scopes aren't really practical and are generally used by hobbyists for basic stuff.
    If I was you I would order Arduino and spare ATmega328 and flash scope bootloader in spare MCU and use it as a scope.
  5. wayneh


    Sep 9, 2010
    An old PC with some cheap or free software can be used as an oscilloscope for frequencies in the audio range, say 10-5000Hz (depending on the specs of the sound card). That's not terribly versatile but is essentially free and really great compared to nothing. For hobby 555 circuits and such, it's very handy.
  6. MaxHeadRoom


    Jul 18, 2013
    To save lugging by big Tectronix around I use my lap-top and a product by Syscomp.
    Chart 'scope/chart recorder etc.
  7. #12


    Nov 30, 2010
    That scope adapter you listed in the first post puts my 1977 analog scope to shame. 60 MHz in real time is pretty good for anything less than a professional user. I thinking, "Yeah, if my scope dropped dead, I would consider your suggestion".

  8. Lestraveled

    Well-Known Member

    May 19, 2014
    I recently purchased a Tektronix 2430 digital O-scope in pristine condition on EBay for $157 plus $25 shipping. I recently saw a Tektronix 2440 go for $83 (working, same company). Great older scopes are out there. Search daily, and be patient.
    absf and #12 like this.
  9. NetDoc

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jan 6, 2014
    Lots of good info here: THANKS!!! I'll try to find the scope to get the name off of it. It's somewhere in storage now. I wonder if anyone has used this particular solution.
  10. nigelwright7557

    Distinguished Member

    May 10, 2008
    I would be very wary of connecting car ignitions systems to my PC.
    You could damage your pc.

    I prefer a discrete oscilloscope. You can also float electrically if required.
    slavne likes this.
  11. MaxHeadRoom


    Jul 18, 2013
    Now a lot can be checked and observed through the Canbus socket fitted to practically all modern auto's, with the purchase of a cheap interface and free S.W. a laptop can be used safely.
  12. sirch2

    Well-Known Member

    Jan 21, 2013
    I've had a Hantek DSO 2090 for a number of years and it works fine. Given sufficient money and motivation I would definitely go for a stand alone scope not least because it's easier to fiddle with proper knobs than click on things on screen. Also I am sometimes using the laptop to look at MCU output as well as use it as a scope which can get a bit fiddly.
  13. Sensacell

    Senior Member

    Jun 19, 2012
    PC scopes do work... but the amount of additional hoop-jumping nonsense that you need to put up with makes them painful to use.

    A good brand (Tek, HP, Agilent etc.) scope bought used is the way to go, they are much more fun to use and you can re-sell them for almost what you paid.