Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Exploring the NDK 9200Q7 10 MHz OCXO (Oven-controlled Crystal Oscillator)

Figure 1:
The NDK 9200Q7 OCXO.  This unit, pulled from
used equipment, is slightly "shop-worn" but still
serviceable.  The multi-turn tuning potentiometer
is accessible via the hole at the lower-left.
Click on the image for a larger version
The NDK 9200Q7 (pictured) is an OCXO (Oven-Controlled Crystal Oscillator) that occasionally appears on EvilBay or surplus sites.  While not quite as good a performer as the Isotemp 134-10 (see the 17 October, 2017 Blog entry, "A 10 MHz OCXO" - Link) it's been used for a few projects requiring good frequency stability, including:

  • The 146.620 Simulcast repeater system.  One of these is used at each transmitter site, which are held at 4 Hz apart to eliminated "standing nulls" - and they have stayed put in frequency for over a decade. (This system is described in a series of previous blog entries starting with  "Two Repeaters, One System - Part 1" - Link).
  • 10 GHz transverter frequency reference.  One of the local amateurs used one of these units to hold his 10 GHz frequency stable and it did so fairly well, easily keeping it within a  hundred Hz or so of other stations:  This was good enough to allow him to be easily found and tuned in, even when signals were weak.

At least some of these units were pulled from scrapped VSAT (Very Small Aperture SATellite) terminals so they were designed for both stability and the ability to be electronically tuned to "dial in" the frequency precisely.

Testing and experience shows that given 10-15 minutes to thermally stabilize, these units are perfectly capable of holding the frequency to better than 1 part in 108 - or about 1 Hz at 100 MHz - and since any of these units that you are likely to find about are likely to be 25-30 years old, the intrinsic aging of the quartz crystal itself is going to be well along its asymptotic curve to zero.

Figure 2:
The bottom of the OCXO, annotated to show the various
Click on the image for a larger version.

Using this device

In its original application, this device was powered from a 12-15 volt supply, but if you were to apply power and give it 5-15 minutes to warm up, you would probably be disappointed in its accuracy as it would not have any sort of external tuning input to get it anywhere close to its intended frequency.

Because of the need for it to be electrically tuned, this device is actually a VCXO (Voltage-Controlled Crystal Oscillator) as well and as such, it has a "Tune" pin, identified in Figure 2.  Nominally, the tuning voltage was probably between 0 and 10 volts, but unless a voltage is applied, this pin will naturally drift close to zero voltage, the result being that at 10 MHz, it may be a dozen or two Hz low in frequency.

Adding a resistor

The easiest "fix" for this - to make it operate "stand-alone" - is to apply a voltage on the pin.  If your plans include locking this to an external source - such as making your own GPSDO (GPS Disciplined Oscillator) then one simply need apply this tuning voltage from a DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) or filtered PWM output, but if you wish to use this oscillator in a stand-alone configuration - or even as an externally-tuned oscillator, a bit of modification is in order.

Figure 3:
This shows the 10k resistor added between the internal 5 volt
source and the "TUNE" pin to allow "standalone" operation.
Click on the image for a larger version.
The OCXO may be disassembled easily by removing the small screw on each side and carefully un-sticking the circuit board from the insulation inside.  Once this is done, you'll see that there are two boards:  The one on the top is part of the control board for the heater/oven while the bottom houses some of the oscillator components.

Contained within the OCXO is a 78L05 five-volt regulator which is used to provide a voltage reference for the oven and also likely used as a stable source of power for the oscillator - and we can use this to our advantage rather than need to regulate an external source which, itself, is going to be prone to thermal changes.

Figure 3 shows the addition of a single 10k resistor on the top board, connecting the "TUNE" pin to the output of this 5 volt regulator.  By adding this resistor, the TUNE pin allows one to use this OCXO in a "standalone" configuration with no connection to the "TUNE" pin as it is is automatically biased to a temperature-stable (after warm-up) internal voltage reference and can then be used as-is as a good 10 MHz reference, using the onboard multi-turn potentiometer to precisely set the frequency of operation.

Figure 4:
More pictures from inside the OCXO
Click on the image for a larger version.
Another advantage of adding the internal 10k resistor is that it's easy to reduce the TUNE sensitivity from an external voltage:  This value isn't critical, with anything from 1k to 100k likely being usable.  Testing shows that by itself, the oscillator is quite table and varying the TUNE voltage will adjust it by well over 10 Hz above and below 10 MHz.

The inclusion of the 10k internal resistor may also be of benefit.  In many cases, having a much narrower electronic tuning range than this will suffice so a resistor of 100k (or greater) can be used in series with the TUNE pin, between it and an external tuning voltage, acting as a voltage divider.  Doing this will reduce the tuning range and it can also improve overall stability since much of the tuning voltage will be based on the oscillator's already-stable 5 volt internal source.  The stability of the OCXO itself is such that even with a 10-ish:1 reduced tuning range due to a series 100k resistor, there is still far more external adjustment range than really necessary to tune the OCXO and handle a wide range of external temperatures.

The actual value of the added internal resistor is unimportant and could be selected for the desired tuning/voltage ratio based on the external series tuning resistor and the impedance of the tuning voltage.

When reassembling the OCXO, take care that the insulation inside the can is as it was at the time of disassembly to maximize thermal stability and, of course, be sure that the hole in the can lines up with the multi-turn potentiometer!

Operating conditions

Figure 5:
Even more pictures from inside the OCXO.
Click on the image for a larger version.
The "official" specifications of this OCXO are unknown, but long-term use has shown that it will operate nicely from 12-15 volts - and it will even operate from a 10 volt supply, although the reduced heater power at 10 volts causes warm-up to take longer and there may not be sufficient thermal input for the oven to maintain temperature at extremely low (<15F, <-9C) temperatures unless extra insulation is added (e.g. foam around the metal case.)

It is recommended that if one uses it stand-alone, the voltage source for this device be regulated:  While the on-board 5 volt regulator provides a stable reference without regard to the supply voltage, the amount of thermal input from the oven will change with voltage:  More power and faster heating at higher voltage.  While you might think that this wouldn't affect a closed-loop system, it actually does owing to internal thermal resistance and the fact that due to loss to the environment, there will always be a thermal gradient between the heater, the temperature-sensitive circuitry, and the outside world - and changing the operating voltage and thus the amount of heater power will subtly affect the frequency.

Finally, this oscillator - like any quartz crystal oscillator that you are likely to find - is slightly affected by gravity:  Changing orientation (e.g. turning sideways, upside-down, etc.) of this oscillator affects its absolute frequency by a few parts in 10E-8, so if you are interested in the absolute accuracy and stability, it's best to do the fine-tuning adjustment with it oriented in the same way that it will be used and keep it in that orientation.

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