@▷ 555 Timer/Oscillator Tutorial | Diagram for Schematic

555 Timer/Oscillator Tutorial

     The 555 timer IC was first introduced around 1971 by the Signetics Corporation as the SE555/NE555 and was called "The IC Time Machine" and was also the very first and only commercial timer ic available. It provided circuit designers and hobby tinkerers with a relatively cheap, stable, and user-friendly integrated circuit for both monostable and astable applications. Since this device was first made commercially available, a myrad of novel and unique circuits have been developed and presented in several trade, professional, and hobby publications. The past ten years some manufacturers stopped making these timers because of competition or other reasons. Yet other companies, like NTE (a subdivision of Philips) picked up where some left off.
     This primer is about this fantastic timer which is after 30 years still very popular and used in many schematics. Although these days the CMOS version of this IC, like the Motorola MC1455, is mostly used, the regular type is still available, however there have been many improvements and variations in the circuitry. But all types are pin-for-pin plug compatible. Myself, every time I see this 555 timer used in advanced and high-tech electronic circuits, I'm amazed. It is just incredible.
     In this tutorial I will show you what exactly the 555 timer is and how to properly use it by itself or in combination with other solid state devices without the requirement of an engineering degree. This timer uses a maze of transistors, diodes and resistors and for this complex reason I will use a more simplified (but accurate) block diagram to explain the internal organizations of the 555. So, lets start slowly and build it up from there.

Table 1, Manufacturers

The first type-number, in Table 1 on the left, represents the type which was/is preferred for military applications which have somewhat improved electrical and thermal characteristics over their commercial counterparts, but also a bit more expensive, and usually metal-can or ceramic casing. This is analogous to the 5400/7400 series convention for TTL integrated circuits.

Fig. 1/2, 555 pin-out

      The 555, in fig. 1 and fig. 2 above, come in two packages, either the round metal-can called the 'T' package or the more familiar 8-pin DIP 'V' package. About 20-years ago the metal-can type was pretty much the standard (SE/NE types). The 556 timer is a dual 555 version and comes in a 14-pin DIP package, the 558 is a quad version with four 555's also in a 14 pin DIP case.

Fig. 3, 555 Block Diagram

I nside the 555 timer, at fig. 3, are the equivalent of over 20 transistors, 15 resistors, and 2 diodes, depending of the manufacturer. The equivalent circuit, in block diagram, providing the functions of control, triggering, level sensing or comparison, discharge, and power output. Some of the more attractive features of the 555 timer are: Supply voltage between 4.5 and 18 volt, supply current 3 to 6 mA, and a Rise/Fall time of 100 nSec. It can also withstand quite a bit of abuse.

The Threshold current determine the maximum value of Ra + Rb. For 15 volt operation the maximum total resistance for R (Ra +Rb) is 20 Mega-ohm.

The supply current, when the output is 'high', is typically 1 milli-amp (mA) or less. The initial monostable timing accuracy is typically within 1% of its calculated value, and exhibits negligible (0.1%/V) drift with supply voltage. Thus long-term supply variations can be ignored, and the temperature variation is only 50ppm/°C (0.005%/°C).

     All IC timers rely upon an external capacitor to determine the off-on time intervals of the output pulses. As you recall from your study of basic electronics, it takes a finite period of time for a capacitor (C) to charge or discharge through a resistor (R). Those times are clearly defined and can be calculated given the values of resistance and capacitance.
The basic RC charging circuit is shown in fig. 4. Assume that the capacitor is initially discharged. When the switch is closed, the capacitor begins to charge through the resistor. The voltage across the capacitor rises from zero up to the value of the applied DC voltage. The charge curve for the circuit is shown in fig. 6. The time that it takes for the capacitor to charge to 63.7% of the applied voltage is known as the time constant (t). That time can be calculated with the simple expression:

Fig. 4, 555 Timing
t = R X C

     Assume a resistor value of 1 MegaOhm and a capacitor value of 1uF (micro-Farad). The time constant in that case is:

t = 1,000,000 X 0.000001 = 1 second

     Assume further that the applied voltage is 6 volts. That means that it will take one time constant for the voltage across the capacitor to reach 63.2% of the applied voltage. Therefore, the capacitor charges to approximately 3.8 volts in one second.

