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A Basic MOSFET question

Discussion in 'Electronic Basics' started by Saran, Apr 30, 2005.

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  1. Saran

    Saran Guest

    Hello Everybody:

    Good morning. I have a couple of basic MOSFET questions that I would
    like to clarify. I have studied a lot of articles, asked a few people
    about this doubt but could not find a satisfactory explanation. I am
    hoping somebody will take the trouble of clarifying my doubt.

    MOSFETs, as I understand, are voltage-controlled devices. Doesn't that
    mean that they need a charge (voltage) applied to the gate to make the
    device conducting? If this is the case, in some circuits I have found
    in the process of learning analog VLSI, what is the meaning of a "gate
    of a nmos/pmos transistor being driven by the output of a current
    mirror?" I have read that the output current of the current mirror is
    used to bias a next stage. What exactly does this mean?

    Secondly, if the MOSFETs are voltage-controlled devices, why do we most
    of the time deal with currents when talking about VLSI systems?

    Hope, I am clear with my questions. Thanks in advance.

  2. Andrew Holme

    Andrew Holme Guest

    If you force charge onto the gate of a MOSFET, you change the gate-source
    voltage. MOSFETs are voltage-controlled devices because the drain current
    depends on the gate-source voltage. It doesn't matter where the charge came

    The gate is basically a capacitor which obeys the rule Q=CV
  3. Saran wrote:
    Charge and voltage are not the same thing. The gates of mos
    transistors are nonlinear capacitors. To change the voltage of any
    capacitors involves movement of charge, The rate of movement of
    charge with respect to time is called current.
    A current mirror provides a controlled current that passes charge into
    or out of the gate. When the gate voltage reaches the saturation
    voltage for the mirror, the current ceases, and the maximum or minimum
    voltage that the mirror can drive into (called its compliance) has
    been reached.
    It means that the gate voltage is changed at a controlled rate by the
    controlled current from a current mirror.

    The speed of mos logic is limited by the current one stage can deliver
    to change the gate voltage on the succeeding stage. Voltage may turn
    the mos transistor on, but current determines how fast a mos
    transistor can go from off to on or vice versa.

    Have I misunderstood your questions?
  4. Saran

    Saran Guest

    So, let me restate what I understood. The current mirror's output
    current is used to charge the gate of the transistor. So, depending on
    the magnitude of the current, the gate voltage increaser faster or
    slower (sorry about my layman language, I just want to be very very

    If I understood this correctly, then:
    1) If a current mirror is charging the gate of a transistor, or in
    other words, changing its Vgs, the maximum Vgs value is determined by
    the saturation voltage for the mirror.
    2) We are controlling the rate at which gate is charged in a circuit.

    Have I understood this correctly? Thanks in advance.

  5. That is the principle. For linear capacitors, the math is
    I=C*(dv/dt), where I is amperes of current, C is capacitance in farads
    and dv/dt is the the rate of voltage change in volts per second.
    Unchanging gate voltage requires only leakage current to be
    maintained, and that is a very small current for mos gates.
    You have restated what I said, so if you are wrong, we are both wrong.

    The logic speed of a mos system is based on both the current the
    drains can deliver to the next stage gate, and the capacitance of that
  6. Saran

    Saran Guest

    Thanks a ton, John. It is conceptually clear now.

    I have one question, how do we know how much current we have to
    generate from a current mirror to bias a transistor. I know this is a
    vague question, what I mean is, the gate capacitance determines the
    rate at which the gate will be charged, right? So, are the gate
    capacitances values standard for different transistors? Where are they
    available from?

    For instance, in an example, if the author says that a current mirror
    outputs constantly 200nA to the input of the gate of some transistor
    M1, he means that the gate voltage is being maintained constant
    (unchaged) with this small current. The exact values, I assume, can be
    obtained from the specific data sheets are manuals.

    Is this right?

    Thanks once again.
  7. Andrew Holme

    Andrew Holme Guest

    Yes. You are correct.
  8. The gate capacitance is as low as the maker knows how to make it, and
    the drain conductance is as high as the maker can make it. We are
    stuck with what is available based on physics and the state of
    technology at the time the device was made. If they make the
    transistor larger, to raise the drain current, the gate capacitance
    goes up. If they make the transistor smaller to shrink the gate
    capacitance, the drain current goes down. So the details of gate
    insulation thickness, channel doping profiles, and lots of other
    details are the difference between the best combination and average
    (or below average) performance. This is what keeps chip designers
    working overtime and forever.
    If the circuit is logic, the current source (not usually a mirror, but
    just a common source amplifier) never holds the gate biased half way
    on, but is always either saturated full on, full off, or is
    transitioning between those saturation values as fast as it can charge
    the gate capacitance.

