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Transistors

 

Function
Transistors amplify current, for example they can be used to amplify the small output current from a logic chip so that it can operate a lamp, relay or other high current device. In many circuits a resistor is used to convert the changing current to a changing voltage, so the transistor is being used to amplify voltage. picture of a transistor, transistor symbol
A transistor may be used as a switch (either fully on with maximum current, or fully off with no current) and as an amplifier (always partly on).

The amount of current amplification is called the current gain, symbol hFE.
For further information please see the Transistor Circuits page.

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Types of transistor


picture of a transistor, transistor symbol
Transistor circuit symbols
There are two types of standard transistors, NPN and PNP, with different circuit symbols. The letters refer to the layers of semiconductor material used to make the transistor. Most transistors used today are NPN because this is the easiest type to make from silicon. If you are new to electronics it is best to start by learning how to use NPN transistors.
The leads are labelled base (B), collector (C) and emitter (E).
These terms refer to the internal operation of a transistor but they are not much help in understanding how a transistor is used, so just treat them as labels!

A Darlington pair is two transistors connected together to give a very high current gain.

In addition to standard (bipolar junction) transistors, there are field-effect transistors which are usually referred to as FETs. They have different circuit symbols and properties and they are not (yet) covered by this page.


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Connecting
Transistors have three leads which must be connected the correct way round. Please take care with this because a wrongly connected transistor may be damaged instantly when you switch on.
If you are lucky the orientation of the transistor will be clear from the PCB or stripboard layout diagram, otherwise you will need to refer to a supplier's catalogue to identify the leads.

The drawings on the right show the leads for some of the most common case styles.

Please note that transistor lead diagrams show the view from below with the leads towards you. This is the opposite of IC (chip) pin diagrams which show the view from above.

Transistor leads for some common case styles.

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