The MOSFET as a Switch

We saw previously, that the N-channel, Enhancement-mode MOSFET (e-MOSFET) operates using a positive input voltage and has an extremely high input resistance (almost infinite) making it possible to interface with nearly any logic gate or driver capable of producing a positive output. Also, due to this very high input (Gate) resistance we can parallel together many different MOSFETs until we achieve the current handling limit required.

While connecting together various MOSFETs in parallel may enable us to switch high currents or high voltage loads, doing so becomes expensive and impractical in both components and circuit board space. To overcome this problem Power Field Effect Transistors or Power FET’s where developed.

We now know that there are two main differences between field effect transistors, depletion-mode only for JFET’s and both enhancement-mode and depletion-mode for MOSFETs. In this tutorial we will look at using the Enhancement-mode MOSFET as a Switch as these transistors require a positive gate voltage to turn “ON” and a zero voltage to turn “OFF” making them easily understood as switches and also easy to interface with logic gates.

The operation of the Enhancement-mode MOSFET, or e-MOSFET, can best be described using its I-V characteristics curves shown below. When the input voltage, ( VIN ) to the gate of the transistor is zero, the MOSFET conducts virtually no current and the output voltage ( VOUT ) is equal to the supply voltage VDD. So the MOSFET is “fully-OFF” and in its “cut-off” region.

MOSFET Characteristics Curves

enhancement mode mosfet


The minimum ON-state gate voltage required to ensure that the MOSFET remains fully-ON when carrying the selected drain current can be determined from the V-I transfer curves above. When VIN is HIGH or equal to VDD, the MOSFET Q-point moves to point A along the load line. The drain current ID increases to its maximum value due to a reduction in the channel resistance. ID becomes a constant value independent of VDD, and is dependent only on VGS. Therefore, the transistor behaves like a closed switch but the channel ON-resistance does not reduce fully to zero due to its RDS(on) value, but gets very small.

Likewise, when VIN is LOW or reduced to zero, the MOSFET Q-point moves from point A to point B along the load line. The channel resistance is very high so the transistor acts like an open circuit and no current flows through the channel. So if the gate voltage of the MOSFET toggles between two values, HIGH and LOW the MOSFET will behave as a “single-pole single-throw” (SPST) solid state switch and this action is defined as:

1. Cut-off Region

Here the operating conditions of the transistor are zero input gate voltage ( VIN ), zero drain current ID and output voltage VDS = VDD. Therefore the enhancement type MOSFET is switched “Fully-OFF”.

Cut-off Characteristics

mosfet switch cut-off
  • • The input and Gate are grounded ( 0v )
  • • Gate-source voltage less than threshold voltage VGS < VTH
  • • MOSFET is “fully-OFF” ( Cut-off region )
  • • No Drain current flows ( ID = 0 )
  • • VOUT = VDS = VDD = ”1″
  • • MOSFET operates as an “open switch”

Then we can define the “cut-off region” or “OFF mode” when using an e-MOSFET as a switch as being, gate voltage, VGS < VTH and ID = 0. For a P-channel enhancement MOSFET, the Gate potential must be more positive with respect to the Source.

2. Saturation Region

In the saturation or linear region, the transistor will be biased so that the maximum amount of gate voltage is applied to the device which results in the channel resistance RDS(on being as small as possible with maximum drain current flowing through the MOSFET switch. Therefore the enhancement type MOSFET is switched “Fully-ON”.

Saturation Characteristics

mostfet switch saturation
  • • The input and Gate are connected to VDD
  • • Gate-source voltage is much greater than threshold voltage VGS > VTH
  • • MOSFET is “fully-ON” ( saturation region )
  • • Max Drain current flows ( ID = VDD / RL )
  • • VDS = 0V (ideal saturation)
  • • Min channel resistance RDS(on) < 0.1Ω
  • • VOUT = VDS = ≅0.2V due to RDS(on)
  • • MOSFET operates as a low resistance “closed switch”

Then we can define the “saturation region” or “ON mode” when using an e-MOSFET as a switch as gate-source voltage, VGS > VTH and ID = Maximum. For a P-channel enhancement MOSFET, the Gate potential must be more negative with respect to the Source.

By applying a suitable drive voltage to the gate of an FET, the resistance of the drain-source channel, RDS(on) can be varied from an “OFF-resistance” of many hundreds of kΩ’s, effectively an open circuit, to an “ON-resistance” of less than 1Ω, effectively a short circuit.

When using the MOSFET as a switch we can drive the MOSFET to turn “ON” faster or slower, or pass high or low currents. This ability to turn the power MOSFET “ON” and “OFF” allows the device to be used as a very efficient switch with switching speeds much faster than standard bipolar junction transistors.

