Transistor Basics is a free introductory textbook on transistors and their basic applications. See the editorial for more information....

Transistor Noise

Author: Leonard Krugman

The minimum signal that can be applied to a transistor is limited by the internal noise generated by the transistor. Since the transistor does not require cathode heating (one of the major noise sources in the vacuum tubes), it is inherently capable of operating at lower noise levels than its vacuum tube brother. At present, the junction transistor is equal to the vacuum tube, insofar as its noise characteristics are concerned. The noise level of the point-contact types is between 15 and 30 db higher.

There is some confusion in the field as to what is meant by the manufacturers' specifications on noise limits. This confusion is caused by the various manners in which the noise level is specified. The noise level, when specified "with reference to thermal noise," tells the most about the transistor, because the reference value is reasonably fixed. The noise factor on this thermal basis is the ratio of the noise power delivered to a load compared to the power delivered if the only source of noise were the thermal noise of the signal generator. A second method of noise specification is the "signal-to-noise ratio." The noise figure on this basis does not tell as much about the transistor as the first method, because the signal is not at a constant level. Another method is specification of noise in db above one milliwatt (dbm). This method is least useful since it neither specifies amplifier gain nor bandwidth.


Fig. 4-17. Effect of noise on equivalent transistor circuit.

The noise figure of the junction transistor is about 10 db above thermal noise at 1,000 cps; by selection, values as low as 5 db have been found. These noise levels are comparable with those of the best vacuum tubes available. In general, the noise energy in the transistor is concentrated in the lower frequencies and, as might be expected, the noise factor decreases as the operating frequency is increased. The noise factor is affected by the operating point and the signal generator resistance. It appears to be lowest both at low values of collector voltage and when the generator resistance Rg is equal to the input resistance ri. In general, transistors with large collector resistance have a low noise level. Figure 4-17 illustrates the equivalent circuit of the grounded base connection, and includes the equivalent voltages E1 and E2 introduced by transistor noise.

Last Update: 2010-11-17