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Meter Check of a Transistor

Testing a JFET with a multimeter might seem to be a relatively easy task, seeing as how it has only one PN junction to test: either measured between gate and source, or between gate and drain.

gate and source
gate and drain

Testing continuity through the drain-source channel is another matter, though. Remember from the last section how a stored charge across the capacitance of the gate-channel PN junction could hold the JFET in a pinched-off state without any external voltage being applied across it? This can occur even when you're holding the JFET in your hand to test it! Consequently, any meter reading of continuity through that channel will be unpredictable, since you don't necessarily know if a charge is being stored by the gate-channel junction. Of course, if you know beforehand which terminals on the device are the gate, source, and drain, you may connect a jumper wire between gate and source to eliminate any stored charge and then proceed to test source-drain continuity with no problem. However, if you don't know which terminals are which, the unpredictability of the source-drain connection may confuse your determination of terminal identity.

A good strategy to follow when testing a JFET is to insert the pins of the transistor into anti-static foam (the material used to ship and store static-sensitive electronic components) just prior to testing. The conductivity of the foam will make a resistive connection between all terminals of the transistor when it is inserted. This connection will ensure that all residual voltage built up across the gate-channel PN junction will be neutralized, thus "opening up" the channel for an accurate meter test of source-to-drain continuity.

Since the JFET channel is a single, uninterrupted piece of semiconductor material, there is usually no difference between the source and drain terminals. A resistance check from source to drain should yield the same value as a check from drain to source. This resistance should be relatively low (a few hundred ohms at most) when the gate-source PN junction voltage is zero. By applying a reverse-bias voltage between gate and source, pinch-off of the channel should be apparent by an increased resistance reading on the meter.

Lessons In Electric Circuits copyright (C) 2000-2020 Tony R. Kuphaldt, under the terms and conditions of the CC BY License.

See the Design Science License (Appendix 3) for details regarding copying and distribution.

Revised November 06, 2021

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