Dual Gate MOSFET Investigations - Intermodulation

A look into the intermod properties of a BF991 amplifier.

You may have seen in my previous post that I have been working on the latest (and hopefully final) major revision of the CC1. Many of the previous decisions on the radio architecture have been thrown out, perhaps most importantly the decision to use a dual-gate MOSFET as the mixer. In the quest for a replacement, I considered using the old standby, a diode ring mixer, but I wanted to be open to other possibilities as well. As shown in that last post, the KISS mixer from Chris Trask seems to have excellent intermod performance with relative simplicity. So the current plan is to try to build an IF chain using the KISS mixer and see if it will work well in the CC1.

Having quantified the performance of the KISS mixer, the current quest is to find an IF amplifier that will provide decent performance at a reasonable current "price". With an IIP3 of approximately +30 dBm (I believe it should be able to get the mixer there with some improvements in components), the limiting factor for IP3 performance in the IF chain will be the IF amplifiers. Consider that my current goals for the CC1 receiver are:

  • Dynamic range of around 100 dB
  • Decent sensitivity (less than -130 dB MDS in 400 Hz bandwidth)
  • Reasonable current consumption for portable use (< 60 mA)

In order to achieve this, I've determined (using the excellent Cascade08 program from W7ZOI's LADPAC software suite) that the IF amp that I choose will need the following characteristics:

  • OIP3 of at least +20 dBm (although higher is better since the amp is the limiting factor)
  • modest gain

The current candidate for the IF topology is similar to the design seen in Figure 6.89 in Experimental Methods in RF Design, with no gain until after the first IF filter. To that end, I've been looking a various amplifier designs to see if I could find something that would fit (or at least come close to) the requirements above. Bipolar amps are nice, but use a lot of current. MMICs were another possibility; the ones I have found do have about +20 dBm OIP3, but with around 20 mA of current draw and approximately 20 dB of gain, which means the IIP3 is not that great. I figured it wouldn't hurt to take a look at the dual-gate MOSFET again, as I know that at least they can use modest current and many have excellent noise figure.

Without getting into the weeds of every detail of the experiment that I tried, I'll just recap the important parts. Initially I used a BF998 with an L-network on gate 1 to transform the 2.2 kΩ input impedance of the amplifier to 50 Ω. A pot was provided to provide variable voltage bias to gate 2. Different permutations of source resistor and gate 2 bias were tried, and the best IIP3 I could get from that amplifier was about -3 dBm (with perhaps 14 dB of gain). OK, but not great. So I decided to give the BF991 a try and see what I could get out of it. Again, I tried many variations of source resistor and gate 2 bias, and was able to find a configuration that is somewhat promising.

BF991IF

You can see in the schematic above that I settled on a source resistor of 100 Ω and "dipped" the gate 2 pot for best IP3, which came out at 5.6 V of bias. I also found in previous trials that leaving the source bypass capacitor out improved the IP3 a few dB and decreased the gain a few dB, which was a worthy improvement. Input and output was matched for 50 Ω. The current consumption was only 4 mA, which is pretty great for an IF amp in a portable radio.

bf991ip2

Here is the capture of the OIP3 measurement from my DSA815-TG. Only 10 dB of gain, but that is OK as we wanted modest gain. The IIP3 measured +8 dBm, and when you add in the 10 dB of gain, the OIP3 is +18 dBm, which is pretty close to my original spec, and all for only 4 mA.

This all looks very reasonable. But there's one problem. The good IP3 is highly dependent on VDD and VG2, especially the gate 2 voltage. As this is going to be a production radio, there needs to be a reliable way to set VG2 during calibration, every time. Also it appears that I probably need some way to keep VDD stable over a variety of voltage inputs, such as a LDO voltage regulator (maybe 9 or 10 V would work). But I need as much headway as possible in VDD in order to get the most out of my dual-gate MOSFET amp. In my experience, they don't like being voltage-starved. There also appears to be a bit of dependency on the tuning of the input L-network, although that is not as pronounced as the other effects.

As it stands now, this is a promising candidate for the IF amp, but I'll have to find a way to reduce these dependencies quite a bit in order for it to be viable for a commercial product. That's my next line of inquiry, and I'll be sure to have a follow-up post if I am able to get around the remaining limitations

Homebrew 20 Watt Linear Amp

20 Watt Broadband Linear Amplifier
20 Watt Broadband Linear Amplifier

QRP is tons of fun on CW, but it gets a bit rough trying to work other stations on SSB with 5W, especially when you are using antennas that are low to the ground. I had been eyeballing the nice RF MOSFETs from Mitsubishi for a while, and since I got a hankering to get a bit more active on SSB, I took the plunge and ordered five of the RD15HVF1 devices. At a current price of $5.25 at RF Parts, they are a bit more expensive than the IRF510 that you see in a lot of 20-40 watt range linears, but these devices have a few advantages over the IRF5xx series. One of the biggest, in my opinion, is that these RF transistors are designed to run off of a 12 volt drain voltage, unlike the IRF510 amps which don't really work well until they get around 24 volts on the drain. These things can also take quite a beating from poor mismatches, and have the convienice of having the source connected to the metal tab on the case, making for a nice solid ground connection.

