Servo Actuators vs. Linear Actuators - What's The Difference?

If you're searching for a linear motion solution for the first time, you might find yourself a little bit confused that there are several different terms used to describe what appear to be identical products: linear actuator, servo actuator, linear servo and several others.

This can be confusing and my aim here is to clear it up and help you understand what is meant by 'actuator' vs 'servo'.

It's important to know that other than the connection cable, all of the differences are internal. Linear actuators and linear servos are indeed identical when viewed from the outside. They function exactly the same way, in and out.

So what's the difference between an actuator and a servo?

An actuator operates in the same manner as an electric motor. When power is applied, the motor will spin, and when power is removed, the motor will stop. Actuators are exactly the same. They are simple devices that only recognize on or off. They are incapable of position control on their own.

A servo actuator is different in that it can receive a command to go to a specific position, and then act on that command. It's not a simple power on-power off equation. A servo can be told what to do and then do it on it's own.

Though they look the same, they're actually quite different in how they function. This makes them ideal for different applications.

Actuators are ideal for projects and situations where what you need is the same range of linear motion all the time. You can apply power and it will extend until the end-limit switch shuts off the power. Reverse the polarity and the same will happen in retraction.

Linear servos are ideal for more complex applications where you need the device to respond to an external command for a certain position. This is how standard RC servos work. A linear servo must have 3 or more wires. Power, ground and a signal wire to tell the servo what position it should go to.

Looking at the pictures below, it's easy to understand how some might be a little confused. linear actuator vs linear servo


So to summarize, an actuator is a simple device that can not complete a task without being told to do so, and a servo actuator is 'smart' in that it can accept an input signal and go to that position on it's own.

It's actually fairly simple, but this distinction can cause some confusion. I hope this article has helped you understand the difference and hopefully give you the foundation you need to choose the best device for your application.

Whether you're a hobbyist, engineer, or industry professional, Actuonix is here to help you find the best linear servo or linear actuator for your design. From initial concept to final implementation, their team of experts is dedicated to helping you achieve your goals efficiently and effectively. Feel free to reach out if you have questions or need a hand choosing a device.

Common Questions About Linear Servos

Are all of your actuators available with servo control?

All of our actuator families are available with a servo control option with the exception of our S20 line. L12-R, L16-R and PQ12-R are plug and play linear servos. The P8-R, P16-R and T16-R require the use of our EXT-R board which is included when you select the -R option, and a 12V power supply.

Can I use your linear servos with RC and Arduino?

Yes, you can. Our 6V R-Series servos are a direct plug and play replacement for a standard rotary servo. For our 12V servo models, you will need to use an EXT-R board and a 12V power supply.

Can I use a linear servo with an LAC board?

R-Series servos are not compatible with the LAC. That said, you can achieve RC control by using a P-Series actuator and an LAC board. RC is one of the input modes available on the LAC board.

Browse Linear Servos From Actuonix Today

Hopefully this article has helped you better understand the differences between linear actuators and linear servos. View our collection of actuators by model or industry today. As a leading manufacturer and innovator in the micro motion marketplace, Actuonix services companies big and small in a number of industries including aerospace, medical, robotics, RC and more. Get in touch with us today to submit an order or to submit an inquiry.