Transistors, as crucial active components in electronic circuits, serve two main functions: amplification and switching. As an amplifier, they ingeniously enhance signals precisely by modulating the amplitude of input signals. On the other hand, they flexibly allow or interrupt the flow of current by switching between saturation and cutoff states. With the rapid advancement of electronic technology, the demand for transistors has evolved, leading to the emergence of transistors with different materials, functions, and structures. In the following content, we will explore each member of the transistor family, presenting the complete picture of this key component in the electronic world.
Classification by Transistor Material
In the early development of transistors, germanium, as the primary semiconductor material, was considered the first-generation transistor, marking the transition from the vacuum tube era to the semiconductor era. This shift significantly reduced the volume, weight, and cost of electronics. However, with evolving demands, the limitations of germanium transistors gradually became apparent, such as a limited operating temperature range between -55°C to 70°C and the generation of significant thermal and flicker noise.
To address the limitations of germanium transistors, silicon transistors emerged. Silicon transistors raised the maximum operating temperature to over 200°C while maintaining stability during operation. Most notably, silicon transistors can be manufactured at the micron or even nanometer level, thereby enhancing chip integration. A small chip can accommodate billions of transistors, improving electronic performance while driving miniaturization.
In addition to the common materials like germanium and silicon, there are other types of transistors, such as gallium arsenide and silicon carbide. These materials shine in different fields based on their unique characteristics and advantages. For example, germanium transistors are often used in optoelectronics and high-speed applications due to their strong photosensitivity and high carrier mobility. Silicon transistors, with their excellent overall performance, have become the most widely used transistor type, applicable in various scenarios. Gallium arsenide transistors excel in high-frequency and RF performance, finding widespread use in wireless communication devices. Silicon carbide transistors are used in some high-power devices due to their high-temperature performance.
Categorized by Transistor Internal Structure
This is the most fundamental classification method, as shown in the hierarchical diagram above. Transistors can be divided into two main categories: Bipolar Junction Transistors (BJT) and Field-Effect Transistors (FET). Further subdivisions include NPN and PNP types for BJT and JFET and MOSFET types for FET.
BJT transistors consist of three semiconductor layers: emitter, base, and collector. Their operation involves the control of current between two PN junctions, including NPN-type and PNP-type transistors.
In NPN-type transistors, the emitter is N-type semiconductor, the base is P-type semiconductor, and the collector is N-type semiconductor. Current flows from the collector to the emitter. This type of transistor has a high electron mobility, suitable for high-frequency applications, but may generate significant thermal noise during use.
In contrast, PNP-type transistors have a P-type semiconductor emitter, N-type semiconductor base, and P-type semiconductor collector. Current flows from the emitter to the collector. This type of transistor exhibits good temperature stability, suitable for reverse power protection and switch regulators, but performs poorly in high-frequency and high-power applications.
Comprising source, gate, and drain ports, FET transistors operate by controlling the flow of current between the source and drain through the gate’s electric field. They include JFET and MOSFET transistors.
JFET transistors include N-channel and P-channel types, consisting of an N-type or P-type semiconductor channel with PN junctions formed by doping regions connected at the ends of the channel. In low-power applications, JFET provides significant current control effects.
MOSFET transistors are also categorized as N-channel and P-channel types. The gate is insulated from the semiconductor channel, forming an electric field effect. Typically used in integrated circuits to achieve highly integrated chips, although the manufacturing difficulty is relatively high.
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