An example of using the MOSFET as a switch

using the mosfet as a switch

In this circuit arrangement an Enhancement-mode N-channel MOSFET is being used to switch a simple lamp “ON” and “OFF” (could also be an LED). The gate input voltage VGS is taken to an appropriate positive voltage level to turn the device and therefore the lamp load either fully “ON”, ( VGS = +ve ) or at a zero voltage level that turns the device fully “OFF”, ( VGS = 0 ).

If the resistive load of the lamp was to be replaced by an inductive load such as a coil, solenoid or relay a “flywheel diode” would be required in parallel with the load to protect the MOSFET from any self generated back-emf.


Above shows a very simple circuit for switching a resistive load such as a lamp or LED. But when using power MOSFETs to switch either inductive or capacitive loads some form of protection is required to prevent the MOSFET device from becoming damaged. Driving an inductive load has the opposite effect from driving a capacitive load.

For example, a capacitor without an electrical charge is a short circuit, resulting in a high “inrush” of current and when we remove the voltage from an inductive load we have a large reverse voltage build up as the magnetic field collapses, resulting in an induced back-emf in the windings of the inductor.

Then we can summarise the switching characteristics of both the N-channel and P-channel type MOSFETs in the following table.

MOSFET Type VGS (+ve) VGS (0v) VGS (-ve)
N-channel Enhancement ON OFF OFF
N-channel Depletion ON ON OFF
P-channel Enhancement OFF OFF ON
P-channel Depletion OFF ON ON

Note that unlike the N-channel MOSFET whose gate terminal must be made more positive (attracting electrons) than the source to allow current to flow through the channel, the conduction through the P-channel MOSFET is due to the flow of holes. That is the gate terminal of a P-channel MOSFET must be made more negative than the source and will only stop conducting (cut-off) until the gate is more positive than the source.

So for the enhancement type power MOSFET to operate as an analogue switching device, it needs to be switched between its “Cut-off Region” where VGS = 0 (or VGS = -ve) and its “Saturation Region” were VGS(on) = +ve. The power dissipated in the MOSFET ( PD ) depends upon the current flowing through the channel ID at saturation and also the “ON-resistance” of the channel given as RDS(on). For example.

MOSFET as a Switch Example No1

Lets assume that the lamp is rated at 6v, 24W and is fully “ON”, the standard MOSFET has a channel “ON-resistance” ( RDS(on) ) value of 0.1ohms. Calculate the power dissipated in the MOSFET switching device.

The current flowing through the lamp is calculated as:

mosfet switch channel current


Then the power dissipated in the MOSFET will be given as:

mosfet switch power dissipation


You may be sat there thinking, well so what!, but when using the MOSFET as a switch to control DC motors or electrical loads with high inrush currents the “ON” Channel resistance ( RDS(on) ) between the drain and the source is very important. For example, MOSFETs that control DC motors, are subjected to a high in-rush current when the motor first begins to rotate, because the motors starting current is only limited by the very low resistance value of the motors windings.

As the basic power relationship is: P = I2R, then a high RDS(on) channel resistance value would simply result in large amounts of power being dissipated and wasted within the MOSFET itself resulting in an excessive temperature rise, which if not controlled could result in the MOSFET becoming very hot and damaged due to a thermal overload.

A lower value RDS(on) on the other hand, is also a desirable parameter as it helps to reduce the channels effective saturation voltage ( VDS(sat) = ID x RDS(on) ) across the MOSFET and will therefore operate at a cooler temperature. Power MOSFETs generally have a RDS(on) value of less than 0.01Ω which allows them to run cooler, extending their operational life span.

One of the main limitation of a MOSFET is the maximum current it can handle. So the RDS(on) parameter is an important guide to the switching efficiency of the MOSFET and is simply the ratio of VDS / ID when the transistor is turned “ON”.

When using a MOSFET or any type of field effect transistor for that matter as a solid-state switching device it is always advisable to select ones that have a very low RDS(on) value or at least mount them onto a suitable heatsink to help reduce any thermal runaway and damage. Power MOSFETs used as a switch generally have surge-current protection built into their design, but for high-current applications the bipolar junction transistor is a better choice.

Power MOSFET Motor Control

Because of the extremely high input or gate resistance that the MOSFET has, its very fast switching speeds and the ease at which they can be driven makes them ideal to interface with op-amps or standard logic gates. However, care must be taken to ensure that the gate-source input voltage is correctly chosen because when using the MOSFET as a switch the device must obtain a low RDS(on) channel resistance in proportion to this input gate voltage.

