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Transistors are available in a large variety of shapes and sizes, each with its own unique characteristics. The characteristics for each of these transistors are usually presented on SPECIFICATION SHEETS or they may be included in transistor manuals. Although many properties of a transistor could be specified on these sheets, manufacturers list only some of them. The specifications listed vary with different manufacturers, the type of transistor, and the application of the transistor. The specifications usually cover the following items.

A general description of the transistor that includes the following information:

  • The kind of transistor. This covers the material used, such as germanium or silicon; the type of transistor(NPN or PNP); and the construction of the transistor(whether alloy-junction, grown, or diffused junction, etc.).
  • Some of the common applications for the transistor, such as audio amplifier, oscillator, rf amplifier, etc.
  • General sales features, such as size and packaging(mechanical data).

The "Absolute Maximum Ratings" of the transistor are the direct voltage and current values that if exceeded in operation may result in transistor failure. Maximum ratings usually include collector-to-base voltage, emitter-to-base voltage, collector current, emitter current, and collector power dissipation. The typical operating values of the transistor. These values are presented only as a guide. The values vary widely, are dependent upon operating voltages, and also upon which element is common in the circuit. The values listed may include collector-emitter voltage, collector current, input resistance, load resistance, current-transfer ratio(another name for alpha or beta), and collector cutoff current, which is leakage current from collector to base when no emitter current is applied. Transistor characteristic curves may also be included in this section. A transistor characteristic curve is a graph plotting the relationship between currents and voltages in a circuit. More than one curve on a graph is called a "family of curves." Additional information for engineering-design purposes.

So far, many letter symbols, abbreviations, and terms have been introduced, some frequently used and others only rarely used. For a complete list of all semiconductor letter symbols and terms, refer to EIMB series 000-0140, Section III.


Transistors can be identified by a Joint Army-Navy (JAN) designation printed directly on the case of the transistor. The marking scheme explained earlier for diodes is also used for transistor identification. The first number indicates the number of junctions. The letter "N" following the first number tells us that the component is a semiconductor. And, the 2- or 3-digit number following the N is the manufacturer's identification number. If the last number is followed by a letter, it indicates a later, improved version of the device. For example, a semiconductor designated as type 2N130A signifies a three-element transistor of semiconductor material that is an improved version of type 130:

2 N 130

You may also find other markings on transistors that do not relate to the JAN marking system. These markings are manufacturers' identifications and may not conform to a standardized system. If in doubt, always replace a transistor with one having identical markings. To ensure that an identical replacement or a correct substitute is used, consult an equipment or transistor manual for specifications on the transistor.


Transistors are very rugged and are expected to be relatively trouble free. Encapsulation and conformal coating techniques now in use promise extremely long life expectancies. In theory, a transistor should last indefinitely. However, if transistors are subjected to current overloads, the junctions will be damaged or even destroyed. In addition, the application of excessively high operating voltages can damage or destroy the junctions through arc-over or excessive reverse currents. One of the greatest dangers to the transistor is heat, which will cause excessive current flow and eventual destruction of the transistor.

To determine if a transistor is good or bad, you can check it with an ohmmeter or a transistor tester. In many cases, you can substitute a transistor known to be good for one that is questionable and thus determine the condition of a suspected transistor. This method of testing is highly accurate and sometimes the quickest, but it should be used only after you make certain that there are no circuit defects that might damage the replacement transistor. If more than one defective transistor is present in the equipment where the trouble has been localized, this testing method becomes cumbersome, as several transistors may have to be replaced before the trouble is corrected. To determine which stages failed and which transistors are not defective, all the removed transistors must be tested. This test can be made by using a standard Navy ohmmeter, transistor tester, or by observing whether the equipment operates correctly as each of the removed transistors is reinserted into the equipment. A word of caution-indiscriminate substitution of transistors in critical circuits should be avoided.

When transistors are soldered into equipment, substitution is not practicable; it is generally desirable to test these transistors in their circuits.

Q.34 List three items of information normally included in the general description section of a specification sheet for a transistor. answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.35 What does the number "2" (before the letter "N") indicate in the JAN marking scheme? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.36 What is the greatest danger to a transistor? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.37 What method for checking transistors is cumbersome when more than one transistor is bad in a circuit? answer.gif (214 bytes)

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