Understanding the Accuracy of Crystal Oscillators

How These Components Support Frequency in Electrical Systems

For electrical systems to function properly, their internal frequencies must remain consistent and stable through various conditions. Impeccable frequency control is key in these systems, so many engineers depend on crystal oscillators to provide stability in their designs.

Crystal oscillators are built to provide constant, consistent frequency in all conditions, even those that generally disrupt frequency such as temperature variations, load variations, and power supply changes. 

What Is a Crystal Oscillator?

Crystal oscillators are generally manufactured using quartz crystals, which provide the frequency control that engineers have come to expect from these components. Crystal oscillators have grown to replace ceramic resonators and other types of oscillators (ex: Hartley, Dynatron, RC, etc.) because of their consistency. Other factors that set crystal oscillators apart from other frequency control devices include:

  • Versatility: Crystal oscillators are built with small pieces of quartz that are called crystals. These crystals can be designed, shaped, and cut into different sizes to achieve different frequency outputs. 


  • Stability: The oscillator allows for a continuous waveform, which means that the frequency is being output at all times. Additionally, crystal oscillators do not require any input for function, so the desired frequency will continue, even when disconnected from power sources and other components.


  • Possibility: When the crystals of the oscillator are exposed to electricity, they undergo a process called electrostriction that causes a minor change in their shape. Electrostriction allows the crystal to provide a small amount of energy to different applications, even after the electric current has been removed from the crystal. This opens up more possibilities for oscillators to provide a charge in addition to their time keeping elements.

What Types of Systems Do Crystal Oscillators Support?

As one of the most popular and widespread timing solutions on the market, crystal oscillators are utilized in many different products across various industries. Examples include:

  • Computers: Brands like Apple and Microsoft utilize crystal oscillators in their products. The electrical systems of PICs, microprocessors, and microcontrollers are heavily reliant on crystal oscillators for accurate timing. 


  • Automotive: In recent years, the automotive industry has started to transition into utilizing more microprocessor systems, which rely on crystal oscillators for stability. Other automobile systems that utilize crystal oscillators include brake controls, airbags, and tire pressure monitoring systems. 


  • Radios: All transmitters have had a required stable frequency output since the beginning of AM radio in the early 1900s. Crystal oscillators are built into these devices to keep time and provide precise frequency to receive the desired signals. 


  • Watches: Crystal oscillators have been providing accuracy in watches and other timepieces (ex: the clock on a computer) since the 1970s. Clocks rely on continuous and accurate timing, so it’s not difficult to envision the utility of crystal oscillators in these devices.

While the above are classic examples of crystal oscillator utility, more modern pieces of technology such as cell phones, smart wearables, home media devices, and certain medical equipment (residential and commercial) are also adopting the use of crystal oscillators when accurate timekeeping and frequency are needed. Engineers start with crystal oscillators when they need an answer to a frequency control question, so it’s likely that technological advancements will continue to utilize crystal oscillators going forward.

Reaping the Benefits of a Crystal Oscillator In Your System

As the benefits of crystal oscillators start to make their way into more industries, product lines, and new ideas, many more engineers are seeking out these superior components for their designs. The good news is that if your project or application is in need of a crystal oscillator, finding the right one shouldn’t be difficult. These components are widely available and usually can be found through several different companies. Engineers can find an abundance of online availability of crystal oscillators and other components. 

Performing a basic Google search for “crystal oscillators for sale” or “crystal oscillators near me” should bring plenty of options to your attention. However, not all options are good options. Be thorough when selecting a crystal oscillator manufacturer to ensure that your components meet the requirements of your application.

The best approach is to select a company first. Confirm the company has plenty of expertise and specialists that can work directly with you to determine what your application needs. Since components are far from universal, your manufacturer should consider all the factors, including package size, frequency desired, and mounting type, just to name a few. Your system relies on the correct component to operate efficiently, so work with someone who can help you achieve your application’s goals.

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