Resistor-Transistor Logic (RTL)


Resistor-Transistor Logic, or RTL, refers to the obsolete technology for designing and fabricating digital circuits that employ logic gates consisting of nothing but transistors and resistors.  RTL gates are now seldom used, if at all, in modern digital electronics design because it has several drawbacks, such as bulkiness, low speed, limited fan-out, and poor noise margin. A basic understanding of what RTL is, however, would be helpful to any engineer who wishes to get familiarized with TTL, which for the past many years has become widely used in digital devices such as logic gates, latches, buffers, counters, and the like.


Figure 1 shows an example of an N-input RTL NOR gate.  It consists of N transistors, whose collectors are all tied up to Vcc through a common resistor, and whose emitters are all grounded.  Their bases individually act as inputs for input voltages Vi (i = 1,2,...,N), which represent input logic levels.  The output Vo is taken across the collector- resistor node and ground.  Vo is only 'high' if the inputs to the bases of all the transistors are 'low'. 


Figure 1.  A simple N-input RTL NOR Gate                 


One of the earliest gates used in integrated circuits is a special type of RTL gate known as the direct-coupled transistor logic (DCTL) gate.  A DCTL gate is one wherein the bases of the transistors are connected directly to inputs without any base resistors. Thus, the RTL NOR gate shown in Figure 1 becomes a DCTL NOR gate if all the base resistors (Rb's) are eliminated.  Without the base resistors, DCTL gates are more economical and simpler to fabricate onto integrated circuits than RTL gates with base resistors. 


The main drawback of DCTL gates is that they suffer from a phenomenon known as current hogging.  Ideally, several transistors that are connected in parallel will share the load current equally among themselves when they are all brought into saturation.  In the real world, however, the saturation points of different transistors are attained with different levels of input voltages to the base (Vbe). As such, transistors that are in parallel and share the same input voltage (which are commonly encountered in DCTL circuits) do not share the load current evenly among themselves.


In fact, once the transistor with the lowest Vbesat saturates, the other transistors are prevented from saturating themselves.  This causes the saturated transistor to 'hog' the load current, i.e., it carries the bulk of the load current whereas those transistors that were prevented from saturating carries a minimal portion of it.  Current hogging, which prevented DCTL from becoming widely used, is largely avoided in RTL circuits simply by retaining the base resistors.


RTL gates also exhibit limited 'fan-outs'.  The fan-out of a gate is the ability of its output to drive several other gates. The more gates it can drive, the higher is its fan-out. The fan-out of a gate is limited by the current that its output can supply to the gate inputs connected to it when the output is at logic '1', since at this state it must be able to drive the connected input transistors into saturation.


Another weakness of an RTL gate is its poor noise margin. The noise margin of a logic gate for logic level '0', Δ0, is defined as the difference between the maximum input voltage that it will recognize as a '0' (Vil) and the maximum voltage that may be applied to it as a '0' (Vol of the driving gate connected to it).  For logic level '1', the noise margin Δ1 is the difference between the minimum input voltage that may be applied to it as a '1' (Voh of the driving gate connected to it) and the minimum input voltage that it will recognize as a '1' (Vih).  Mathematically, Δ0 = Vil-Vol and Δ1 = Voh-Vih. Any noise that causes a noise margin to be overcome will result in a '0' being erroneously read as a '1' or vice versa.  In other words, noise margin is a measure of the immunity of a gate from reading an input logic level incorrectly. 


In an RTL circuit, the collector output of the driving transistor is directly connected to the base resistor of the driven transistor.  Circuit analysis would easily show that in such an arrangement, the differences between Vil and Vol, and between Voh and Vih, are not that large.  This is why RTL gates are known to have poor noise margins in comparison to DTL and TTL gates.


See Also:  TTL ParametersLogic GatesRTLDTLCMOS




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