Technology
Turn your soundcard into an oscilloscope

xoscope_20071124.jpg

There are a couple decent software packages available for using your soundcard as an oscilloscope. Using the line-in or mic-in will allow you to sample signals below 44.1kHz with 16-bit resolution (depending on your soundcard). For Linux, there’s an open source GTK package called xoscope that is pretty well maintained. On the PC side, you can try a package (not open source, unfortunately) called Soundcard Oscilloscope, which was written using LabView. Both programs will allow you to instantly transform your computer into a really affordable oscilloscope. Does anyone know of a good package for OS X?

Before you go probing any circuits, keep in mind that the peak voltage on your soundcard is probably less than 1 volt. For real world use, xoscope’s creator put together a buffer circuit that will take care of high voltage protection as well as a level trim that will allow you to adjust the line level to something your card can deal with. You’ll want to use this with either software package you end up using.

xoscope for Linux – Link
Buffer Cicuit for xoscope – Link
Soundcard Oscilloscope for Windows 2000/XP – Link

10 thoughts on “Turn your soundcard into an oscilloscope

  1. Good one Jason. One of my IDE hard disk packed up after not being in use for many months. An electrolytic capacitor has shorted and burnt a track. Repaired the track and used a salvage cap from another junk.. the disk is working ever since.

  2. I had an 80GB hd go so far bad that all it would do is click and grind. Three weeks of running a SpinRite level 5 diagnostic on it 24/7, with a fan blowing constantly to keep it from overheating, and I recovered 96% of the data on it. That was over a year ago, and it is still one of my main drives. I now make it a point to run it on every drive that comes in the house, and have saved myself from quite a few ‘gotchas’. At $80 it might not be cheap, but neither is a first aid kit or fire extinguisher, and, like those, the consequences of not having it when you really need it don’t bear thinking about.

  3. The first generation of Maxtor OneTouch, and I think the OneTouch II’s for the most part, were famous for dying. Sometimes the LED circuit would give way, sometimes it was worse.

    The first signs were usually Windows not wanting to detect it, then it developing a ‘preference’ for one port over the other (either the firewire or the USB would start failing), then the board in the enclosure would short, frying the drive’s controller board.

    Either way it was an easy fix, pick up a new controller board for the drive off of ebay and replace the enclosure. It was a shame, too…most of those enclosures were easy to work on and high quality, just crappy circuits.

    I normally tell folks to go check if their controller board or drive is still on ebay first when they’ve got a ‘dead drive’. 90% of the time, this will fix it.

  4. How to mitigate having to recover data from an external drive

    Have 2 drives in a software RAID1 (mirror). Monitor it so you know when one of the drives fails so you replace/fix it. This will increase the reliability 50%.

    10 years ago software RAID was too slow and hardware RAID was too expensive. You can buy dual RAID external drives reasonably nowadays. If you have a faster CPU (2GHz) or multicore CPU, you can do software RAID w/o slowdown.

    How long did it take to fill that drive? If it’s just downloads, 320 GB will take over 180 hours over a 5 Mb/s internet connection. If it’s a single 320 GB file and the pipe averages 5 Mb/s. That’s a lot of time to waste.

  5. I’ve seen a number of these external drives “silently” die (ie. no clicks of death, just a quiet unwillingness to work). Most of the time it’s been a faulty board, so you can pop the case and plug the drive into a regular PC (or use any number of external USB adapters).

    For anything I can’t replace (photos), the data are on (at least) 2 external drives. I only use single disks for stuff I can recreate if necessary–ex. DVDs. Years in IT Engineering has taught me that even the most redundant arrays can die a horrible death.

  6. I had the exact same problem, and fixed it the exact same way. Replaced the board and now it works and got all my data back. Still have to troubleshoot the old board. Time vs. cost at this point.

  7. Had the same trouble with a SimTech 160 Gig drive. I took it out of the enclosure (warranty expired) and installed it directly into my linux box, configured the mount points, and it worked like a charm. I gave up the convenience of moving an external drive from box to box, but gained quite a bit in performance – ultra IDE vs. USB.

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