The Technology Behind Crystal Oscillators

Learning About This Common Electrical Component

Crystal oscillators are one of the most popular and widely used electrical components across a vast range of products including:

  • Computers
  • Microprocessors
  • Receivers
  • Timepieces
  • Medical equipment
  • Cell phones
  • Radios
  • Transmitters
  • And more

Technology leans on crystal oscillators for proper function. For that reason, it is important to understand what they do and their role in the ever-growing tech landscape.

Defining Crystal Oscillators

As mentioned above, crystal oscillators are a mainstay in the electronic components industry. The main components in these oscillators are quartz crystals that are relied upon for accurate and consistent frequency control. Since frequency control is one of the most pressing factors of an electrical system, the reliability of crystal oscillators has pushed them in front of ceramic options as the most trusted in the industry.

Crystal oscillators produce a continuous frequency waveform without requiring any input, even in conditions that would normally be detrimental to the frequency of the system like temperature variations, load variations, and changes in power supply.

The technology of Crystal Oscillators

Crystal oscillators are complex components with many different variables that can separate performance and ideal usage. One of the main complexities in these components is the different types. Oscillators can be one of two types:

  1. Harmonic (linear) – Energy starts in the active components and flows from the active components to the passive components in the system. The frequency of these oscillators is determined by the feedback path.
  2. Relaxation – This type is different from harmonic oscillators in that these use a simultaneous transfer of energy between the active and passive components. The frequency of relaxation oscillators is determined by the discharging and charging time constants.

In addition to the different types of crystal oscillators, another unique trait of these components is their behavior when exposed to electricity. If a crystal oscillator is introduced to an electric field, it will take a slightly different shape. This is called the electrostriction of the oscillator. Even after being removed from the electricity, the crystal in the oscillator will still hold a small amount of voltage that can be useful in many applications that may require timekeeping and an electric charge together.

Industries That Rely On Crystal Oscillators

The list of products above gives a great preview of the uses and placements of crystal oscillators, but that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the impact these components have on many industries and pieces of tech that require consistent time-keeping. Let’s take a look at a few applications:

  • Computers: Companies like Apple and Microsoft can put crystal oscillators in their computers and enjoy the frequency stability and accuracy they provide. They may even use them in other products like PICs, microprocessors, and microcontrollers as well.
  • Automobile: Modern automobiles require frequency control in many different systems, and car manufacturers have turned to crystal oscillators as the solution. With the large-scale transition to microprocessor-based systems, quartz crystal oscillators are the obvious choice to provide timing signals. On top of vehicle function, many newer features use crystal oscillators within the vehicle. Functions like brake controls, airbags, tire pressure monitoring systems, and anti-blocking systems wouldn’t be functional without crystal oscillators.
  • Radio: Since transmitters and radios operate on frequency wavelengths, it only makes sense that quartz crystal oscillators have made their way into these products. AM transmitters have actually been using crystal oscillators since the 1920s, so this trend has carried into the modern era of radios and transmitters.
  • Watches/Time-Keeping Devices: Since 1970, crystal oscillators have provided precise and continuous frequency and timing to watches and clocks. Time-keeping devices and crystal oscillators are a perfect match for performance.

Crystal Oscillators Aren’t Hard to Find

If you’re looking to source components of an electrical system, the chances are high that you’ll need a crystal oscillator at some point. Lucky for you, there are plenty out there for you to find and explore. A quick Google search for “crystal oscillators near me” is the perfect way to kick off your hunt.

The smartest, safest, and most efficient way is to locate a professional to work with that can gain an understanding of your systems and needs. As mentioned above, these components are very specific and are often made to order for specific circuits, so the particular needs of your system should be considered in the process of locating your components. It is important to understand your system, but also to work with someone who can gain that understanding and point you to the components to make your circuits operate at the highest efficiency and performance.