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BJT: Regions Of Operation

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Regions Of Operation

Applied voltages B-E Junction
Bias NPN
B-C Junction
Bias NPN
Mode NPN
E < B < C Forward Reverse Forward-active
E < B > C Forward Forward Saturation
E > B < C Reverse Reverse Cut-off
E > B > C Reverse Forward Reverse-active
Applied voltages B-E Junction
Bias PNP
B-C Junction
Bias PNP
Mode PNP
E < B < C Reverse Forward Reverse-active
E < B > C Reverse Reverse Cut-off

Bipolar transistors have five distinct regions of operation, defined by BJT junction biases.

  • Forward-active or simply, active: The base–emitter junction is forward biased and the base–collector junction is reverse biased. Most bipolar transistors are designed to afford the greatest common-emitter current gain, βF, in forward-active mode. If this is the case, the collector–emitter current is approximately proportional to the base current, but many times larger, for small base current variations.
  • Reverse-active or inverse-active or inverted: By reversing the biasing conditions of the forward-active region, a bipolar transistor goes into reverse-active mode. In this mode, the emitter and collector regions switch roles. Because most BJTs are designed to maximize current gain in forward-active mode, the βF in inverted mode is several times smaller 2–3 times for the ordinary germanium transistor. This transistor mode is seldom used, usually being considered only for failsafe conditions and some types of bipolar logic. The reverse bias breakdown voltage to the base may be an order of magnitude lower in this region.
  • Saturation: With both junctions forward-biased, a BJT is in saturation mode and facilitates high current conduction from the emitter to the collector or the other direction in the case of NPN, with negatively charged carriers flowing from emitter to collector. This mode corresponds to a logical "on", or a closed switch.
  • Cutoff: In cutoff, biasing conditions opposite of saturation both junctions reverse biased are present. There is very little current, which corresponds to a logical "off", or an open switch.
  • Avalanche breakdown region

The modes of operation can be described in terms of the applied voltages this description applies to NPN transistors; polarities are reversed for PNP transistors:

  • Forward-active: base higher than emitter, collector higher than base in this mode the collector current is proportional to base current by \beta_F.
  • Saturation: base higher than emitter, but collector is not higher than base.
  • Cut-Off: base lower than emitter, but collector is higher than base. It means the transistor is not letting conventional current go through from collector to emitter.
  • Reverse-active: base lower than emitter, collector lower than base: reverse conventional current goes through transistor.

In terms of junction biasing:

'reverse biased base–collector junction' means Vbc < 0 for NPN, opposite for PNP

Although these regions are well defined for sufficiently large applied voltage, they overlap somewhat for small less than a few hundred millivolts biases. For example, in the typical grounded-emitter configuration of an NPN BJT used as a pulldown switch in digital logic, the "off" state never involves a reverse-biased junction because the base voltage never goes below ground; nevertheless the forward bias is close enough to zero that essentially no current flows, so this end of the forward active region can be regarded as the cutoff region.

Active-mode NPN Transistors In Circuits

by approximately 60 mV increases the emitter current by a factor of 10. Because the base current is approximately proportional to the collector and emitter currents, they vary in the same way.

Active-mode PNP Transistors In Circuits

, is the total transistor current, which is the sum of the other terminal currents i.e., IE = IB + IC.

by approximately 60 mV increases the emitter current by a factor of 10. Because the base current is approximately proportional to the collector and emitter currents, they vary in the same way.

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