How to Use an Oscilloscope to Troubleshoot Electronics

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Key Takeaways

  • Oscilloscopes are basal devices for troubleshooting surgery electronics. They analyse electrical signals and tin thief find what's going incorrect successful circuits.
  • Oscilloscopes travel successful various forms and prices. For beginners and hobbyists, a cheaper action for illustration nan DSO 138 tin supply respectable results. Second-hand options are besides available.
  • Calibrating an oscilloscope is important to get meticulous results. Setting nan period and utilizing due probes are important. By examining signals pinch an oscilloscope, you tin troubleshoot and diagnose electrical faults effectively.

The oscilloscope is among nan astir powerful devices for aspiring inventors, engineers, aliases electrical hobbyists. If you're troubleshooting nan circuits you've built, it's essential. But precisely really do you troubleshoot surgery electronics utilizing an oscilloscope?

What Are Oscilloscopes Used For, and How Much Do You Need To Spend?

You've sewage an electrical instrumentality that doesn't work. It mightiness beryllium an ailing laptop, a synthesizer you've picked up from a section flea market, aliases a DIY breadboarding project. Since you can't really spot nan electricity, moving retired what's going incorrect will require immoderate deductive reasoning—and nan correct tools. Among nan much basal of these devices is nan oscilloscope.

An oscilloscope is simply a instrumentality for analyzing electrical signals. The connection mightiness evoke an image of a ample achromatic artifact sitting connected a laboratory desk, but nan reality is that oscilloscopes travel successful galore forms. For a high-end oscilloscope, you tin expect to salary thousands of dollars. A fewer 100 bucks tin get you very respectable results for hobbyists, students, and startups, particularly if you're consenting to spell second-hand.

However, you tin commencement cheap. We've reached for nan celebrated DSO 138 from JYE Tech. This has been extensively cloned and superseded by nan DSO 138mini, but it remains a go-to oscilloscope action for beginners and those looking for a portable option.

A Word connected Oscilloscope Voltages

The DSO 138 is rated to measurement up to 50 volts. While immoderate oscilloscopes will grip much than that, each oscilloscope has its limits. Push those limits, and you consequence destroying nan device. But each is not lost, arsenic you tin protect nan scope pinch nan thief of an attenuating probe. An x10 probe will slash nan incoming voltage by 90%, allowing america to activity pinch higher voltage signals.

Naturally, you'll want to return each imaginable precaution erstwhile dealing pinch precocious voltages. For this reason, let's limit ourselves to nan low-voltage stuff.

Getting Started

The DSO 138 comes pinch a brace of crocodile clips. If you want to beryllium precise successful your probing, investing successful a existent probe is astir apt a bully idea—one that's pointy capable to settee onto a azygous constituent connected a circuit board. This will trim nan consequence of a short being accidentally formed.

If you're examining audio signals, you mightiness look for an adapter to person a TS (or TRS) cablegram into nan BNC (or SMA) socket connected your scope. For nan liking of simplicity, we'll instrumentality pinch crocodile clips.

Calibrating Your Oscilloscope and Setting nan Threshold

Getting useful results from your oscilloscope intends calibrating it. This process will let america to compensate for nan inherent guidance and capacitance of nan probes. This is particularly important if you're experiencing awesome somesthesia changes.

Attach nan probe to nan reference signal, often recovered connected nan beforehand panel. In nan lawsuit of nan DSO 138, it's astatine nan top. Probes travel pinch an adjustable capacitor that should beryllium tuned to make nan trial activity a cleanable square. These tin often beryllium tuned pinch nan thief of a mini screwdriver. The DSO 138 provides tuning controls connected nan circuit committee itself.

If you want to spot a waveform, you'll request nan show to refresh each clip a rising separator passes a definite threshold. Set this location midway betwixt nan apical and bottommost highest voltages. We've group nan scope to refresh whenever a rising separator is detected. This way, we destruct nan ambiguity and get a clear, unchangeable image of nan waveform.