Low threshold type power MOSFETs may not switch “ON” until a least 3V or 4V has been applied to its gate and if the output from the logic gate is only +5V logic it may be insufficient to fully drive the MOSFET into saturation. Using lower threshold MOSFETs designed for interfacing with TTL and CMOS logic gates that have thresholds as low as 1.5V to 2.0V are available.

Power MOSFETs can be used to control the movement of DC motors or brushless stepper motors directly from computer logic or by using pulse-width modulation (PWM) type controllers. As a DC motor offers high starting torque and which is also proportional to the armature current, MOSFET switches along with a PWM can be used as a very good speed controller that would provide smooth and quiet motor operation.

Simple Power MOSFET Motor Controller

mosfet as a switch


As the motor load is inductive, a simple flywheel diode is connected across the inductive load to dissipate any back emf generated by the motor when the MOSFET turns it “OFF”. A clamping network formed by a zener diode in series with the diode can also be used to allow for faster switching and better control of the peak reverse voltage and drop-out time.

For added security an additional silicon or zener diode D1 can also be placed across the channel of a MOSFET switch when using inductive loads, such as motors, relays, solenoids, etc, for suppressing over voltage switching transients and noise giving extra protection to the MOSFET switch if required. Resistor R2 is used as a pull-down resistor to help pull the TTL output voltage down to 0V when the MOSFET is switched “OFF”.

P-channel MOSFET Switch

Thus far we have looked at the N-channel MOSFET as a switch were the MOSFET is placed between the load and the ground. This also allows for the MOSFET’s gate drive or switching signal to be referenced to ground (low-side switching).

p channel mosfet switch

P-channel MOSFET Switch

But in some applications we require the use of P-channel enhancement-mode MOSFET were the load is connected directly to ground. In this instance the MOSFET switch is connected between the load and the positive supply rail (high-side switching) as we do with PNP transistors.

In a P-channel device the conventional flow of drain current is in the negative direction so a negative gate-source voltage is applied to switch the transistor “ON”.

This is achieved because the P-channel MOSFET is “upside down” with its source terminal tied to the positive supply +VDD. Then when the switch goes LOW, the MOSFET turns “ON” and when the switch goes HIGH the MOSFET turns “OFF”.

This upside down connection of a P-channel enhancement mode MOSFET switch allows us to connect it in series with a N-channel enhancement mode MOSFET to produce a complementary or CMOS switching device as shown across a dual supply.

Complementary MOSFET Motor Controller

complementary mosfet switches


The two MOSFETs are configured to produce a bi-directional switch from a dual supply with the motor connected between the common drain connection and ground reference. When the input is LOW the P-channel MOSFET is switched-ON as its gate-source junction is negatively biased so the motor rotates in one direction. Only the positive +VDD supply rail is used to drive the motor.

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When the input is HIGH, the P-channel device switches-OFF and the N-channel device switches-ON as its gate-source junction is positively biased. The motor now rotates in the opposite direction because the motors terminal voltage has been reversed as it is now supplied by the negative -VDD supply rail.

Then the P-channel MOSFET is used to switch the positive supply to the motor for forward direction (high-side switching) while the N-channel MOSFET is used to switch the negative supply to the motor for reverse direction (low-side switching).

There are a variety of configurations for driving the two MOSFETs with many different applications. Both the P-channel and the N-channel devices can be driven by a single gate drive IC as shown.

However, to avoid cross conduction with both MOSFETs conducting at the same time across the two polarities of the dual supply, fast switching devices are required to provide some time difference between them turning “OFF” and the other turning “ON”. One way to overcome this problem is to drive both MOSFETs gates separately. This then produces a third option of “STOP” to the motor when both MOSFETs are “OFF”.

Complementary MOSFET Motor Control Table

MOSFET 1 MOSFET 2 Motor Function
OFF OFF Motor Stopped (OFF)
ON OFF Motor Rotates Forward
OFF ON Motor Rotates Reverse

Please note that it is important that no other combination of inputs are allowed at the same time as this may cause the power supply to be shorted out, as both MOSFETs, FET1 and FET2 could be switched “ON” together resulting in: ( fuse = bang! ), be warned.


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33 Responses to “MOSFET as a Switch”

  1. wahyu andrian

    hello, im trying to build h-bridge motor driver. it’s been simulated on proteus 7, i gave the drain 48v. the question is why the output of the bridge depended by the gate voltage? datasheet said that that mosfet has a logic input VGS(th) Gate Threshold Voltage 2.0 – 4.0 V VDS = VGS, ID = 250μA. but why it makes the gate reference itself to the source and not the drain? hope your answer. thanks

    • Wayne Storr

      The Gate Threshold Voltage, Vgs(th) is the Gate-to-Source voltage required to just turn the FET “ON”, allowing a small forward current to flow. It therefore sets the minimum applied Gate voltage for conduction in the channel. The Vgs for an N-channel MOSFET ranges from 0 volts, where the device is fully switched “OFF”, to some positive amount up to several volts (typically between 2 and 4 volts) to turn the device fully “ON”. FET Gate voltages are always referenced to the Source, just as BJT Base voltages are referenced to the Emitter.

