[Table of Contents]People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about
and learning some of the history of early electronics. Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
Integrated circuits are
the de facto standard of today, but 40+ years ago when this article was written, individual transistors were all
that was available to both hobbyists and professional engineers. Believe it or not, there are still a lot of
applications in modern products that use discrete transistors for output stage drivers, buffers, and where parts
costs might save a penny or two in high volume production. There are also, of course, millions of circuits in
existence and in daily use that include transistors. This transistor tester will allow you to do a simple check to
determine whether a particular device is still working, or whether some newer transistor might be a suitable
replacement for one gone bad. The truth is, though, that unless you just really like to build circuits, you can
buy a DMM with a built in transistor tester for $20- $30.
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Build a Dual-Meter Transistor Tester
You can check both audio and power transistors with one easy-to-operate unit
By R. J. Shaughnessy
you'll finish building a transistorized project and find that it doesn't work. It's easy enough to recheck your
wiring, but if you do and the unit still doesn't work, then what? Were the transistors good before you put them in
the circuit? Were they burned out accidentally? It's obvious that you need a transistor tester to check the
transistors before you wire them into the circuit and to check them again if the circuit stops working.
This tester measures the two important characteristics of almost all audio and power transistors: current gain
(Beta) and collector-to-base leakage (Ico). Only transistors which have a 5-ma. maximum collector current cannot
be tested with this unit; see the manufacturer's data for special testing techniques for these low current jobs.
Two meters are built into the tester to allow the base current and the collector current to be monitored
simultaneously under various bias settings. This monitoring feature enables a transistor to be tested under actual
circuit load conditions.
Transistor tester base current control R2 should be wired so that maximum
obtained when ganged switch S1 is open.
For maximum flexibility, no sockets were incorporated in the tester proper. The transistor under test is
simply connected by its leads to the tester terminals. An adapter which plugs into the tester's binding posts can
be built which will accommodate the various types of power and audio transistor sockets. Parts used in the tester
and optional adapter are not critical. With all new components, cost of the tester is about $15.
of the tester is begun by mounting all the components directly on the cabinet. Before mounting function switch S2,
crimp all jumper leads to the switch terminals. After the switch is mounted, connect and solder the remaining
leads to it.
The transistor tester adapter can be built into the smallest Minibox that will accommodate a
standard three-lead transistor socket (in-line or circular type) and a power transistor socket. When a transistor
is being tested, the adapter's banana plugs (which are connected to the appropriate pins on the transistor
sockets) plug into the tester's universal binding posts. TESTER PARTS LIST
C3, C4 - I60-μf., 15-volt capacitor
DI, D2-1N91 germanium diode (Sylvania) F1 , F2 -1/2-amp. 3AG fuse (to fit
MI-0-1 ma. meter (Shurite 950-9300Z)
M2-0-100 ma. meter (Shurite 950-9307)
R1-6800-ohm, 1/2-watt resistor
R2-150,000-ohm potentiometer (IRC QI3-328)
R3-1000-ohm, 1-watt resistor
R4, R5-33-ohm, 1/2-watt resistor
S1-On-off switch mounted on rear of R2 (IRC
S2-Four-pole, four-position rotary switch (Centralab PA-1013)
T1-6.3-volt filament transformer
1-7" x 5" x 3" Minibox (Bud CU-2108A)
3-Five-way binding posts
2-Six-lug terminal strips
Testing for leakage
of diodes and capacitors in tester power supply detail (left).
function switch is used in tester as shown in pictorial diagram above. Both
wafers are identical. Note that pins two and eight are not used.Power cord
tester is led through grommet in mating half of Minibox before soldering it in place.
is simple. Rotate function switch S2 to Leakage N-P-N or Leakage P-N-P,
depending on the transistor in question. Connect the transistor base lead to the tester's emitter binding post.
Then connect the transistor collector to the collector binding post. Leave the transistor emitter lead
unconnected. (The transistor emitter is left unconnected for all leakage measurements.) Now turn on the tester by
advancing the Base Current potentiometer (R2). If the 0-100 ma. collector current meter (M2) is not deflected, the
leakage current is within acceptable limits.
You can safely measure the exact leakage current on the more sensitive 0-1 ma. base current meter (M1).
Turn off the tester and reconnect the transistor base and collector leads to the corresponding tester binding
posts. Do not connect the emitter lead; keep the function switch in the "leakage" position. When you turn on the
power, you'll find that most transistors will give little - if any - deflection of the 0-1 ma. base current meter.
Some lowleakage silicon units will give no perceptible deflection at all. ADAPTER PARTS LIST
1-2 3/4" x 2 1/8" x 15/8" Minibox (Bud CU 2100A)
1-Three-lead transistor socket
socket (Motorola MK-10 or equivalent)
has two sockets accommodating power transistors and smaller audio transistors.
( Beta) test for n-p-n transistors is identical to p-n-p test shown in simplified
schematic but polarities of meters and power source are reversed by switching S2
f the transistor passes the leakage test, you can safely perform the current gain (Beta) test. Current gain cannot
be read directly on the tester, but Beta is very easily found by dividing the collector current reading by the
base current reading. The Beta test
is made by setting S1 to Beta N-P-N or Beta P-N-P.
Make sure the power is off. Connect the transistor base, emitter, and collector leads to the corresponding binding
posts. Check the manufacturer's specifications for the maximum collector current for the transistor under test and
never exceed this value as read on the 0-100 ma. collector current meter. Now switch on the tester, but leave the
Base Current pot full counterclockwise. Record the base current and collector current meter readings. Dividing the
collector current by the base current will give you one value for the Beta (current gain) of the transistor under
Now increase the base bias current with the Base Current potentiometer. This will cause an increase
in the collector current. Once more, record the meter readings and compute the current gain. Continue this process
until you have several values for current gain.
Note that Beta is constant except at the higher collector
currents; this is a normal transistor characteristic. Check your computed values for the current gain against the
manufacturer's specs to see if the transistor is up to snuff.
You'll soon find that you'll have more
confidence in the circuits you build and trouble-shoot. Using the tester, you'll be able to give transistors a
rapid checkout and use them to best advantage.
Leakage test effectively puts two meters in series
with transistor as
shown in simplified schematic.
Polarities for n-p-n transistors are reversed as in