How to Examine Signals With Your Oscilloscope

Let's analyse immoderate signals. Using your telephone and a mini jack-to-jack cablegram is nan easiest and fastest way. Attach nan crocodile clips to nan different extremity of nan jack plug. The large portion astir nan bottommost is nan ground, and nan different 2 are near and right. So, you tin connect nan clips for illustration so:

An oscilloscope displaying a sine wave

Now, we request a waveform. YouTube is packed pinch due trial clips. Pick one, play it, and observe nan display. Here, we're looking astatine a sine wave.

You mightiness request to move things astir a small to get nan waveform centered. Familiarize yourself pinch nan controls by playing pinch them. Zoom successful connected nan waveform, alteration nan trigger level and set nan timing. There's nary substitute for getting hands-on!

Practical Troubleshooting With an Oscilloscope

So, now that you're comfortable pinch nan oscilloscope, it's clip to do immoderate troubleshooting.

We've antecedently looked astatine creating a PWM awesome pinch a Raspberry Pi, and this is simply a bully spot to start. Let's return a look astatine what nan RPi is really outputting.


Connect nan crushed clip to nan ground, and probe wherever you expect a awesome to appear. In this case, it's nan PWM pin. Now, we tin tally immoderate code. The PWM awesome should look connected nan scope. We tin measurement nan work rhythm and guarantee that it matches our expectations. Software PWM is not peculiarly stable, particularly if nan instrumentality is moving different tasks simultaneously. Our usage of hardware PWM present produces consistent, clear results:

A oscilloscope displaying a PWM signal

Of course, this doesn't mean that hardware PWM is simply a necessity. Often, you mightiness amended your results by simply decreasing nan workload connected nan instrumentality moving nan program. If you're not seeing immoderate waveform, this mightiness bespeak that nan work rhythm is group to 0% aliases 100%. Check that anticipation earlier you spell immoderate further!

Data Transmission

Modern circuitry often relies connected signals that aren't periodic but one-off. A instrumentality sends a bid to different but doesn't repetition itself. Move your mouse, and you'll nonstop your machine a bid of commands indicating really overmuch you've moved nan rodent by.

To seizure these signals, we'll request to usage nan one-off functionality of our scope. Here, nan waveform will region successful spot erstwhile nan period level is passed. So, we'll beryllium capable to spot precisely what style those bits are successful and whether they will beryllium understandable to nan receiving device.

In this case, we've sampled an incoming MIDI awesome from an AKAI drum controller:

A oscilloscope displaying a MIDI message

In this example, MIDI devices tin make consciousness of moreover noisy signals. But since the cables present are unbalanced, you whitethorn person problems if they tally beyond a definite length. So, for example, if you're moving nan cablegram crossed an full building, you will tally into trouble. Or, nan cablegram itself mightiness beryllium faulty aft being tally complete 1 excessively galore times pinch an agency chair.

This is wherever deductive troubleshooting comes in! Zero successful connected nan problem by first checking a different cablegram and past a different MIDI device.

Two Signals?

One of nan DSO 138's limitations is that it only allows for 1 input.

More precocious oscilloscopes mightiness let america to analyse 2 signals simultaneously. So, you mightiness overlay nan information being sent complete SPI (or I2C) pinch nan corresponding timepiece signal. Doing truthful mightiness uncover that nan 2 signals are misaligned aliases distorted. This will nutrient garbled data. Spikes, noise, rounded edges—these tin each origin problems.

In galore cases, these problems mightiness beryllium corrected by adding a pull-up (or pull-down) resistor present aliases there. Or, we mightiness request a capacitor aliases 2 to soft retired nan proviso voltages. You mightiness besides person to set your codification to compensate for timing issues.

Whatever nan solution, you're not going to beryllium capable to get started until you really return a look astatine nan 2 waveforms side-by-side—perfect for your oscilloscope.

Oscilloscopes Are Excellent for Diagnosing Electrical Faults

Once you commencement building, modifying, aliases repairing analyzable circuits, you'll inevitably brushwood problems that only an oscilloscope tin diagnose. Having obtained a clear image of nan signals you're looking to shape, you'll beryllium capable to troubleshoot overmuch much effectively.

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