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University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory
Workshop Five
Computer Laboratory > Course material 2006-07 > Hardware Practical Classes > Workshop Five

Workshop Five - nMOS and CMOS inverters


In this workshop you will investigate FET transistor characteristics by building and measuring nMOS and CMOS inverters (see lecture 8 for background information).


  • oscilloscope
  • 1a prototyping board
  • connecting wire
  • three pairs of matched N-type and P-type FETs
  • 4.7K ohm resistor
  • three 0.1uF capacitors

Step 1: Characterise nMOS Inverters

Task 1: Build the nMOS inverter circuit shown below on the breadboard. Make sure you properly identify which of the leads is the source, drain and gate before inserting it into the breadboard. Connect the potentiometer and resistor as shown. To characterize this inverter, you will need to measure how the output voltage varies with the input voltage.

Task 2: Connect one of the oscilloscope probes to the drain of the transistor and the other to the gate. Vary the gate voltage from 0 to 5V in steps of 0.2V using the potentiometer. At each step, measure the voltage at the drain. Plot a graph of drain vs gate voltage showing the transistor switching. Comment on the point where x=y.

Task 3: Find the points of negative slope (-45°) on your transfer curve. It is these points that define the boundary between valid logic levels and the indeterminate region. Using this information, find the range of valid input voltages for a logic 0 and the valid input voltages for a logic 1. Answer questions 1 and 2.

Tutorial on Noise Margins

If you look at the electrical characteristics section of the data sheet for a 74HC series IC, you will find that the manufacturer guarantees that the gate will recognize any input voltage above 2.4V as a logic 1 and will recognize any input voltage below 2.1V as a valid logic 0 input.

On the output side of the gate, the minimum guaranteed logic 1 output voltage is given as close to VCC (in our case 5V). The maximum logic 0 voltage is around 0.1V

Notice that the minimum output high voltage (4.9V) is 2.5V higher that the minimum voltage required for an input high on a following gate (2.4V). A difference of 2V also exists between the maximum logic 0 output voltage and the maximum logic 0 input voltage. These differences are referred to as noise margins. They ensure that a small noise transient on a connecting wire cannot change the state of the next gate. It is normal to quote the smaller of the two values, in this case our inverter has a noise margin of 2V.

Step 2: Characterise a CMOS inverter

Repeat the above with the following CMOS inverter and questions 3 to 5. WARNING: ensure you connect the source and drains of the transistors as shown since if you get them the wrong way around the transistors will conduct and burn out. As a safety precaution you could put a small resistor between the power supply and your inverter to limit current, but remove this resistor before taking your final measurements.

Step 3: Characterising a ring of two inverters

Task: Connect two CMOS inverters together as shown in the circuit below. Connect the outputs from the two inverters to LEDs. CAREFULLY and BRIEFLY (in case you've got the circuit wrong!) short to ground the inputs of each inverter in turn. Record the behaviour and answer questions 6 to 8.

With these ring circuits, it is sometimes helpful to first test them opened out, with a switch connected to the open input, to check that they are inverting at each stage.

Step 4: Characterising a ring of three inverters

Task: Add another inverter to your ring so that your circuit has three inverters as shown below. Also add a capacitive load to the output of each inverter (0.1uF should do). Look at the output from two of the inverters on the oscilloscope. Answer questions 9 and 10.

Optional Bounus Step

Measure the switching current of a CMOS inverter.


Ticking criteria: Write up your experimental data and answer the following questions.

Once your work has met the Common Ticking Criteria (see Introduction), get your work ticked by an assessor. Remember that you need to hand in this assessed exercise as part of your portfolio of work (see the Head of Department's notice).


1. What is the noise margin of the nMOS gate if it were connected to another similar gate?
2. For the nMOS gate, how does the current flowing through the transistor vary as the gate voltage increases?
3. What is the noise margin of the CMOS gate if it were connected to another similar gate?
4. For the CMOS gate, how does the current flowing through the transistor vary as the gate voltage increases?
5. What are the benefits of using a CMOS rather than nMOS inverter?
6. What could the two inverter ring be used for?
7. What happens to the two inverter ring when you switch the power supply on and off?
8. The two inverter ring can be placed in what is called the metastable point which for this circuit is when the input to each inverter is the same as its output. What voltage is the metastable point, and what is the behaviour of the circuit when the voltage moves away from the metastable point?
9. What behaviour does the three inverter ring exhibit?
10. What are the rise and fall times for the three inverter ring and what difference does the additional capacitive load make?