The key advantage of the MESFET is the higher mobility of the carriers in the channel as compared to the MOSFET. Since the carriers located in the inversion layer of a MOSFET have a wavefunction which extends into the oxide, their mobility - also refered to as surface mobility - is less than half of the mobility of bulk material. As the depletion region separates the carriers from the surface their mobility is close to that of bulk material. The higher mobility leads to a higher current, transconductance and transit frequency of the device.
The disadvantage of the MESFET structure is the presence of the Schottky metal gate. It limits the forward bias voltage on the gate to the turn-on voltage of the Schottky diode. This turn-on voltage is typically 0.7 V for GaAs Schottky diodes. The threshold voltage therefore must be lower than this turn-on voltage. As a result it is more difficult to fabricate circuits containing a large number of enhancement-mode MESFET.
The higher transit frequency of the MESFET makes it particularly of interest for microwave circuits. While the advantage of the MESFET provides a superior microwave amplifier or circuit, the limitation by the diode turn-on is easily tolerated. Typically depletion-mode devices are used since they provide a larger current and larger transconductance and the circuits contain only a few transistors, so that threshold control is not a limiting factor. The buried channel also yields a better noise performance as trapping and release of carriers into and from surface states and defects is eliminated.
The use of GaAs rather than silicon MESFETs provides two more significant advantages: first of all the room temperature mobility is more than 5 times larger, while the saturation velocity is about twice that in silicon. Second it is possible to fabricate semi-insulating (SI) GaAs substrates which eliminates the problem of absorbing microwave power in the substrate due to free carrier absorption.