mini digital storage oscilloscope review

I just got in the decidedly-cute DS203 Mini DSO (digital storage oscilloscope), weighing in at a mere 80 grams. We can reasonably guess from’s website that English is a second language for them. From what I understand, this is an open-source project so it will be fun to see what I can do with this.

K1, K2, K3, K4 & NAV A, NAV B across the top

Open Source

From what I’m reading in an online PDF, you can tether this to a PC and it appears as a USB drive, allowing you to make some modifications to the system itself. There appear to be examples for updating the splash screen logo and downloading/updating the application itself. Since this is likely some sort of Linux as the operating system then that will mean that I might be able to hack apart the update to find out what’s inside.


Looks like there are six adjustable potentiometers “under the hood” to allow you to calibrate it for accuracy. Most full-sized scopes have this feature but usually only about two of these adjustments, to be honest.


It was fully assembled in the box although the online PDF suggests that there was a time when the customer was asked to fully put it together. This one included two probes (1X, 10X) which is pretty generous given that they can be as much as $30 each. It includes a small hex wrench for opening the back (access to those potentiometers). And finally, there was a tri-fold card with the barest of instructions possible. Here’s an example of a third of the instructions:

Turn on the power, enter the main page of the oscilloscope. Place in the standard signal (e.g. square wave 1 KHz, Vpp = 5V), insert X1 probe’s MCX end to CH A or CH B, and the probe to “WAVE OUT”. Check if the measurement value and the standard value are equal, calibrate if different.

Okay, I know enough about oscilloscopes to know what they mean here. I’ll translate this into English-geek for you:

Connect the X1 probe to the CH A connection, power on the oscilloscope and wait for the main screen to appear. Remove the probe’s cover to reveal the bare tip, putting this into the center of the  “WAVE OUT” port. Press Key 4 until the side menu is selected then use NAV 2 to select V1 from the options. Use NAV 1 to adjust the horizontal line until it coincides with the top part of the square wave, noting the voltage—as now measured—at the bottom of the screen. If this voltage is different than the reference 5.0V from the signal generator, then calibrate the meter by following these steps…


At least that is the standard routine on a full-sized oscilloscope. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that the online PDF and tri-card documentation are pretty laughable and aren’t enough for the average person to learn how to use it.

On-screen Menu

The menu is pretty difficult so far. It’s clear that NAV A and B are used in selecting different values and moving from one place to another. K4 appears to move between the top set of menus to those down the right side of the screen.


After two full evenings playing with the interface, I’m beginning to understand some of the strange logic. Some of the hidden functionality is found when you press down on either the NAV A or NAV B sliders. It’s lost on the average person that these left/right sort of controls actually can be pressed as well. This opens up the missing features which were formerly lost on me.

So now, I can put an output wave on the screen (CH A–inserted probe to WAVE OUT), adjust the signal to a square wave of 20 microseconds in width, add a single reference voltage V1, hide V2 (and Channels B/C/D), adjust the T1 and T2 reference lines to match up to the waveform’s leading/trailing edges and then reference the delta at the bottom of the screen. Given the complexity of this as compared to the absence of a working manual, I’d call that rocket science.

The next step will be to attempt to calibrate it with a known good 5V power supply which I’ve just adjusted, having measured that with a good-quality multimeter.


I’m torn between moving ahead now with my own work and writing a useful how-to manual for this oscilloscope. It’s a shame that someone’s not written a good tutorial yet for this.


And of course, I began working on rewriting a useful manual for this.

moore’s law and stuff

Just ordered a very cool oscilloscope by SainSmart to work on the Raspberry Pi/NeoPixels project. My last clunky, large oscilloscope from eight years ago easily weighed in over 20 pounds to heft it around and cost over $400 (minus shipping of course). The older one took up an entire workbench in footprint. The new one weighes about 80 grams without its battery, fits in your pocket and costs less than half that price.

Moore’s Law is the observation that the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years.

Keep in mind that Moore wrote this guesstimate in a paper back in 1965, long before the globalization effect of electronics took the market by storm.


If he envisioned things like this back in the sixties then he was cleverer than myself. Although I grew up on The Jetsons and just knew that we’d be flying our cars to work by the year 2000, this miniturization craze wasn’t something that I would have dreamed up. There’s was a certain limit to how tiny things could be due to the size of our own hands being a constraining factor. Someone still had to assemble it, right?

Tiny is the New Black

Speaking of which, I recently had to buy the tiniest screwdriver at Frye’s to remove the tiniest screws I’d ever thought possible in a commercial product. These are called Pentalobe screws from penta (“five”) and lobe (“times harder to find than a grain of sand if you drop it into your carpet”). Seriously, don’t drop these screws.


Imagine real life for a moment and things aren’t zoomed in for your convenience.

Whatever you do, shy away from the laser-etched metal kits of Star Wars figures that require that father from “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” fame to get his kids to put them together for you. This project will make you angry at yourself for being unable to do something that humans can’t do:  build tiny things with our big hands.


What would it take to work at an Apple factory these days? There’s little chance that these are put together by humans, I’m guessing.


What sucks is trying to work on an iPhone these days, especially if you have to replace a component. I keep buying tinier pointy tools to assist in the removal of and replacement of these type of modules.

I try to develop good working skills which help to prevent the loss of tiny things. Some of these are so small that the slightest breath could send them across your workbench. My current trick is to use tape on my workbench so that tiny things will stick to it.

And of course, someone had to build the wearable ring computer which probably wants to be used in digital signing or two-factor security, I’d guess. Or if you work for the Mafia, maybe you just sign someone’s face with this. It looks like it would hurt, tbh.


And then there’s the contact lens monitor since we don’t have enough eye fatigue yet by the end of an average business day.


If you thought that nanobots were a thing of science fiction, guess again. These are robo-scallops which are designed to move around inside your body. Because as we all know, scallops are so good at healthcare. Anyway, since they’re powered by an external magnetic field, they don’t require batteries. That’s a good thing since I don’t have an AAAAAAA batteries lying around.


It’s almost as if that finger is looking at me with tiny, tiny eyes. Now I’m creeped out.