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MOSFET as a Switch - When is it in Saturation?

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I have the following circuit hooked up on a breadboard.

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I vary the gate voltage using a potentiometer. Here is what confuses me: according to wikipedia, the MOSFET is in saturation when V(GS) > V(TH) and V(DS) > V(GS) V(TH). If I slowly increase the gate voltage starting from 0, the MOSFET remains off. The LED starts conducting a small amount of current when the gate voltage is around 2.5V or so. The brightness stops increasing when the gate voltage reaches around 4V. There is no change in the brightness of the LED when the gate voltage is greater then 4V. Even if I increase the voltage rapidly from 4 to 12, the brightness of the LED remains unchanged. I also monitor the Drain to Source voltage while I'm increasing the gate voltage. The drain to source voltage drops from 12V to close to 0V when the gate voltage is 4V or so. This is easy to understand: since R1 and R(DS) form a voltage divider and R1 is much larger than R(DS), most of the voltage is dropped on R1. In my measurements, around 10V is being dropped on R1 and the rest on the red LED (2V).

However, since V(DS) is now approximately 0, the condition V(DS) > V(GS) - V(TH) is not satisfied, is the MOSFET not in saturation? If this is the case, how would one design a circuit in which the MOSFET is in saturation? Note that: R(DS) for IRF840 is 0.8 Ohms. V(TH) is between 2V and 4V. Vcc is 12V.

Here is the load line that I plotted of my circuit.

Now, from what I've gained from the answers here is that in order to operate the MOSFET as a switch, the operating point should be towards the left of the load line. Am I correct in my understanding? And If one imposes the MOSFET characteristic curves, on the above graph, then the operating point would be in the so called "linear/triode" region. Infact, the switch should reach that region as quickly as possible in order to work efficiently. Do I get it or am I completely wrong?
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edited Sep 1 '11 at 16:11

asked Sep 1 '11 at 12:55

Saad 1,5372727

Yes in order to operate as a switch the MOSFET should be in linear/triode region and yes you want to get to that 2 region as fast as possible in order to minimize loses. mazurnification Sep 1 '11 at 16:23 Thank you very much. And finally, if one makes an analogue Class A amplifier out of a MOSFET - he would be operating in the "saturation" region? The operating point ought to move WITHIN the saturation region on the loadline? Saad Sep 1 '11 at 16:26 Yes, that is correct - for the Class A amplifier the MOSFET should operate within saturation region.

1 mazurnification Sep 1 '11 at 17:07


I think mazurnification's comment should actually be the accepted answer, as it's succinct and correct :-) Jon Watte Apr 27 at 19:35

5 Answers
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First of all, "saturation" in mosfets means that change in VDS will not produce vote down significant change in the Id (drain current). You can think about MOSFET in saturation voteaccept as a current source. That is regardless of the voltage across VDS (with limits of course) the current through the device will be (almost) constant.

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Now going back to the question: According to wikipedia, the MOSFET is in saturation when V(GS) > V(TH) and V(DS) > V(GS) - V(TH). That is correct.

If I slowly increase the gate voltage starting from 0, the MOSFET remains off. The LED starts conducting a small amount of current when the gate voltage is around 2.5V or so. You increased The Vgs above Vth of the NMOS so the channel was formed and device started to conduct. The brightness stops increasing when the gate voltage reaches around 4V. There is no change in the brightness of the LED when the gate voltage is greater then 4V. Even if I increase the voltage rapidly from 4 to 12, the brightness of the LED remains unchanged. You increased the Vgs making the device conducting more current. At Vgs = 4V the thing that is limiting amount of current is no longer transistor but resistor that you have in series with transistor. I also monitor the Drain to Source voltage while I'm increasing the gate voltage. The drain to source voltage drops from 12V to close to 0V when the gate voltage is 4V or so. This is easy to understand: since R1 and R(DS) form a voltage divider and R1 is much larger than R(DS), most of the voltage is dropped on R1. In my measurements, around 10V is being dropped on R1 and the rest on the red LED (2V). Everything looks in order here. However, since V(DS) is now approximately 0, the condition V(DS) > V(GS) - V(TH) is not satisfied, is the MOSFET not in saturation? No it is not. It is in linear or triode region. It behaves as resistor in that region. That is increasing Vds will increase Id. If this is the case, how would one design a circuit in which the MOSFET is in saturation? You already have. You just to need take care for operating point (make sure that conditions that you have mention are met). A) In linear region you can observe following: -> when increasing the SUPPLY voltage, the LED will get brighter as the current across resistor and transistor will rise and thus more will be flowing through the LED. B) In saturation region something different will happen -> when increasing SUPPLY voltage, the LED brightness will not change. The extra voltage that you apply on the SUPPLY will not translate to bigger current. Instead it will be across MOSFET, so the DRAIN volage will rise together with supply voltage (so increase supply by 2V will mean increasing drain volage by almost 2V)
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answered Sep 1 '11 at 16:13

mazurnification 1,608716

Thank you very much for this exhaustive answer. You state that "You already have. You just to need take care for operating point (make sure that conditions that you have mention are met)." - please see my edit on the original question. Am I correct in my understanding that in order for the MOSFET to work as a switch, the operating point needs to be located towards the left side? Since normally, one does not vary the supply voltage this means that the gat voltage ought to be as high as possible? Saad Sep 1 '11 at 16:24 Yes and Yes (biggest VGS feasible to decrease Rds_on and for the device to work as a switch mosfet should be in linear region) mazurnification Sep 1 '11 at 17:09 up

I interpret the meaning of 'saturation' in the context of the Wikipedia article as follows:

vote down The datasheet for a MOSFET will show a graph with curves showing a particular ID for vote

a particular VDS at a particular VGS, usually for a number of different VGS values.

In this example, the red parabolic line separates what's referred to as the 'linear' region from the 'saturation' region. In the saturation region, the ID lines are flat - the current does not increase any more as VDS increases. In the linear region, as the drain current increases, VDS increases - the MOSFET acts sort of like a resistor. In your situation, assuming your part has similar curves to the example, technically 'no', the device is not in the saturation region. That being said, your ID is so low that the VDS drop is miniscule compared to the series resistor. No matter what VGS rises to, the 'linear' drop of the MOSFET is tiny compared to the 390 resistor, and "looks"

saturated.
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answered Sep 1 '11 at 16:09

Madmanguruman 18.9k1747