Function generator

Function generator

[ U2761A] USB Modular Function Generator from Agilent Technologies]

A function generator is a piece of electronic test equipment or software used to generate electrical waveforms. These waveforms can be either repetitive, or single-shot in which case some kind of triggering source is required (internal or external).

Another type of function generator is a sub-system that provides an output proportional to some mathematical function of its input; for example, the output may be proportional to the square root of the input. Such devices are used in feedback control systems and in analog computers.


Analog function generators usually generate a triangle waveform as the basis for all of its other outputs. The triangle is generated by repeatedly charging and discharging a capacitor from a constant current source. This produces a linearly ascending or descending voltage ramp. As the output voltage reaches upper and lower limits, the charging and discharging is reversed using a comparator, producing the linear triangle wave. By varying the current and the size of the capacitor, different frequencies may be obtained.

A 50% duty cycle square wave is easily obtained by noting whether the capacitor is being charged or discharged, which is reflected in the current switching comparator's output. Most function generators also contain a non-linear diode shaping circuit that can convert the triangle wave into a reasonably accurate sine wave. It does so by rounding off the hard corners of the triangle wave in a process similar to clipping in audio systems.

The type of output connector from the device depends on the frequency range of the generator. A typical function generator can provide frequencies up to 20 MHz and uses a BNC connector, usually requiring a 50 or 75 ohm termination. Specialised RF generators are capable of gigahertz frequencies and typically use N-type output connectors.

Function generators, like most signal generators, may also contain an attenuator, various means of modulating the output waveform, and often the ability to automatically and repetitively "sweep" the frequency of the output waveform (by means of a voltage-controlled oscillator) between two operator-determined limits. This capability makes it very easy to evaluate the frequency response of a given electronic circuit.

Some function generators can also generate white or pink noise.

More advanced function generators use Direct Digital Synthesis (DDS) to generate waveforms. Arbitrary waveform generators use DDS to generate any waveform that can be described by a table of amplitude values.

See also

* Signal generator
* Digital Pattern Generator
* Electronic musical instrument

Manufacturers of Function Generators

* [ Berkeley Nucleonics, San Rafael CA]
* Agilent Technologies
* [ Scientech Technologies , India]
* B&K Precision
* National Instruments
* [ Scientific Mes-Technik , India]
* Stanford Research Systems
* Tektronix
* Wavetek
* ZTEC Instruments

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.