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Hardware Science

DIY Computer Video Microscopy For Under $50 117

cybrpnk writes: "The QX3 Video Microscope may have been an obscure commercial failure as an educational toy, but it is widely available (for now, at least) as a fantastic tool/toy for any geek. The QX3 hooks up to a USB port and delivers live color 10X, 60X or 200X microphotos at 512x384 pixel resolution. Its kid-friendly software even makes time lapse videos a snap, like this one of TNT synthesis - a whole new way to blow up the lab, do not try this at home! Educators are doing amazing things with the QX3 in their classrooms. Sourceforge even has documentation on the software command structure used by the QX3, so it may be considered an open source microscope. Get yours today for under $50 at surplus closeout or EBay before they're all gone!" The Toys-R-Us nearest to me has one QX3+ left (now with my name on it) at $30, so I hope it really does work under Linux. And it's a lot less complicated than building a Scanning-Tunneling microscope.
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DIY Computer Video Microscopy For Under $50

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  • by chill ( 34294 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @01:39PM (#3383575) Journal
    They are great for quickly examining thick-film hybrid circuits. Much better than straining your eyes on a conventional scope when you don't have to.
  • Correct me if im wrong but didnt UNBC start this project almost 30 years ago? Talk about unexpected project delays!
  • by EchoMirage ( 29419 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @01:50PM (#3383610)
    Wow, I can't believe that this is Slashdot and I'm a Windows user and yet I am posting the Linux support information. Craziness.

    First, Intel's official position [] on Linux support:
    Q: Do you have Linux drivers for the microscope?
    A: The microscope is not supported on Linux* platforms. Thus, Intel does not offer software or drivers for Linux.
    CPiA chipset inforrmation [] which the QX3 uses for its imaging. Note that there are still some problems getting everything working right. Back up your kernel.

    If none of the above works, try some more generic hacks with the CPiA driver. It seems the biggest problem is getting the lights turned on...
    • Q: Do you have Linux drivers for the microscope?
      A: The microscope is not supported on Linux* platforms.

      And the few ads for it (I never saw one until today) position it as a kids' toy of no interest to anybody over 10.

      This thing is a dynamite product. But by the time anybody actually hears about it, it's a "discontinued failure".

      Maybe Intel should fire its entire marketing department and start over.
    • I find this article puzzling. I get mailings from BECTA (government agency in the UK to do with education of ICT) and there was one about this a while back. Intel were going on about how succesful it was at a trade show & really was one stop short of saying that people were bending over backwards to buy one. Just the way it was written by their marketing goons showed they were pretty desperate for you to buy one (this was aimed at schools). However all the schools I know are quite happy to stick with their old fashioned non-computer linked microscopes so maybe it was one last ditch attempt by them to sell their remaining stock in the U.K.
    • I added support for MacOS-X and FreeBSD - see to macam - using a generic CPiA as a basis. It is not quite trivial to get results comparable to the intel tool - but very doable: thanks to this document on the webcam source force page: Dw
  • Linux drivers? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Yohahn ( 8680 )
    Anybody know if this works under linux?

    Which chipset are they using? ov511?

    Just making sure it'd work before I grab one.
  • I wonder why Myers in Melbourne (Lonsdale St) is still selling it at A$249 (around US$125). That sounds pretty steep compared to just US$50. Oh well, generally electronics is Australia retails for much higher than their US counterparts anyway. Does anyone know why? Even GST won't inflate the prices so high. I've now resorted to buying stuff from Estore []. They seem to offer the best prices i can find in Melbourne. They don't stock the QX3 though.
    • Australian consumers have generally been open to a form of monopoly, that has been tolerated for years. Local wholesalers buy 'exclusive' rights to a product, then charge whatever they want. Since no one else can legally import the device, there is no competition to set a fair price. The fact that there are many retailers to consumers covers up the fact that they all buy from the one source.

      This situation is being addressed slowly, for example, in the case of CDs. However, it is a practice that is going away to slowly.

      When someone else does a backdoor deal, for example, and imports direct from, say, Singapore at the price they pay, the newspapers are full of articles about 'grey marketing', and local wholesalers getting ripped off. Yeah, right, they cannot sit back on their fat a*** and get paid a fortune for shipping in a container every now and then.

      *True Story*. When I worked at one electronics retailer, he used to open up the dot matrix printer boxes, rip out the enclosed paper tray, and sell it separately. When I asked him why, he said that that was what the wholesaler used to do before he found the alternate source for the similar printer he was importing.

      Australia is surrounded by a lot of water, and is at the edge of the world, so we also get a lot of junk dumped here that can't be sold overseas.

      Finally, Myers is just a big dinosaur that cannot control it's inventory well, and always charges top dollar. In about six months time, the QX3 will be marked down by 10%, then 20%, then in about four years time, will be thrown out at 50% off.

      If you look around, you should be able to find QX3 for a lot less. It depends on how much time you have to poke around in the other shops.

  • Proscope by Scalar (Score:4, Informative)

    by crumbz ( 41803 ) <<remove_spam>jus ... o spam>> on Sunday April 21, 2002 @02:01PM (#3383641) Homepage
    Is an excellent alternative(granted at a higher price). For about $250 and $100 for a higher multiple lens, you can view excellent, high quality magnifications of your specimens.

    I am thinking about getting one, but want to see if higher (500x) magnification is going to be available. See for details.

    • Pros and cons:
      The Proscope accepts C-mount lenses, which are readily available cheaply. But the product does not have an adjustable stage, and you do not want to handhold at x500.
      The Qx3 has only the three supplied magnifications, but DOES have a (Z-axis) adjustable stage, which is more practical.
    • I believe we would also have evaluated this if there were higher (400x-1000x) magnifications available for cellular resolution. The quality of the pictures from the /. link seem superb at 200x, unfortunately that isn't strong enough when dealing with cells. Meanwhile I have to cope with an outdated Imascan framegrabber connected to a camera sitting on a nikon microscope - this setup costs > $1000 nowadays, more when it was purchased 6 years ago, in addition there is no linux support for this board, etc etc.

      Unfortunately, the Intel scope was introduced into the toy market. Their CCDs seem to be good enough for actual production work. If they increased the magnification while keeping the quality, every biologist would probably have bought one - biology departments aren't funded too well when it comes to equipment, and an exceptionally cheap scope with high power that did the job would probably be preferred over a high end one that's over $5000.
  • Biore strip.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by grub ( 11606 ) <> on Sunday April 21, 2002 @02:06PM (#3383652) Homepage Journal

    I've had an Intel microscope for a couple of years and took pics of a used Biore nasal strip with it. :))>
    check them out. []
  • by crisco ( 4669 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @02:07PM (#3383654) Homepage
    Don't be thrown off by the lower magnification powers that these things have. While I haven't used one of them, I've used other low power microscopes and for general day to day use and for getting kids interested in science, a 10x to 25x microscope will probably do more for you than a 100x,400x,1000x scope would.

    Why? 10x is easier to use and you can look at all kinds of real world objects. You catch some funny looking bug and you can look at him real close up and personal like. You've got a cut on your finger healing? Nothing like seeing that filling your field of view. Now sure, at 400x you can see cells if you prepare a slide. But the real interesting stuff has to stained and prepared properly, those nice micrographs you see don't come without preparation. And you can't just stick a circuit board in there and see if you have cracked traces or cold solder joints.

    • a 10x to 25x microscope will probably do more for you than a 100x,400x,1000x scope would.

      Back in the days when I was a hardware designer at a big corp., I really loved the stereoscopic microscopes that the technicians (and engineers in hacking mode) used for soldering work on teeny tiny surface mount components. They had brilliant built-in lighting, a huge zoom range starting from almost no magnification, a wide field of view, and the 3D effect was stunning. I spent lots of time just looking at random objects in those things.

      I'd really like to get one now, but I don't know who sells them and I'm afraid that they'd be priced in the stratosphere. If you can afford one, I highly recommend one.

      • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @04:19PM (#3383991) Homepage
        Edmund Scientific sells a ton of this kind of stuff. Their stereo microscope page [] lists stuff ranging from about $150 to $1000. Take your choice.

