Inverter crystal oscillator

In numerous RF synthesizer chips lies an inverter with input and output pins for making a reference crystal oscillator clock. I built some discrete chip inverter xtal oscillators with 74HC series logic gates to better examine them. You’ll quickly recognize the oft-used Pierce oscillator topology with 1 trimmer capacitor to tweak the fundamental frequency which might vary from factors like crystal aging and gate, crystal, crystal holder + board reactances.

Inverter crystal oscillator

I determined the 27 pF and trimmer cap values through experiments and measures.

Above — A crystal reference oscillator + buffer with inverters built from NAND gates. The crystal is a good 1 — built in 2013; AT- cut; parallel 20 pF load capacitance; fundamental 12.8 MHz; a measured QuL of 265K and zero spurs during my test sweeps. Further, this crystal ages < 5 ppm per annum for at least 2 decades.

If I contrast this with some cheap xtals I bought and tested from eBay — it’s night versus day. You might find such xtals in DDS and other low-cost synthesizers kits. They typically come in a HC-49S case, might suffer a QuL of 40-60K — and more alarmingly, those I measured often showed strong, close-in spurs to further trash the already compromised close-in phase noise of these low-cost synthesizers.

Quoting Dr. Ulrich Rohde ” [ALL] elements in a synthesizer contribute to noise. Two primary noise contributors are the reference and the VCO. Actually, the crystal oscillator or frequency standard is a high-Q version of the VCO” [ Reference 1 ].

Although this post isn’t about phase noise; in this era of poor quality, “cheapo” crystals, I think a low-noise reference is worth considering when synthesizing signals for specific applications that require low phase noise. Big thanks to Alexei Luk for sending me this 12.8 MHz gem.

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I found a problem with my circuit as shown above: strong spikes on the positive and negative edges. My quest became finding ways to decrease these spikes and enhance the square waveform seen in my DSO

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