    For analog circuits (like opamps) there are usually two current
    mirrors battling it out, one trying to charge the gate up and one
    trying to dump the charge out of it, and in the steady state case, one
    current mirror is pouring current into the other one, and the gate
    charge is sitting unchanging somewhere at a middle voltage. Then the
    two mirrors unbalance from a change in the signal and the gate swings
    to another voltage, till the feedback rebalances the mirrors to a

    For instance, in this simple opamp:
    Q3 and Q5 are a pull up current mirror (that supplies a constant pull
    up current) and Q11 is a variable pull down current source dependent
    on the balance of the two input voltages. The output of the opamp
    (the drains of Q8 and Q12) depends on what voltage there is on the
    gates of Q8 and Q12 when the pull up and pull down current sources on
    their gates become equal and stop supplying either pull up or pull
    down current to charge them. If those two currents are not equal, the
    remainder will go into changing the gate voltage and the output
    voltage will be in slew.
  9. Saran

    Saran Guest

    Thanks a lot for the help.

  10. dan

    dan Guest

    Overall, I'd say you didn't understand it, and it wasn't explained real
    well to you, but maybe I just don't understand what you and others have

    First off, MOSFETs are generally considered to be voltage controlled
    current sources, at least when operated in the saturation regime (Vds >
    Vgs - Vt). BJTs on the other hand are current controlled current sources.
    Each of these transistors have respective advantages.

    In analog circuitry you often deal with both voltage and current, and
    since MOSFETs are voltage controlled current sources its important to
    consider all aspects. MOSFETs are complicated devices, entire books have
    been written simply discussing aspects of how MOSFETs work. To try to
    boil them down into one or two sentences will surely leave you with an
    incorrect understanding. Even the most cursory treatment of them in an
    engineering text book would be at least several pages long.

    The purpose of a current mirror is to duplicate (or mirror) a current with
    some sort of multiplicative factor (M/N). If you are following good
    layout practices, M and N should both be integers. Let's say we have a
    simple N-channel mirror, where M and N are both 1. So we have two
    identical transistors (M1 and M2). M1 and M2's gates are both tied
    together and tied to the drain of M1. M1 and M2's source is tied to
    ground. A current, I1 is pushed into the drain of M1. M1 is said to be
    "diode connected" because its drain and gate are shorted together.

    Now, let's ignore M2 for the moment. If we take M1 to be an ideal
    transistor, no current will enter the gate of M1, so all of I1 must enter
    the drain. The gate however is capacitive, as such its voltage can be
    increased by pumping current in, or decreased by pumping current out.
    The gate has access to a current source (I1) to increase or decrease the
    gate voltage so as to allow all the current to flow through the drain.
    It should be obvious that as its adjusting the gate voltage the current
    through the drain will not perfectly match I1, but it should get closer
    and closer over time. Eventually the gate voltage will be forced to
    settle to whatever voltage will produce drain current equal to I1. Assume
    for the moment that M1 is biased into saturation:

    Id = K * (W/L) * (Vgs - Vth)^2 * (1 + Lambda*Vds)

    Lambda is the channel length modulation and is often quite small. It can
    intentionally be made small by increasing L (gate length). K and Vth are
    constants that are fixed by the processing. W and L are the gate width
    and length respectively and are chosen by the designer.

    Now, let's add M2 back into the circuit. M2's gate is shorted to M1's.
    M2's source is shorted to M1's. If we look at the Id equation, assuming
    identical W/L, the current through the drain of M2 should closely match
    that of M1. In real designs the designer may use different W's for M1
    and M2 in order to achieve the multiplicative effect I previously

    I don't think all that much thought is given to the amount of current
    required to charge the gate of the MOSFET, unless speed is a concern in
    which case there are much more advanced and accurate topologies that can
    be used. Typically current mirrors are used for providing a static bias
    current to multiple points within a circuit based on a single reference.
    In this case, the reference rarely moves, and speed simply isn't a
    concern, and hence no one thinks about the charge rate. There are other
    instances when an AC signal is being mirrored in which case it may be more
    of a concern however.

    So the current mirror's *INPUT* current is used to charge the gates of the
    mirror transistors. The output current could be used for a variety of
    things depending on why a mirror was even employed to begin with.
    Regarding your assertion about the maximum voltage... The only criteria
    on a current mirror and voltage is that the transistors (both of them)
    must remain in saturation (i.e. Vds > Vgs - Vth). If the transistors
    slip into triode region, then the transistors cease to act as very good
    current sources, and start acting more like resistors, as such the mirror
    becomes far less effective if the loads on the mirror branches differ

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