The Spark Gap Podcast - Episode 9

Direct Download Link

Show Synopsis

Karl and Corey discuss the practice of Manufacturers charging money to unlock built-in features of Test Equipment.
They give their opinion on whether unlocking those features by means of “hacking” your equipment is actually stealing.
Alternatives to paying exhorbant sums of cash to unlock existing features are considered.

Articles that sparked the debate

Hackaday Publishes an Article linking to the a tutorial of how to replicate Tektronix’s Application Modules:

Tektronix issues a DMCA takedown request, Hackaday gets another article out of it:

Agilent (now called Keysight) uses software licenses to “activate” built-in features of their equipment too:

Here is an example of an Agilent Oscilloscope, which comes with a built in function generator, that will only work if you pay for the software license:

Same thing goes for the I2C, and SPI analysis features of the built-in logic analyzer:

Rigol Oscilloscpes were hacked and it made them a household name:

Original forum posts regarding hacking the 1052E into an 1102E:

EEVBlog going over the hack and its validity:

Instructables article talking about the same hack:

The DS1052E hack did eventually lower the price of the DS1102E.
Note the price differnce between the DS1052E and DS1102E = $17.00.
Not much point in paying more than that when they are the same scope.

Alternatives to Oscilloscope Built-In Extra Functionality

Oscilloscope Replacments

Corey and I hold the opinion that there are currently no comparable Open-Source Oscilloscopes available.
Most of the available low cost alternatives are cool, but toys in comparison to the more established brands.

Nice looking, but poor performing portable Oscilloscope:

Logic Analyzer Replacements

Open Source SUMP based Logic Analyzer

I have one of these and it works well. The major downside to me is that it does not come with a case. You could always 3D print one though.


Probably best to let the Sigrok group explain what it is:

The sigrok project aims at creating a portable, cross-platform, Free/Libre/Open-Source signal analysis software suite that supports various device types (e.g. logic analyzers, oscilloscopes, and many more).

The List of Supported Hardware is quite impressive:

It also looks like it can do the Uart decoding that Corey was looking for:

Commercial Logic Analayzer - Salae Logic

Salae Logic is not Open-Source, but they do have nice looking cases and probes:

Their excellent software and simple hardware has lead to a flood of cheap Chinese knockoffs.

You can buy a supposedly compatible nockoff Salae logic for less than $10 on ebay.
Ofcourse, they quality of the case, wires, and grippers aren’t going to close to the official one.

This problem has not gone unnoticed by Salae Logic.
In this plea to their perspective customers, Salae Logic does say that they will eventually implement some form of authentication in their software.
As far as I know that hasn’t been done yet.

Protocol Analyzers

The famous Open-Source Protocol Analyzer: The Bus Pirate.

Does pretty much everything.
Check out its humble beginnings by reading this article from 2008:

The Bus Pirate has come a long way. Take a look at its current implementation.

It is continuing to evolve due to the help of the contributors in the Dangerous Prototypes Froum.

Commercial Protocol Analyzers - TotalPhase

TotalPhase makes I2C, SPI, Can Bus, and USB analyzers.
Corey likes that they give you an API and usage examples in multiple languages.
Karl likes them because they are easy to use.
We would both like them better if they were Open-Source.

Multiple Interface Devices - Logic Analyzer, Analog Signal Analyzer (Oscilloscope), and Function Generator

Lab Tool

Embedded Artists makes a Jtag debugger that can be turned into a “Lab Tool” with the addition of an add-on board.

Analog Discovery

A cheap all-in-one tool for students with some impressive features.

Function Generators

Why pay $500 to Agilent when you can score a brand new 4MHz for $100 off Craigslist?

Or you could buy a 25MHz, 2 Channel, Arbitrary Function Generator for the same price as the software locked on.