Fig. 4-1, Pulse change

Fig. 4-1, Change in the input pulse frequency allows completion of the timing cycle. As a general rule, the monostable 'ON' time is set approximately 1/3 longer than the expected time between triggering pulses. Such a circuit is also known as a 'Missing Pulse Detector'.

     Looking at the curve in fig. 6. you can see that it takes approximately 5 complete time constants for the capacitor to charge to almost the applied voltage. It would take about 5 seconds for the voltage on the capacitor to rise to approximately the full 6-volts.

Fig. 4-2, Equivalent Circuit

Definition of Pin Functions:

Refer to the internal 555 schematic of Fig. 4-2

Pin 1 (Ground):  The ground (or common) pin is the most-negative supply potential of the device, which is normally connected to circuit common (ground) when operated from positive supply voltages.

Pin 2 (Trigger):  This pin is the input to the lower comparator and is used to set the latch, which in turn causes the output to go high. This is the beginning of the timing sequence in monostable operation. Triggering is accomplished by taking the pin from above to below a voltage level of 1/3 V+ (or, in general, one-half the voltage appearing at pin 5). The action of the trigger input is level-sensitive, allowing slow rate-of-change waveforms, as well as pulses, to be used as trigger sources. The trigger pulse must be of shorter duration than the time interval determined by the external R and C. If this pin is held low longer than that, the output will remain high until the trigger input is driven high again. One precaution that should be observed with the trigger input signal is that it must not remain lower than 1/3 V+ for a period of time longer than the timing cycle. If this is allowed to happen, the timer will re-trigger itself upon termination of the first output pulse. Thus, when the timer is driven in the monostable mode with input pulses longer than the desired output pulse width, the input trigger should effectively be shortened by differentiation. The minimum-allowable pulse width for triggering is somewhat dependent upon pulse level, but in general if it is greater than the 1uS (micro-Second), triggering will be reliable. A second precaution with respect to the trigger input concerns storage time in the lower comparator. This portion of the circuit can exhibit normal turn-off delays of several microseconds after triggering; that is, the latch can still have a trigger input for this period of time after the trigger pulse. In practice, this means the minimum monostable output pulse width should be in the order of 10uS to prevent possible double triggering due to this effect. The voltage range that can safely be applied to the trigger pin is between V+ and ground. A dc current, termed the trigger current, must also flow from this terminal into the external circuit. This current is typically 500nA (nano-amp) and will define the upper limit of resistance allowable from pin 2 to ground. For an astable configuration operating at V+ = 5 volts, this resistance is 3 Mega-ohm; it can be greater for higher V+ levels.

Pin 3 (Output):  The output of the 555 comes from a high-current totem-pole stage made up of transistors Q20 - Q24. Transistors Q21 and Q22 provide drive for source-type loads, and their Darlington connection provides a high-state output voltage about 1.7 volts less than the V+ supply level used. Transistor Q24 provides current-sinking capability for low-state loads referred to V+ (such as typical TTL inputs). Transistor Q24 has a low saturation voltage, which allows it to interface directly, with good noise margin, when driving current-sinking logic. Exact output saturation levels vary markedly with supply voltage, however, for both high and low states. At a V+ of 5 volts, for instance, the low state Vce(sat) is typically 0.25 volts at 5 mA. Operating at 15 volts, however, it can sink 200mA if an output-low voltage level of 2 volts is allowable (power dissipation should be considered in such a case, of course). High-state level is typically 3.3 volts at V+ = 5 volts; 13.3 volts at V+ = 15 volts. Both the rise and fall times of the output waveform are quite fast, typical switching times being 100nS. The state of the output pin will always reflect the inverse of the logic state of the latch, and this fact may be seen by examining Fig. 3. Since the latch itself is not directly accessible, this relationship may be best explained in terms of latch-input trigger conditions. To trigger the output to a high condition, the trigger input is momentarily taken from a higher to a lower level. [see "Pin 2 - Trigger"]. This causes the latch to be set and the output to go high. Actuation of the lower comparator is the only manner in which the output can be placed in the high state. The output can be returned to a low state by causing the threshold to go from a lower to a higher level [see "Pin 6 - Threshold"], which resets the latch. The output can also be made to go low by taking the reset to a low state near ground [see "Pin 4 - Reset"]. The output voltage available at this pin is approximately equal to the Vcc applied to pin 8 minus 1.7V.