20 Watt Broadband Linear Amp - Inside
20 Watt Broadband Linear Amp - Inside

Having the appropriate parts in hand and some designs on the internet to steal from, I set out to build my own linear. There isn't a ton of creativity to be used when designing a linear of this class (Push-pull Class-AB). Every design that I've seen looks nearly the same. Not surprisingly, the real focus of the design is in optimising the input and output networks. Feeling lazy and anxious to just get on the air, I pretty much did "cut and paste" from some different circuits to find out what works best. I know, not the best method, but sometimes the desire to just put out some RF trumps proper procedure. I don't have a scehematic to post at the moment, but if you click through on the photo to the right, you can see a close-up with descriptions of major circuit blocks. Below, I've posted links to the two circuit resources that I used the most for this design. I'll have more details about the designs to comment on at a later date, when I can pull some proper notes together.

One of my weakest homebrewing areas is in the mechanical engineering, but now that I have a bit of a real "shop" in my garage, things have been getting better. A bit of scrounging at the surplus stores around town led me to some cheap heat sinks that looked like they might be suitable for this project. After attacking them with an angle grinder to get a lip off of the bottom side, I was able to bolt two of them to the lid of an aluminum Hammond enclosure. I nibbled a nice square area right out of the middle of the copper clad I used to build on, soldered the RD15HVF1 devices to some pads etched out with a Dremel, then bolted the MOSFETs and copper clad directly to the lid of the enclosure. Drilling the holes for the BNCs and the LED was a piece of cake with the aluminium box material.

Without getting into too many details at this point, I was able to get the amplifier working right off the bat. I didn't get quite as much output power as I initially liked (only got about 10 watts), but the amp was working correctly. More troubling was the fact that output on 6 meters was only 2.8 watts. Not too great when you are putting in 2.5 watts. I figured it had to be something with the input or output network. The input return loss measured quite good; -15 to -20 dB across all the bands. So I figured that left the output network. My initial iteration of the amp used a transformer similar to the one in the Pennywhistle amp (this is a configuration that I've also successfully used before in a push-pull class-C CW amp). Without doing any actual measurements and calculations, I dropped in the broadband transformer pair used in the TF3LJ amp, and immediately improved my output power by a few watts. But I was still a bit low on 6 meters. A bit more searching showed that I might need another compensation cap on the output, so I experimented a bit more until I found that a 1200 pF silver mica in series with the drain transformer outputs worked wonders and boosted my power on 6 meters to nearly 15 watts CW. I haven't done any analysis to see why this helped. I know, sloppy...but sometimes expedience wins.

Since there's no output filtering built into the amplifier enclosure, I had to assemble some outboard filters in order to get this thing on the air. I was going to use 7-pole low-pass filters until I realized that everybody else uses 5-pole filters because push-pull amps already suppress the even-ordered harmonics by at least -30 dBc. A bit of work with the new LADPAC software in EMRFD enabled me to crank out a table of filters for all of the bands (160 m - 6 m) using the silver mica caps in my junkbox plus T68-6 toroids. If you click through the photo below, you can get a glimpse of the copper clad enclosure sticking off the output of the amp.

Backyard Linear Test
Backyard Linear Test

Last Monday, after a bit of checking of the signal purity with my dummy load and scope, I was satisfied that everything was working OK and took the amp out for a spin on the back porch. I set up the Buddipole in Versatee Vertical configuration with the Low Band Coil. It tuned right up on the upper end of 75 meters, and I had no problems at all checking into the Oregon Emergency Net. One watt out of the 817 gave me about 25 watts out of the linear on 75 meters. I was too busy to do much else with the amplifier until today (the following Sunday), but I was excited to give the amp a try on 6 meters, since that was one of my biggest motiviations for building the thing. The Buddipole was set up in a simple 6 meter dipole configuration about 10 feet above the ground and I parked the 817 on 50.125 MHz. It didn't take long before I heard N6OR booming into Beaverton from Southern California (grid DM12). I snagged him on the first call, getting a 57 signal report in return and a report of good, clean audio when asked. He was running 100 watts into a quad, which you can see on his QRZ page. I was really thrilled since this was not only a victory for my mad homebrewing skillz, but was also my first 6 meter QSO!

