Frequency Synthesizer - Principle of PLL Synthesizers

Principle of PLL Synthesizers

See main article: Phase-locked loop

A phase locked loop is a feedback control system. It compares the phases of two input signals and produces an error signal that is proportional to the difference between their phases. The error signal is then low pass filtered and used to drive a voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) which creates an output frequency. The output frequency is fed through a frequency divider back to the input of the system, producing a negative feedback loop. If the output frequency drifts, the phase error signal will increase, driving the frequency in the opposite direction so as to reduce the error. Thus the output is locked to the frequency at the other input. This other input is called the reference and is usually derived from a crystal oscillator, which is very stable in frequency. The block diagram below shows the basic elements and arrangement of a PLL based frequency synthesizer.

The key to the ability of a frequency synthesizer to generate multiple frequencies is the divider placed between the output and the feedback input. This is usually in the form of a digital counter, with the output signal acting as a clock signal. The counter is preset to some initial count value, and counts down at each cycle of the clock signal. When it reaches zero, the counter output changes state and the count value is reloaded. This circuit is straightforward to implement using flip-flops, and because it is digital in nature, is very easy to interface to other digital components or a microprocessor. This allows the frequency output by the synthesizer to be easily controlled by a digital system.

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