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A look at hot and cold running oscillators

18 May 2015  | Michael Dunn

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If these technologies do not offer the accuracy you require, start looking at ovenized (OCXO) and temperature-compensated (TCXO) oscillators. Both endeavour to stabilise frequency variation over temperature, either by holding the crystal at a fixed temperature or by measuring the temperature and somehow correcting the crystal's reasonably predictable response.

TCXOs start at just a few dollars and can sport sub-ppm stability over their operating temperature range. Being crystal based, they still have limited accuracy and long-term stability, though they tend to be very good – just a few ppm in total.

OCXOs are more expensive and power hungry, but they can sport remarkable stability – 10ppb or better over temperature is available.

Figure 3: An OCXO like this could set you back $200.

If you're still shaking your head and saying, "These aren't accurate enough," a rubidium frequency standard may be your last hope. They're available cheaply on the surplus market. I don't know how many thousands of dollars a new one costs, but if you want absolute accuracy in the 1ppb range or better, along with stability that will let you test if old Albert was right, this is the way to go.

About the author
Michael Dunn has been messing with electronics almost as long as he's been walking. He got his first scope around age 15, and things have been going downhill ever since. The scopes now vie with wine racks, harpsichords, calculators, and 19th century pianos for space. Over the years, he's designed for the automotive, medical, industrial, communications, and consumer industries, as both freelancer and employee, working with analogue, digital, micros, and software. Since 2000, he's run the TekScopes Yahoogroup, now with over 5,000 members, and he was previously editor-in-chief of Scope Junction.

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