I've been parked on 50.125 for most of the afternoon here at the NT7S shack and have picked up a few more QSOs. So far, all reports of the audio quality of the linear have been FB, so I'm satisfied that it (and the LPF) are working as they should be. I think I've about worn out my keys on this post, so I'll wrap it up for today (I always start with modest ambitions on these posts, they they grow exponentially). I'm having way more fun than I should be, and I'm very pleased to be back out of my ham radio funk.

W8DIZ 5 Watt CW Amplifier Analysis

I finally got the proper binocular ferrite cores that I needed to build the W8DIZ 5 watt amp correctly. You can see my previous post on this amplifier here. In my last post, I noted that I was seeing some strangeness in the drive level circuitry. I found that I had a very bad connection through my ammeter to the DC power supply, and once it was corrected the drive circuitry worked as it should.

For this basic analysis of the amplifier, I took measurements of the RMS voltage of the amplifier output into a 50 Ω dummy load with a constant input amplitude of 0 dBm. I also measured the total current draw of the circuit, which allowed me to calculate the amplifier efficiency. Note that no low-pass filtering was used at the output of the amplifier. The output waveform was not sinusoidal, but my DSO is able to do a good job measuring RMS voltage.

Test Equipment

  • Tektronix TDS 1012 Digital Storage Oscilloscope (100 MHz bandwidth)
  • Tektronix SG 503 Leveled Sine Wave Generator
  • Tektronix DM 502A Digital Multimeter
  • Tektronix PS 503A Power Supply
  • M3 Electronix FPM-1 Frequency Counter/Power Meter

Test Conditions

The DC power supply to the amplifier was set to a loaded voltage of 13.5 VDC. The signal generator for the input signal was set to 0 dBm power output into 50 Ω, which was verified with the FPM-1 each time the frequency was changed. Two sets of measurements were taken, one with R6 set to minimum and the other with R6 set to maximum.

Measurements

Min Max
MHz VRMS (V) PO (W) IDC (mA) VRMS (V) PO (W) IDC (mA) Eff.
1.8 13.7 3.75 440 22.4 10.03 957 0.776
3.5 20.2 8.16 768 23.9 11.42 992 0.852
7.0 13.8 3.81 470 21.7 9.42 844 0.826
10.1 9.3 1.73 300 19.8 7.84 732 0.793
14.0 5.24 0.55 174 17.6 6.20 635 0.723
18.7 3.12 0.19 103 14.4 4.15 514 0.598
21.0 2.07 0.09 78 12.6 3.18 452 0.521
24.9 1.53 0.05 65 9.05 1.64 326 0.372
28.0 1.19 0.03 60 6.56 0.86 232 0.274

Conclusion

As Diz states in his original post, the efficiency of the amplifier is quite good. However, both the power output and the efficiency starts to droop a bit above 20 meters. It's my belief that this is a function of the gain-bandwidth product of the two PA transistors. According to the datasheet, the FT of a 2SC5739 is 180 MHz. Given the rule of thumb of having a FT at least 10 times the output frequency, it makes sense that the output starts to get a bit weak around 18 MHz. I do have some similar devices (2SC5954) with a slightly higher FT of 200 MHz that I will probably substitute in the circuit to see if I can improve the upper HF response a bit. There seems to be some kind of strangeness at 3.5 MHz, which doesn't allow me to get much power output range. I'll have to check with Diz about this. Regardless, this would still make a very fine QRP amplifier up to the 15 meter band. The amplifier is extremely stable and the PA transistors don't get very hot during long periods of use. I currently have the transistors floating freely, but a modest heat sink would probably be a good thing if running the amp at full power output. This kit will be a great addition to the RF Toolkits line.

W8DIZ 5 Watt CW Amplifier

W8DIZ 5 Watt CW Amplifier
W8DIZ 5 Watt CW Amp

A few days ago, W8DIZ made a post on qrp-l.org announcing a new addition to his RF Toolkits line. This one is a 5 watt CW amplifier using a push-pull 2SC5739 pair as the PA (my new favorite full QRP gallon transistor). I built my own version of the circuit using parts that I had on-hand. The only substitiutions that I had to make were the cores for T3 and T4 (the output transformers), but I have the correct cores on order from Diz. With an input signal level of 0 dBm (1 mW), I was able to get nearly 5 watts output into a 50 ohm dummy load from 160 to 30 meters. The power output started to droop above 20 meters, but I suspect that is because I used the wrong core types on the PA circuit. There is also a control to adjust the power output using a PIN diode bias control on the driver amp emitter. It seemed to work fairly well on some bands, but on others was not very well behaved. Once again, I'm going to wait for my correct cores to arrive before making any final judgements about this.  The great thing about using a PIN diode design like this is that you are using a DC bias to control the gain, which means you can run a long cable to a panel-mounted potentiometer. This looks like a great amp and I look forward to getting it built completely correctly once the parts get here. Stay tuned for another update with detailed measurements once that happens.

