Until some years ago for regular general circuits I used European NPN transistors like BC547, BC548 and BC549. I found that in circuits from the US or UK often the 2N3904 was used for general low-power purposes. Since I started to use the 2N3904 I have good experience with this transistor. The transition frequency is a surprising 300 MHz which makes this component suitable for RF experiments. Since I found out the transistor is low priced, RF capable and reliable I keep a little stock of those generalists. I ran out of stock lately and ordered qty 100 2N3904 for 1.80 euro ! (including free shipping) on eBay.
Qty 100 2N3904's arrived this week from Hong Kong. Price 1.8 eurocent each transistor
The 2N3904 is a common NPN bipolar junction transistor used for general purpose low-power amplifying
or switching applications. The type was registered by Motorola
Semiconductor in the mid-sixties, together with the complementary PNP
and represented a significant performance/cost improvement, with the
plastic TO-92 case replacing metal cans. It is designed for low current and power, medium voltage,
and can operate at moderately high speeds. This transistor is low cost,
widely available and sufficiently robust to be of use by experimenters. When looking at the flat side with the base pointed downward, the three
wires emerging from the base are, left to right, the emitter, base and
It is a 200 mA, 40 volt, 625 milliwatt transistor with a transition frequency of 300 MHz, with a minimum beta or current gain of 100 at a collector current of 10 mA. It is used in a variety of analog amplification and switching applications. The 2N3904 is optimized for currents of around 10 mA thus minimizing thermal heating.
Electrically similar devices are available in a variety of small through-hole and surface mount packages including TO-92, SOT-23, and SOT-223, with package-dependent thermal ratings from 625 milliwatts to 1 Watt.
A 2N3906 is a complementary (PNP) transistor for the 2N3904. The 2N2222
is an NPN transistor that can safely switch three times as much current
as the 2N3904 but has otherwise similar characteristics.
Nevertheless, in many applications such as variable frequency
oscillators where lower currents are used to minimize thermal heating
and consequent thermal drift of the fundamental frequency, the greater
current capacity of the 2N2222 gives it no advantage. Whereas the 2N2222
is optimized to reach its highest gain at currents of around 150 mA,
the 2N3904 is optimized for currents of around 10 mA.
The 2N3904 is used very frequently in hobby electronics circuits
including home-made ham radios, code practice oscillators and as an
interfacing device for micro-controllers.