An Introduction to
Voltage Controlled Crystal Oscillator Design

VCXO's are used in some Spread Spectrum, RF and wireless systems for clock recovery
circuits and other applications where frequency stability and low phase noise is very
important. VCXO's are rather tricky to design, thus designers should know something about
them before they start designing their own. Pick one of
the links below to find out more information about this important subject!

Voltage controlled crystal oscillators typically employ a varactor diode to vary the
frequency of oscillation by application of a tuning voltage. Tuning ranges vary from a
fraction of a ppm to hundreds of ppm. Design considerations include tuning linearity,
tuning bandwidth, tuning range, output level stability over tuning, post-tuning drift,
phase noise, and stability.

Linearity is usually specified as a percentage of the total tuning deviation from a
straight line fit to the tuning curve. A 10% linearity specification would allow a
deviation of 100 Hz away from the best straight line fit for an oscillator with a 1 kHz
tuning range. The potential problem is that this deviation can occur rapidly at one end of
the range as shown below. The slope is significantly lower at the top of the curve despite
the fact that the oscillator meets a fairly tight linearity specification. For PLL systems
where the tuning slope impacts the loop stability, it may be appropriate to specify the
minimum and maximum tuning slope at all points on the curve in addition to the percent
linearity.

Tuning bandwidth is primarily set by the circuitry connecting the tuning voltage to the
varactor. A high tuning bandwidth is usually easy to accomplish but beware of substantial
phase shift caused by sudden roll-off. Try to specify a bandwidth about three to ten times
higher than required by the PLL. Alternately, specify the roll-off characteristic for an
additional decade.

The tuning range should be kept as low as possible to reduce the oscillator's
susceptibility to noise on the tuning line. Remember to make allowances for temperature
drift and long-term aging combined.

It is common for wide-pull VCXOs to change output level over tuning by a few dB. Make
sure to specify the output level stability if it is important.

Post-tuning drift is relatively minor in VCXOs but it is not zero. A small amount of
drift may be seen after tuning as the crystal and varactor reach a new thermal
equilibrium.

Phase noise and stability are usually degraded by the circuit modifications necessary to
achieve large tuning ranges and the tuning voltage must be low noise.

Calculating the effects of tuning port noise on oscillator phase noise:

The spectral density, Sy(f), of the phase noise of an oscillator due to noise on the
input is simply calculated by squaring the product of the tuning sensitivity and the
voltage noise density. For example, consider a 10 MHz oscillator with a tuning sensitivity
of 0.5 ppm and a white noise voltage on the tuning line of 100 nV/root-Hz:

Sy(f) = (0.5E-6 x 100E-9)^2 = 25E-28

The phase noise spectral density is found by multiplying the frequency spectral
density, Sy(f), by the carrier frequency squared and dividing by the offset frequency
squared. In the example, the phase noise at 100 Hz offset would be calculated as follows: