Frequency Synthesizer - Practical Considerations

Practical Considerations

In practice this type of frequency synthesiser cannot operate over a very wide range of frequencies, because the comparator will have a limited bandwidth and may suffer from aliasing problems. This would lead to false locking situations, or an inability to lock at all. In addition, it is hard to make a high frequency VCO that operates over a very wide range. This is due to several factors, but the primary restriction is the limited capacitance range of varactor diodes. However, in most systems where a synthesiser is used, we are not after a huge range, but rather a finite number over some defined range, such as a number of radio channels in a specific band.

Many radio applications require frequencies that are higher than can be directly input to the digital counter. To overcome this, the entire counter could be constructed using high-speed logic such as ECL, or more commonly, using a fast initial division stage called a prescaler which reduces the frequency to a manageable level. Since the prescaler is part of the overall division ratio, a fixed prescaler can cause problems designing a system with narrow channel spacings - typically encountered in radio applications. This can be overcome using a dual-modulus prescaler.

Further practical aspects concern the amount of time the system can switch from channel to channel, time to lock when first switched on, and how much noise there is in the output. All of these are a function of the loop filter of the system, which is a low-pass filter placed between the output of the frequency comparator and the input of the VCO. Usually the output of a frequency comparator is in the form of short error pulses, but the input of the VCO must be a smooth noise-free DC voltage. (Any noise on this signal naturally causes frequency modulation of the VCO.). Heavy filtering will make the VCO slow to respond to changes, causing drift and slow response time, but light filtering will produce noise and other problems with harmonics. Thus the design of the filter is critical to the performance of the system and in fact the main area that a designer will concentrate on when building a synthesiser system.

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