        I recall long hours of drooling over everything in the Edmund catalog when I was a kid. Heck, their catalog (and web site) is still worth some time drooling over. So many toys, so little money, sigh...
        • Almost every appliance I've seen in Edmund is significantly overpriced. No big deal if you just want to grab some lenses or something, but for lasers, cameras, or microscopes, it's best to look elsewhere.
      • We sold the Swift microscopes, something like this [] would be the minimum I'd reccomend, IIRC they were about $500. If you're a little more serious about it, the stuff that was priced up closer to $1000 was definately better quality.

        I'll bet the SMT rigs you mention were much better than these though, wider FOV, better depth of field and better optics.

  • Photo Gallery (Score:4, Informative)

    by eander315 ( 448340 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @02:22PM (#3383687)
    The National High Magnetic Field Laboratory [] has an excellent page dedicated to the Intel QX3 [], including a cool QX3 digital image photo gallery []. Definitely worth a look if you're interested in what these little toys can do.
  • I was always intrigued by the microscope when I saw it in the store, but it seemed so Fisher-Price that I figured that it couldn't be all that good. The way it's packaged and marketed makes it look like some cheesy toy, not a real scientific instrument. I guess I was wrong.
    • I had the same impression. I bet that if they made a version of this that was all black and came in different packaging that they would have sold tons more of these.

      I think most kids who would be interested in things like this don't need to be sold on it because it has a lime green and blue color scheme anyway.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      well, they really are just toys, but the slashdoted page shows you how to modify it to improve the image. also, it shows how an abbe condensor can improve the image quality by at least 3 times.
    • Haven't you noticed? That's the way Intel markets all their stuff. Ugly blue and white color schemes, stupid aliens or blue men, crappy-looking products with crappy specs (remember the Intel digital camera?). Somehow Intel steadfastly refuses to make anything that looks serious.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday April 21, 2002 @02:38PM (#3383733)
    Intel has its own developer-oriented discussion of the design and development of the QX3. /a rticles/art_3.htm
  • Is this story one of those new advertisements I hear so much about? Possibly submitted by the person unloading dozens of these on Ebay?
  • . tm

  • The QX3's software has an interface that can only be called bizarre, however, at least the original version (without the +) installs a Twain driver accessible by standard imaging software (e.g. Photoshop). It includes controls for the lighting and video.
  • by cybrpnk ( 94636 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @03:30PM (#3383876)
    The IntelPlay site [] has a good QX3 FAQ [] as well as the product's 3/29/02 obituary []. We can only hope they are clearing out stock before introducing the new improved version, but I doubt it - Intel is discontinuing ALL Intelplay toys, not just the microscope. With MTV style advertising like this [] it's no wonder it failed to find a continuing market niche as a classic toy - it takes longer than a 10 second attention span to do science. Some gross-out photos are here [], as well as a comparison of a QX3 vs.Zeiss dissection scope [] as well as a comparison of the QX3 and another "inexpensive educational toy" called the Pocketscope []. The main Pocketscope site [] talks about how to add video and lighting to their superior optics. Tinkering with, adjusting, modifying and using the QX3 is discussed here [], here [] and here []. More places to buy a QX3 before they go universally out of stock are GlobalMart [], Erwincomputers [], and Amazon [].
  • by AJWM ( 19027 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @03:44PM (#3383902) Homepage
    It just happens that I spent Friday afternoon finally getting my QX3 (I've had for about a year, picked up for about $50 at a supermarket (!) in an after-Xmas sale last year) running on my Linux box.

    I'm using a mostly stock SuSE 7.3 distro with the 2.4.10 kernel, the camera built into the QX3 is the same CPiA chipset that many other webcams use. I haven't done the necessary tweaking run the lamps, I just an external light. The "gqcam" program works fine for viewing/grabbing the images.
  • by rbruels ( 253523 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @03:56PM (#3383936) Homepage
    The QX3 is supported in the latest versions of Macam for OS X. I have not yet experimented with the software, but have heard okay-to-good things about it.

