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Tech Talk

Can A Transistor Be Used As A Switch?

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Transistors are commonly used in digital circuits as electronic switches which can be either in an "on" or "off" state, both for high-power applications such as switched-mode power supplies and for low-power applications such as logic gates. Important parameters for this application include the current switched, the voltage handled, and the switching speed, characterised by the rise and fall times.

In a grounded-emitter transistor circuit, such as the light-switch circuit shown, as the base voltage rises, the emitter and collector currents rise exponentially. The collector voltage drops because of reduced resistance from collector to emitter. If the voltage difference between the collector and emitter were zero (or near zero), the collector current would be limited only by the load resistance (light bulb) and the supply voltage. This is called saturation because current is flowing from collector to emitter freely. When saturated, the switch is said to be on.

Providing sufficient base drive current is a key problem in the use of bipolar transistors as switches. The transistor provides current gain, allowing a relatively large current in the collector to be switched by a much smaller current into the base terminal. The ratio of these currents varies depending on the type of transistor, and even for a particular type, varies depending on the collector current. In the example light-switch circuit shown, the resistor is chosen to provide enough base current to ensure the transistor will be saturated.

In a switching circuit, the idea is to simulate, as near as possible, the ideal switch having the properties of open circuit when off, short circuit when on, and an instantaneous transition between the two states. Parameters are chosen such that the "off" output is limited to leakage currents too small to affect connected circuitry; the resistance of the transistor in the "on" state is too small to affect circuitry; and the transition between the two states is fast enough not to have a detrimental effect.

Source: Wikipedia