8 Signal generators under $100 compared

-October 20, 2017

Like many of you, I lust after good test & measurement equipment, but sometimes one’s budget forces compromise. So, I splurged – but only a little – and picked up a couple of signal sources that cover a good chunk of spectrum – from 0 to 4.4 GHz. The good news is, they ain’t half bad.

I also compare a range of products available via the same source – AliExpress. This is my first experience with AliExpress, though…ahem, I’m no stranger to many other Chinese mega-retail sites. Ali has more of a portal feel to it – they are acting as a storefront for thousands of vendors, whereas sites like DX.com feel like more traditional stores, though I get the impression they also work with 3rd-party vendors. In fact, since starting to write this, I’ve ordered many other items using Ali, having good experiences in almost all cases.

After browsing the wares on AliExpress, I chose a 25 MHz DDS AWG (direct digital synthesis arbitrary waveform generator) for $45 (USD, shipping extra) and a 4.4 GHz PLL synthesizer for $55 (free shipping). As the synthesizer bottoms out at 35MHz, I am left with a coverage hole from 25-35 MHz, but I expect I must have something in the lab to cover that.

I considered other units on the Ali site, and below is a chart summarizing specs of those six, plus the two I bought. I think you’ll see why I made the choices I did. Click the images to go to the AliExpress page, and note that most of these products are sold by multiple Ali “stores”.

 

  Table 1  Lower entries are: Delivered Cost (USD), Frequency, Resolution, Sweep

Also has fixed 1, 2, 4, 8 MHz outputs. Needs three supply voltages. A real toy.

$11

<60 kHz

8 bits ??

?

Also has fixed 1, 2, 4, 8 MHz outputs.

$19

65 kHz

8 bits ??

?

I bought this one; review coming. Dual-channel. AWG. USB. 16 memories.

$62

25 MHz, 200 MSa/s

12 bits

Lin/Log

 

$32

200 kHz, 2.5 MSa/s

8 bits ??

Yes

 

$20

500 kHz

8 bits ??

?

Dual-channel. 100 memories. Frequency measurement. AWG. USB.

$80

5 MHz, 200 MSa/s (update: models to 25 MHz available)

10 bits

Lin/Log

Also a 60 MHz frequency counter. 10 memories.

$29

5 MHz

 

Yes

I bought this one; review coming. PLL of course, not DDS as the webpage says. Uses the ADF4351 synthesizer. Complementary square wave outputs (SMA). USB or 5V power.

$55

35 MHz - 4.4 GHz

n/a

Lin

 

I’m also working on in-depth reviews of the two generators I bought. Not surprisingly, they both have their quirks and limitations, but overall, I’m glad to have them. I can’t really justify higher quality signal sources right now, given no specific needs.

So what do you think? Is this gear too amateurish? Or do you want more reviews? Perhaps the answer to both is “yes”. How about a hands-on review every month or three? Put some category and product suggestions in the comments. And you don’t need to restrict yourself to lab gear. Some other ideas? Tools, consumer, DIY, components, software/apps…

 

Also see:

 

Michael Dunn is Editor in Chief at EDN with several decades of electronic design experience in various areas.

Follow Michael Dunn on and EDN on Instagram

 

 

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