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Clocking on

Maintaining the pulse rate of modern electronics means selecting the optimum timing source for microcontrollers. By Andrea Ghidini and Andrea Renditore.

Because the latest high-speed processors, wide-bandwidth dsps and fast access memories tend to dominate the news headlines, it is easy to forget that they couldn't function without a modest but crucial component: an oscillator. The capability of this device dictates the performance of the entire circuit. It is therefore extremely important that designers understand the options available to ensure that the solution they choose will meet required specification and be cost-effective.

The main purpose of an oscillator is to provide a reliable 'clock' for the processor or microcontroller functions. At the most basic level, the clock provides a time reference driving the internal micro state machine. In addition, an oscillator provides a reference for other functions – for example a real-time clock, or serial data communications. Because the oscillator drives all the timed operations, it follows that the precision of these operations are a function of the oscillator's accuracy.

A designer essentially has a choice of three types of oscillator to provide his circuit's clock source: rc relaxation oscillators, quartz crystals and ceramic resonators. Each represents a trade off between performance, size, frequency range and cost.

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Graham Pitcher

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