How to Choose a Portable Data Acquisition System for Your Testing Needs


A portable data acquisition (DAQ) system can be a significant asset. These solutions offer the capabilities of traditional DAQ systems while being flexible and easy to deploy in the field. This article provides a 3-step guide to choosing the ideal portable DAQ system. Focusing on USB solutions and other wireless or cloud-based options, we provide an overview of possibilities to enhance testing and analysis efficiency.

1. Understand Your Data Acquisition Needs

Before choosing a portable data acquisition system, it's essential to understand the specific requirements of your testing applications. Identify the required sampling rate, the number of input channels, the types of signals to measure (analog, digital, thermocouples, etc.), and the necessary accuracy. Consider environmental constraints such as temperature and humidity the system will be exposed to. Also, evaluate data storage needs and the ease of data transfer to a laptop or other processing device.

2. Comparison of Different Portable Data Acquisition System Options

2.1. Autonomous Data loggers


Autonomous data loggers are all-in-one portable solutions that don't require a computer connection during measurements. They can record data on their internal memory or an external memory card. After measurements, users can retrieve the data by connecting the data logger to a laptop via a USB port or by inserting the external memory card into the designated port.


  1. Flexibility: Autonomous data loggers are typically compact and portable, making them easily integrated into mobile solutions.
  2. Independence: Autonomous data loggers don't rely on a permanent connection to an external device, making them ideal for environments with limited connectivity.
  3. Continuous Data Collection: Autonomous data loggers can record data over long periods without constant monitoring, allowing for accurate and uninterrupted data collection.
  4. Local Storage: Data is often stored locally in the data logger, providing extra security in case of connectivity issues or temporary communication loss.
  5. Ease of Use: Autonomous data loggers are designed to be user-friendly, with simple interfaces and intuitive configuration options.


  1. Time Limitations: The data logger's storage capacity limits the amount of data it can collect before requiring manual transfer or clearing.
  2. Deferred Analysis: Since data loggers locally store data, analyzing results may require an extra step of transferring to a processing device.
  3. Lack of Real-time: Autonomous data loggers don't provide real-time data, which can be a drawback for applications needing quick responses to changes.

*That's why data loggers are not considered DAQ systems.

  1. Maintenance: Autonomous data loggers need regular checks to ensure proper functioning and adequate storage space.
  2. Initial Cost: Autonomous data loggers may require an initial investment for purchase, setup, and personnel training.

2.2 Dedicated Portable Data Acquisition Systems


Dedicated portable data acquisition systems are devices specifically designed for on-the-go data acquisition. They offer advanced features and better processing capability compared to autonomous data loggers. A data acquisition system also includes software or an interface that allows real-time data recording and visualization. These systems can easily connect to a laptop via a USB port, for instance, enabling quick data transfer for further analysis.


  1. Ease of Use: Dedicated portable data acquisition systems are designed to be user-friendly, with simple interfaces and intuitive configurations.
  2. Real-time Data Collection: Data is generally collected in real-time, enabling rapid response to changes and real-time conditions.
  3. Extended Connectivity: Portable data acquisition systems, especially USB-based ones, can easily connect to various sensors and instruments.
  4. Immediate Analysis: Data is available instantly for analysis, which can be essential for real-time decision-making.
  5. Versatility: Portable data acquisition systems can be used in various applications and setups due to their adaptability.


  1. Power Dependency: Portable data acquisition systems require a power source, which can be restrictive in environments with limited power.
  2. Computer Dependency: Many portable data acquisition systems require a connection to a computer or similar device (Raspberry Pi) for configuration and analysis, limiting mobility.
  3. Cost: Dedicated portable data acquisition systems can be more expensive to purchase and maintain than other solutions, especially when specialized.
  4. Connectivity Limitations: Connectivity options may be limited compared to other solutions, depending on the range of supported sensors and instruments.
  5. Potential Complexity: Some portable data acquisition systems can be complex to configure and use, requiring thorough training.*

*Others can be simple to set up without any training.

2.3 Wireless Data Acquisition Solutions


Wireless data acquisition systems allow users to collect data remotely without the need for cables. These solutions use wireless communication technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or Zigbee to transmit data to a laptop or nearby storage device.


  1. Increased Mobility: Wireless DAQ systems offer greater mobility by eliminating cable and physical connection constraints.
  2. Simplified Installation: The absence of cables makes sensor and node installation and setup easier.
  3. Placement Flexibility: Wireless sensors can be placed in hard-to-reach locations, enabling data collection in complex environments.
  4. Continuous Collection: Wireless DAQ systems allow continuous data collection over extended periods without constant monitoring.
  5. Adaptable Network: Wireless sensor networks can be adapted to cover extensive areas or monitor specific points.


  1. Power Requirement: Wireless nodes require a power source, which can limit their use in environments without a power source.
  2. Potential Interference: Wireless signals can be susceptible to interference in crowded or electromagnetically noisy environments.
  3. Limited Range: Wireless range can be limited by physical obstacles or signal constraints.
  4. Complexity: Configuring and managing a wireless network can be more complex than wired systems.
  5. Data Security: Wireless data can be vulnerable to interception and attacks, requiring enhanced security measures.
  6. Costs: Wireless DAQ systems can be more expensive to purchase and set up than wired solutions.

2.4 Cloud-based Data Acquisition Systems


Cloud-based data acquisition solutions offer a modern and flexible approach. In this case, data is collected by a portable system that directly sends it to a remote cloud server. Users can then access real-time data or download it later from any device connected to the internet.


  1. Remote Access: Cloud-based DAQ systems allow remote data access, which is ideal for applications requiring remote monitoring.
  2. Centralized Storage: Data is stored in the cloud, facilitating management, organization, and backup of collected information.
  3. Real-time Analysis: Data can be analyzed from any connected device in real-time, enabling quick decision-making.
  4. Scalability: Cloud-based solutions can easily be adapted to handle large amounts of data and adjust to changing needs.
  5. Simplified Collaboration: Multiple users can access and collaborate on cloud-stored data, facilitating information sharing.


  1. Connectivity Dependency: Using cloud-based DAQ systems requires a stable internet connection for data collection and analysis.
  2. Data Security: Data stored in the cloud can be prone to security and privacy risks, necessitating enhanced protection measures.
  3. Costs: Cloud-based solutions can incur subscriptions, storage, and data management fees.
  4. Complexity: Setting up and configuring a cloud-based solution can be more complex than autonomous systems.
  5. Potential Latency: Data transmission to the cloud can result in latency, which can be problematic for real-time response applications.
  6. Vendor Dependency: Using a cloud solution relies on the service provider, potentially leading to limitations in customization and control.

3. Selection Criteria and Key Considerations

When choosing a portable data acquisition system, regardless of the options presented above, consider the following criteria:

  • Ease of Use: Opt for a system with a user-friendly interface and straightforward configuration, even for complex tasks.
  • Accuracy and Resolution: Verify technical specifications to ensure the system meets your precision and resolution requirements.
  • Battery Life: Consider battery life, especially for long-duration applications or when access to a power source is limited.
  • Data Storage and Transfer: Choose a system with adequate memory and efficient options for transferring data to a laptop for analysis.
  • Technical Support and Updates: Ensure the provider offers good technical support and regular updates for the system.

By understanding your needs and considering selection criteria, you can choose the system that best fits your requirements and enhance testing and analysis efficiency.