Highly efficient continuous-wave laser emission in 3-mm-thick, 0.5- and 1.0-at. % crystals longitudinally pumped at 879 nm into the laser emitting level is reported. Under Ti:sapphire pumping, the slope efficiency in absorbed power is for both crystals, while the slope efficiency, the optical-to-optical efficiency (at 1700-mW pump power), and the laser threshold in incident power are 79%, 78%, and 31 mW for 0.5-at. % Nd and 80%, 77%, and 40 mW for 1.0-at. % Nd, respectively. The slope efficiency is close to the quantum defect limit, the difference being fully accounted for by the residual optical losses. Under 879-nm diode laser pumping, the slope efficiency and the optical-to-optical efficiency in absorbed power of the 0.5-at. % crystal are 60% and 53%, owing to poorer superposition of the pumped and the laser mode volumes.
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