  2. Randy Constan

    I’m trying to make a simple circuit to protect a LiPO cell from undercharge, using a low voltage P channel Power CMOS P-Mos Transistor. As this will be my first ever use of MOSFET, please be kind. I’m mainly looking to see if this is a dumb idea, or if I’m on the right track. In my circuit I already have an MCU which has some available I/O points, as well as the ability to internally monitor its supply voltage. The cell voltage will be about 4V when fully charged, and about 3V when I wish to shut down. Due to the low voltage, I’m considering an IRLML6401. Here’s my proposed circuit, which is based on your P-MOS switch example….

    When power is applied, the Gate voltage should be low for a second or two, to start the MOSFET conducting as C1 charges. By then the MCU will start and will immediately force its I/O output (on the 1K resistor) low, thus sustaining the VGS. When the MCU knows its supply is getting too low, it can then toggle its I/O output high. Though a small VGS will remain, I’m hoping it will be insufficient to keep the MOSFET on, sothe circuit will shutdown. The only wildcard i see is whether the MCU will act like a short to ground when unpowered. If that’s the case, my hope for such a simple circuit is doomed. But am I on the right track as far as the MOSFET operation?

  3. Daniel Kaye

    I have designed a battery driven micro controller circuit which sleeps at about .2 uA. I need to switch one of the connected devices off and on from the positive side as I come out of sleep but since I am putting the micro controller to sleep I don’t think using a P-channel Mosfet will work as it would require me to keep it high to keep it off, thus interfering with the low current sleep I need to achieve. Would really appreciate some ideas on a solution.

  4. Carlos Chaveznava

    How can I determine the type of MOSFET or JFET for a circuit I need to built up sending a PWM signal from a mbed microprocessor board to a 16W High Power Blue LIght LED?
    THe signal coming out of the mbed is only 2.5Volts and I have a Driver Board to regulate the output voltage for the LED, but as soon as I pass the 2.5Volts output the signal is not detected anymore by the LED and lights up continuosuly. Any help will be welcome.

  5. andyJ

    In the MOSFET Characteristics Curves it says VDS = ID.RDS(on)
    but in the Saturation Characteristics section it says
    VOUT = VDS = 0.2V ( RDS.ID )
    Where has the 0.2 come from?

    • Wayne Storr

      Hello AndyJ, what I was trying to say, may be not very well, was that VDS can never be zero due to the inherent resistance of the channel and as such there will always be a voltage drop relating to RDS of about 0.2v across the drain-source terminals no matter how saturated the channel is.

      • andyj

        Ok thanks, that’s clearer. Initially I thought it meant 0.2 multiplied by ( RDS.ID ). Curiously in your “MOSFET As A Switch Example No1″
        RDS(on) is 0.1ohms and ID is 4.0A which gives VDS = 0.4V. Not sure if that counts as ≅0.2V given that it’s twice as much!

        • Wayne Storr

          Its just an example, could be any RDS(on) value or ID value. The actual ON resistance of a device is the sum of many different series connected parasitic resistances, and is also dependent on Gate drive voltage. The subject of ON resistance in MOSFETs is endless but it can be very very low in the newer VMOS transistors. But what is important to remember is that as RDS(on) changes with bias, we must not exceed the power rating of the device, as watts equals I^2.RDS(on)

  6. veeramani

    Am i designed RF shortwave machine.I faced one problem while designing,that is tank circuit tunning.frequency range is 27.12Mhz.i used only air core inductor and capacitors for tank cuircuit.Now i adjust capacitor approximately.but i need ,how to chosse correct valuves for tuned circuit.its possible?.If possible how.Here i used tank circuit for main purpose maintained frequency and amplitude.

  7. john

    Am designing a remotely operated alarm system. can i use a MOSFET as a trigger since it only allow current to flow when gate current is supplied.I will use small current from my improvised remote controlled circuit to trigger the MOSFET which is supposed to switch the alarm system on.What happens if the gate current is withdrawn?does the MOSFET continue to conduct?. I will be grateful if you assist me with a diagram of the same.

    • Wayne Storr

      Hello John. You have answered your own question: “can i use a MOSFET as a trigger since it only allow current to flow when gate current is supplied”. If you apply a gate signal to an enhancement MOSFET it will turn “ON”. If you remove the signal in will turn “OFF”. You will need a latching circuit to operate the gate of the mosfet.


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