Pin 4 (Reset):  This pin is also used to reset the latch and return the output to a low state. The reset voltage threshold level is 0.7 volt, and a sink current of 0.1mA from this pin is required to reset the device. These levels are relatively independent of operating V+ level; thus the reset input is TTL compatible for any supply voltage. The reset input is an overriding function; that is, it will force the output to a low state regardless of the state of either of the other inputs. It may thus be used to terminate an output pulse prematurely, to gate oscillations from "on" to "off", etc. Delay time from reset to output is typically on the order of 0.5 µS, and the minimum reset pulse width is 0.5 µS. Neither of these figures is guaranteed, however, and may vary from one manufacturer to another. In short, the reset pin is used to reset the flip-flop that controls the state of output pin 3. The pin is activated when a voltage level anywhere between 0 and 0.4 volt is applied to the pin. The reset pin will force the output to go low no matter what state the other inputs to the flip-flop are in. When not used, it is recommended that the reset input be tied to V+ to avoid any possibility of false resetting.

Pin 5 (Control Voltage):  This pin allows direct access to the 2/3 V+ voltage-divider point, the reference level for the upper comparator. It also allows indirect access to the lower comparator, as there is a 2:1 divider (R8 - R9) from this point to the lower-comparator reference input, Q13. Use of this terminal is the option of the user, but it does allow extreme flexibility by permitting modification of the timing period, resetting of the comparator, etc. When the 555 timer is used in a voltage-controlled mode, its voltage-controlled operation ranges from about 1 volt less than V+ down to within 2 volts of ground (although this is not guaranteed). Voltages can be safely applied outside these limits, but they should be confined within the limits of V+ and ground for reliability. By applying a voltage to this pin, it is possible to vary the timing of the device independently of the RC network. The control voltage may be varied from 45 to 90% of the Vcc in the monostable mode, making it possible to control the width of the output pulse independently of RC. When it is used in the astable mode, the control voltage can be varied from 1.7V to the full Vcc. Varying the voltage in the astable mode will produce a frequency modulated (FM) output. In the event the control-voltage pin is not used, it is recommended that it be bypassed, to ground, with a capacitor of about 0.01uF (10nF) for immunity to noise, since it is a comparator input. This fact is not obvious in many 555 circuits since I have seen many circuits with 'no-pin-5' connected to anything, but this is the proper procedure. The small ceramic cap may eliminate false triggering.

Pin 6 (Threshold):  Pin 6 is one input to the upper comparator (the other being pin 5) and is used to reset the latch, which causes the output to go low. Resetting via this terminal is accomplished by taking the terminal from below to above a voltage level of 2/3 V+ (the normal voltage on pin 5). The action of the threshold pin is level sensitive, allowing slow rate-of-change waveforms. The voltage range that can safely be applied to the threshold pin is between V+ and ground. A dc current, termed the threshold current, must also flow into this terminal from the external circuit. This current is typically 0.1µA, and will define the upper limit of total resistance allowable from pin 6 to V+. For either timing configuration operating at V+ = 5 volts, this resistance is 16 Mega-ohm. For 15 volt operation, the maximum value of resistance is 20 MegaOhms.
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