Dual Gate MOSFET Investigations - Gain and AGC

Having determined some basic characteristics of the biasing of the BF998 dual gate MOSFET in a previous experiment, it was now time to look into the gain and AGC performance of the amplifier. A few changes were made to the original circuit to turn it into a proper RF amplifier.

Test Equipment

  • Power Meter: M3 Electronix FPM-1
  • Voltmeter: Fluke 8840A
  • Signal Generator: Tektronix SG503

Initial Test Conditions

The gate 1 voltage (VBIAS) was initially biased to 3.16 V, a level that was previously determined to give about 10 mA of drain current when gate 2 is biased to 9.2 V. The input signal was set to a frequency of approximately 28.1 MHz, to give an idea of the amplifier performance in the upper HF bands. The output power of the signal generator was set to -30.0 dBm into a 50 Ω resistive load. This gave me enough power to make a good measurement with the FPM-1 while avoiding the problem of gain compression. All gain measurements are based off of this amplifier input power (in other words, the amplifier gain described in this report is the transducer gain).

The Circuit

The DC biasing of the circuit is virtually identical to the final configuration determined in the first experiment. However, there have been some changes in regard to the input and output circuitry. First of all, the gate 1 bias is now fed through a 2.2 kΩ resistor which is bypassed to AC ground with a 100 nF capacitor. This sets the input impedance to 2.2 kΩ. Values around 2 kΩ seem to be fairly common in the literature, apparently because of the noise figure benefits. I would like to investigate this further in a later experiment, but for now we'll go with the wisdom of others. A typical L-network was placed on the input to transform the 50 Ω amplifier input impedance to the 2.2 kΩ impedance that gate 1 wants to see. The drain inductor was replaced with a 10:2 ratio transformer to give the drain a load of 1.25 kΩ to work into when a 50 Ω load is placed on the amplifier output. Again, this is another area where I decided to go with the wisdom of others. This drain load values seems reasonable based on other FET amplifiers I've used, but it might also be an area worth investigating later.

Dual Gate MOSFET Gain

Results

Under the initial conditions described above, I measured an output power of -6.1 dBm, which indicates a transducer gain of 23.9 dB. This seems like a reasonable and believeable amount of gain from a single amplifier given the biasing levels established. I decided to vary VBIAS a bit to determine the point of maximum gain for the amplifier. At a gate 1 voltage of 3.43 V, I measured -5.9 dBm of output power, or a gain of 24.1 dB. There is a slight amount of difference between the two voltages, but not enough to be significant. It seems that the initial estimate worked fairly well.

AGC Characteristics

Next, the circuit was modified slightly to examine the AGC characteristics of the BF998. Both the source and gate 1 were biased to approximately 3 V using a blue LED. This biasing method is very convenient, simple, and stable, even if it may not bias gate 1 to its ideal point. This reduced the drain current to 6.6 mA, which would mean a slightly lower maximum gain, but also would be a more power-efficient way to run the amp. I could have used two red or green diodes in series, or a string of small-signal diodes as seen in the Hybrid Cascode amplifier, but the blue LED uses the least parts (and is pretty to boot). The fixed voltage divider bias was removed from gate 2, and in its place a variable AGC voltage (VAGC) was applied. The same -30.0 dBm input power was used, and the output power was measured at different settings of VAGC.

Dual Gate MOSFET AGC

Results

As you can see in the table and chart below, there is a large AGC voltage range with very little gain variation, then a sharp knee where there is a steep slope of gain reduction. The knee occurs at an AGC voltage of about 3 V. Between 2 V and 3 V is the largest gain variation (about 40 dB). This AGC response curve actually appears to agree fairly well with the curve published in the Philips RF Manual 3rd Edition Appendix for the BF998. The AGC range of approximately 50 dB also seems in line with the data published by NXP. It does look plausible that two of these amplifiers cascaded together could provide nearly 100 dB of gain reduction (another experiment idea for later).

VAGC POUT GT
2 V -55.7 dBm -25.7 dB
2.25 V -52.8 dBm -22.8 dB
2.5 V -37.2 dBm -7.2 dB
2.75 V -23.3 dBm 6.7 dB
3 V -16.0 dBm 14.0 dB
4 V -12.6 dBm 17.4 dB
5 V -11.2 dBm 18.8 dB
6 V -10.4 dBm 19.6 dB
7 V -9.9 dBm 20.1 dB
8 V -9.5 dBm 20.5 dB
9 V -9.1 dBm 20.9 dB
10 V -9.0 dBm 21.0 dB

Dual Gate MOSFET AGC Graph

Next, I intend to build a return loss bridge (finally!) and get some measurements on this amplifier. I also need to look into what it will take to measure noise figure, and get started on that test rig as well.