    His CVS repository is a little outdated, so download the drivers from the web site. :)
  • You get to buy nifty things like this for 'em. Yeah, some might argue that a two year old can't really appreciate a microscope, or a Lego Mindstorms kit, but you've got to start them early, right?
  • by loply ( 571615 )
    You can see TNT crystalize at 200x magnification?
  • Live ants especially. Any recommendation for low prices for me? Thank you in advance. :)

  • I just went to two Toys R Us stores and various consumer electronics stores. Sounds like they sold out months ago when they were dropped to the $30 quoted in the article for after-christmas closeout.
  • by leighklotz ( 192300 ) on Sunday April 21, 2002 @05:48PM (#3384229) Homepage

    The CPIA driver works fine with it for Linux, for viewing. Unfortunately, the code to turn the lights off and on has been commented out of the driver due to a buffer overflow.

    I've got it running with the RedHat 7.3. I had to merge the driver from with the drivers in the kernel source and recompile. I tried compiling the driver outside the tree but got bit by a bug in USB link ordering. Once you apply the updates you'll be able to use simple command-line statements to turn the lights off and on.

    If you're going to try these patches on RedHat 7.2 or on some other Linux distribution, you'll have to merge the driver on with your distributions's driver yourself.

    For my code and images, see [].

    Of course, the best thing would be for the people and the kernel people to resolve their differences and get the write code for /proc/cpia enabled. Until then, turning the lights on under Linux will be a DIY project.

  • I stoped at my local Toys-R-Us, and they were out of the microscope. However I remember seeing one a couple of months back at my local Target. So on my way home I stopped by and they had four at 24.99 each. I only bought one, but if you are interested in putting some up on e-bay, or something like that, and you are in the mpls-stpl area, check your local Target. They can even check with the other Targets in the region and see if there are any others available.

    Good luck.

  • When slashdot recommends, its just like Oprah!

    Most of Ebay's buy it now have sold, the store link in the story has sold out....

    Intel would like to thank Slashdot for clearing its warehouses
  • Seems like Intel really missed the boat on this one. They didn't research the school market. Most high school biology books state that a 450x microscope is advised for the labs. I was really hoping they'd come up with a 450x model. If they had, it could have succeeded. Especially if it was priced around $200 or less.
  • you can get this electron microscope [].

    Probably more than $30, and no USB interface.
  • I wish these had been around when I was a proto-geek kid with too much allowance...

    especially when I hit puberty and got really interested in microscopic things, if you know what I mean =)
  • Can someone tell me how, under Windows, to spoof the driver into thinking I've a Pentium 4 processor?

    In the literature accompanying mine, it actually specifies that with a Pentium 4 processor, you get better resolution at higher magnifications, additional effects, and faster screen refreshes. I'm sure it's a deliberate screw up of the software if it doesn't detect a Pentium 4, (or other Intel processor, I suppose) and that pisses me off.

    In fact, I can see the artifacts that are artificially added on the screen. There's a spattering of pixels that appear "dead" on screen: they're always some obviously wrong color that's slightly "off" what you'd otherwise expect to see at that point, and the "dead" spots don't move at all when the underlying target images are moved.

    Artificially screwing up the quality of your products for AMD customers won't bring customers back, Intel! In fact, it does quite the opposite for me. Assholes.
  • Friday I was looking into getting a microscope. Some of the video ones at Edmund Scientific [] cost over US$500. This is a bargain!

    Thanks, Slashdot!!
  • I went by Toys R US and they wanted 100 dollars for the units, Aparently they had been on sale before, and even though they had quite a few units in stock, some with dust on them, they still retailed for 100. Disapointed, as that seemed to be to much money for me to spend to get one :(

  • hmm, maybe too expensive for what you get out of it, hard to say. The site tells the truth about the hardware, saying it is less sensitive than ccd (low surface area sensitive to light), noisy (snow due to differences between pixels), and so on. But it might be neat to try and hook it up to your telescope if you already have one.. vcr image stacking software is available on the net. Anyone tried it?
  • I ordered a couple of these microscopes from Erwin [] for about $30/ea. It was simple to set up and use under Win2k, although the software is definitely geared more toward kids with cutesy sounds and graphics. I put a few photos online []

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