The Info List - Frequency Counter

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A FREQUENCY COUNTER is an electronic instrument , or component of one, that is used for measuring frequency . Frequency
counters usually measure the number of oscillations or pulses per second in a periodic electronic signal . Such an instrument is sometimes referred to as a cymometer, particularly one of Chinese manufacture. Systron-Donner frequency counter from 1973 with Nixie tube display


* 1 Operating principle * 2 Accuracy and resolution * 3 I/O Interfaces * 4 See also * 5 References * 6 External links


Most frequency counters work by using a counter which accumulates the number of events occurring within a specific period of time. After a preset period known as the gate time (1 second, for example), the value in the counter is transferred to a display and the counter is reset to zero. If the event being measured repeats itself with sufficient stability and the frequency is considerably lower than that of the clock oscillator being used, the resolution of the measurement can be greatly improved by measuring the time required for an entire number of cycles, rather than counting the number of entire cycles observed for a pre-set duration (often referred to as the reciprocal technique). The internal oscillator which provides the time signals is called the timebase, and must be calibrated very accurately.

If the event to be counted is already in electronic form, simple interfacing to the instrument is all that is required. More complex signals may need some conditioning to make them suitable for counting. Most general purpose frequency counters will include some form of amplifier , filtering and shaping circuitry at the input. DSP technology, sensitivity control and hysteresis are other techniques to improve performance. Other types of periodic events that are not inherently electronic in nature will need to be converted using some form of transducer . For example, a mechanical event could be arranged to interrupt a light beam, and the counter made to count the resulting pulses.

counters designed for radio frequencies (RF) are also common and operate on the same principles as lower frequency counters. Often, they have more range before they overflow. For very high (microwave ) frequencies, many designs use a high-speed prescaler to bring the signal frequency down to a point where normal digital circuitry can operate. The displays on such instruments take this into account so they still display the correct value. Microwave frequency counters can currently measure frequencies up to almost 56 GHz . Above these frequencies the signal to be measured is combined in a mixer with the signal from a local oscillator , producing a signal at the difference frequency, which is low enough to be measured directly.


Fluke PM6685R frequency counter

The accuracy of a frequency counter is strongly dependent on the stability of its timebase. A timebase is very delicate like the hands of a watch, and can be changed by movement, interference, or even drift due to age, meaning it might not "tick" correctly. This can make a frequency reading, when referenced to the timebase, seem higher or lower than the actual value. Highly accurate circuit