Transistor IV curves and Modes of Operation/Biasing

In the field of electronics, the most important active device is without a doubt the transistor. A transistor acts as a ON/OFF switch or as an amplifier. It is important to understand the modes of operation for these devices, both voltage controlled (FET) and current controlled (BJT).

For the MOSFET, the cutoff region is where no current flows through the inversion channel and functions as an open switch. The “Ohmic” or linear region, the drain-source current increases linearly with the drain-source voltage. In this region, the FET is acting as a closed switch or “ON” state. The “Saturation” region is where the drain-source current stays roughly constant despite the drain source voltage increasing. This region has the FET functioning as an amplifier.


The image above illustrates that for an enhancement mode FET, the gate-source voltage must be higher than a certain threshold voltage for the device to conduct. Before that happens, there is no channel for charge to flow. From there, the device enters the linear region until the drain-source voltage is high enough to be in saturation.

DC biasing is an extremely important topic in electronics. For example, if a designer wishes for the transistor to operate as an amplifier, the FET must stay within the saturation region. To achieve this, a biasing circuit is implemented. Another condition which effects the operating point of the transistor is temperature, but this can be mitigated with a DC bias circuit as well (this is known as stabilization). “Stability factor” is a measure of how well the biasing circuit achieves this effect. Biasing a MOSFET changes its DC operating point or Q point and is usually implemented with a simple voltage divider circuit. This can be done with a single DC voltage supply.  The following voltage transfer curve shows that the MOSFET amplifies best in the saturation region with less distortion than the triode/ohmic region.


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