Crystal Oscillator (Quartz Crystal)

Crystal Oscillator (Quartz Crystal)
Crystal Oscillator (Quartz Crystal)

A crystal oscillator is an electronic oscillator circuit that generates a precise electrical signal from a vibrating piezoelectric crystal. Quartz wristwatches, digital integrated circuit clock signals, and radio transmitter frequencies use this frequency.

Quartz crystals power our daily electronics, but you’ve probably heard of them for healing or meditation. These amazing minerals help crystal oscillators stay on time. Find out what crystal oscillators are, why quartz crystals are important, and how these neglected bits keep our tech on track. We’ll also discuss crystal oscillators, quartz crystals’ pros and cons, and the many current technologies that use them.

 Definition of Crystal Oscillator

Electronic devices like crystal oscillators generate periodic impulses. The tank circuit is mostly used for quartz crystal oscillators. A piezoelectric crystal vibrating mechanically generates a precise electrical signal. Quartz wristwatches, digital integrated circuit clock signals, and radio transmitter frequencies use this frequency.

Importance of Quartz Crystal in Crystal Oscillators

A wrist watch with a crystal oscillator displays time. Before mass manufacture, these were utilized in high-end timepieces, but now they’re commodities. RC plane gyros show crystal oscillators in action. A minor inaccuracy at these frequencies is unacceptable, and the gyroscope cannot function without the crystal’s stable frequency. Of course, crystal oscillators can be used in many other places. Without this gadget, contemporary electronics would not be where they are today. These devices are increasingly used in microcontrollers with clock sources.

Applications of Crystal Oscillators

Crystal oscillators have several uses. Stable clock signals for digital integrated circuits are one of their main uses. Crystals are utilized in this function because a crystal-controlled oscillator may create a near sinusoidal waveform and reduce jitter. Crystal oscillation frequency and Q-factor provide exceptional precision and stability. Other uses include band-pass filters, frequency multipliers, impedance measurement, and signal conditioning circuits. Radio sending and receiving sometimes require crystal frequency.

What Is a Quartz Crystal Oscillator?

A quartz crystal oscillator uses the piezoelectric property of quartz crystals to generate a precise electrical signal. Electric current causes these crystals to oscillate at a steady frequency. This signal can be used as a clock or frequency reference for electronics.

Since quartz crystals vibrate quite steadily, they are suitable for this. Even tiny changes in temperature, pressure, or other external conditions barely impact their oscillation frequency. Watches, clocks, radios, computers, and cellphones depend on quartz crystal oscillators. They synchronize all components with stable timing signals.

Basic quartz crystal oscillator circuit components:

  • Quartz crystal vibrating at a specific frequency
  • An amplifier like a transistor to power the crystal and maintain oscillation.
  • Tuning capacitors and inductors to control oscillation frequency
  • Output components for waveform shaping and buffering
  • Pierce and Colpitts quartz crystal oscillator circuits are the most common. Both use the crystal as a frequency
  • selective feedback device to generate an oscillating signal, but their circuit designs differ.

Quartz crystal oscillators have minimal phase noise and great frequency stability, however they are expensive and limited in frequency. Quartz crystal vibrations are limited to 1–30 MHz. Other oscillator methods are employed for higher frequencies. Quartz crystals are best for many applications due to their accuracy and reliability.

How Do Crystal Oscillators Work?

Quartz crystals’ piezoelectric action gives crystal oscillators an exact frequency. Voltage makes the quartz crystal vibrate at a given frequency. Stable frequency oscillation results from this vibration.

The basic crystal oscillator circuit has a quartz crystal, amplifier, and feedback network. Input and output of the amplifier are connected to the quartz crystal. The piezoelectric effect vibrates quartz crystals when powered. This signal is amplified and fed back to the quartz crystal to sustain vibration. This loop constantly oscillates at the crystal’s resonance frequency.

Quartz crystal cut and size determine output frequency. Frequency ranges from 32 kHz to 200 MHz depending on cut thickness and angle. The most usual cuts are AT and BT. AT-cut crystals are stable from -60 to +85°C.

Advantages of crystal oscillators include:

  • High frequency stability: Temperature, load, and power supply have little effect on output frequency.
  • Frequency stability can approach ppm.
  • Low phase noise: The frequency spectrum around the output frequency has few undesirable signals. This
  • produces a clean sine wave output.
  • However, crystal oscillators have drawbacks:

Quartz crystals and oscillator circuits are expensive, especially at high frequencies.
Quartz crystals only resonate in a limited frequency range, thus microwave frequencies require alternative technologies.
Many electrical equipment employ crystal oscillators to generate radio frequencies, keep time, and stabilize frequencies. They’re crucial to timepieces, radios, and digital systems. Crystal oscillators enable numerous everyday technologies despite their simplicity.

Types of Crystal Oscillator Circuits

Pierce Oscillator

Pierce oscillators are the simplest crystal oscillators. Basic components include a crystal, two capacitors, and an inverter or amplifier. Two capacitors on either side of the crystal “trap” circuit oscillations. The inverter gives gain for oscillations to begin and continue.

Pierce oscillators are cheap and easy to use but typically unstable. Any power supply or circuit temperature changes might induce frequency drift. Pierce oscillators may not work for precise timing.

Colpitts Oscillator

The Colpitts oscillator sets the oscillation frequency with a resonant tank circuit of inductors and capacitors, improving on the Pierce design. The tank circuit still relies on the crystal. Additional capacitors relate the oscillation signal to the amplifier.

Colpitts oscillators are more frequency stable than Pierce oscillators. The tank circuit buffers frequency-shifting disturbances. In radio transmitters, signal generators, and clock circuits, Colpitts oscillators provide excellent precision.

Your crystal oscillator circuit choice depends on your needs and priorities. Pierce oscillators may be ideal for low cost and simplicity. However, the Colpitts oscillator is excellent for frequency stability and accuracy applications. Understand the benefits and cons of each design to choose the oscillator that best suits your needs.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Crystal Oscillators

A major benefit of crystal oscillators is their excellent frequency stability. The size, shape, and cut of a quartz crystal affect its vibration frequency. After manufacturing a crystal for a target frequency, its oscillation frequency is exceptionally stable throughout a large temperature range. Timekeeping, navigation, and radio communication require exact and consistent frequency generation.

However, crystal oscillators cost more to make than RC or ceramic oscillators. Quartz crystals cost more because they need precision cutting and grinding to attain the right frequency. They have a narrow frequency range. Quartz crystals above 200 MHz and below 1 kHz are difficult to make. Applications requiring frequencies outside this range may require different oscillators.

Unfortunately, quartz crystals age and modify their oscillation frequency slightly. Age reduces crystal oscillator frequency stability. For most consumer uses, this aging impact is minor, but precision timekeeping must account for it. High oscillator frequency accuracy requires regular calibration and modification.

Crystal oscillators are ideal for many electronic circuits and applications due to their great frequency stability and minimal phase noise. However, their limited frequency range, increased cost, and tendency to drift somewhat as the quartz crystal ages are drawbacks. Many technologies and systems benefit from crystal oscillators more than they hurt. However, oscillators with higher or lower frequencies may be advantageous for particular applications.


Next time you handle a quartz crystal, recall its importance in electronics. Many of our everyday devices and systems wouldn’t work without these simple yet powerful components. Quartz crystals provide reliable, precise oscillations for timing and communications throughout industries, despite their limitations. This article should help engineers constructing circuits and beginners understand quartz and how it powers crystal oscillators.

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