1. Analog control has been widely used in power supplies, but nowadays power systems require new control skills that make more attractive solutions based on digital control. The main advantages of digital control are easy design of more complex control law, control reconfigurability, high immunity to noise and low power consumption. However, digital controllers have problems derived from time discretization and finite word length effects due to the use of analog-to-digital (A/D)

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1. Analog control has been widely used in power supplies, but

nowadays power systems require new control skills that make

more attractive solutions based on digital control. The main

advantages of digital control are easy design of more complex

law, control reconfigurability, high immunity to noise

and low power consumption. However, digital controllers have

problems derived from time discretization and finite word

length effects due to the use of analog
digital (A/D)


2. Digital
control is becoming increasingly attractive to

power electronics controls in managing many complex power

conversion systems due to a variety of advantages over analog

techniques, among which are programmability, lower parts

count, and less susceptibility t
o environmental variations.

Specifically, digital control allows the designer to easily

implement complicated control algorithms and to conveniently

modify these control algorithms. It also reduces the size of the

system by containing complexity of the con
trol system within

the software. Digital power control can be realized either by a


or DSP
based embedded control system, or by

a fast FPGA
based control unit. The control algorithm can be

initially coded in high
level programming languages

and then

compiled and downloaded to a dedicated processor. Final

construction of aerospace power conversion systems is

extremely costly while traditional software
only simulation

, which is necessary to help the engineers optimize the

system architecture,

component choices and the system

performance in terms of efficiency, power density, cost and

lifetime, is often insufficient to exactly capture the control

dynamics. One way to bridge the gap between simulation and

final system construction is real

HIL) testing. This solution increases the realism of

the simulation and provides access to hardware features

currently not available in the software
only simulation. It also

reduces the risk of discovering any dangerous error in th
e very

last stage of the on
field testing and assembling.

3. The use of digital power supply control results in improved system performance, efficiency, and significant cost
advantages over traditional analog approaches. Such improvements in performan
ce are realized through adaptive and
linear control response, such as manipulating switching waveforms on
fly to achieve dynamic performance
optimization. Higher efficiency is obtained through digital optimization, compensation and mode switching.
From the
power supply manufacturer’s point
view, cost reduction results from a lower external component count, and lower
upgrade and maintenance costs. At the same time, reliability is improved with the elimination of external analog
components, the val
ues of which change with age and temperature. In
system programmability provides the
manufacturer the ability to revise system design and generate custom products primarily through software

A fully independent hardware
based digital control
ler provides a stable digital control loop that has user
parameters that determine all aspects of the power supply operation. The on
chip MCU adds intelligence to the power
supply by monitoring the operation of the digital controller during op
eration and, if necessary, reparameterizing the
digital controller to affect temporary or permanent changes to its operation. In addition, the MCU provides fault
detection and recovery to protect against over current, under voltage, and other types of faul
ts. It also provides
programmable intelligence to control power supply start up, shut down, current sharing and management of external
devices such as fans and external power supply sequencing.

Digital control has been widely used in motor applications wh
ere control complexity and monitoring features are high.
Because of lower operating switching frequencies, a general purpose MCU or a DSP is ideal for this type of
application. For practical reasons, in switched
mode power supplies it is desirable to reduc
e both passive component
size and transient response time. Thus, the operating switching frequency has to be increased to a range of hundreds of
kilohertz to megahertz. Smaller inductor size and faster dynamic response associated with such applications dem
the digital controller operate at higher processing speeds. However, in order to be commercially successful, the digital
controller must be low cost and low complexity (to minimize the learning curve of system design
in) and still deliver
high perform
ance. This argues against a fully DSP solution, with its inherent time consuming and complex
programming requirements

Digital control continues its takeover of power

By George A. Hall, Summit Microelectronics

The complexity of an ever
g sea of innovative system designs has introduced new requirements for
power management in consumer and many other applications. Simple analog power conversion is
inadequate to address issues related to performance, efficiency and functionality. I believe
merging power
management in the analog domain with digital control is the most cost effective way to accomplish system
goals, without compromising performance. Typical implementations and system needs can certainly benefit
from this versatile technology.

Since nearly the inception of integrated power controllers, there has been a need for digital control to
perform two basic functions: enabling the controller to turn on
off and indicate to the system that the
controller’s output voltage is within the s
pecifications of the system and therefore it is ready to be used. In
my opinion this ends the argument that digital control is now “moving” into the analog space as this has
happened quite some time ago and is continuing as quickly as new devices and syste
ms are introduced with
new and unique power requirements.

Let’s continue this “debate” of the digital power takeover by adding a few more mandatory functions that
have evolved out of necessity and have either been integrated into the power controller or t
hat's being
handled by an external PMU that performs these functions for multiple controllers in a single system. I'm
referring to the standby mode and sleep mode that are required by off
line powered devices to reduce power
consumption to a minimum while
systems are experiencing limited use or have not been used for a
predetermined amount of time. Both functions are similar but entirely different in their impact on the system
and each demands digital monitoring and control to be properly implemented for lo
nger battery use and a
“greener world”.

Let’s not forget the original case of power enabling and power signaling as it applies to devices using
multiple power supplies. Here we have the need to properly sequence the supplies on and off in the correct
r to avoid damage or a failed boot of the system. No longer can the functions that are integrated into the
power controller suffice for complicated sequencing schemes as they have no sense of exact timing
between power supplies.

We introduce one additiona
l requirement that while it seems to be an analog function is actually a task,
managed best by the digital controller. It is not 100% pure digital but it is tainted with some analog circuitry.
This function is the precision voltage control of the otherwise

accurate output voltage. Also, there is the
need to manage both the high and low voltages from the nominal setting to help stamp out infant mortality
components in the factory testing.

To perform adequate sequencing and precise voltage control requi
res an A/D converter (ADC) to digitize the
analog domain supply voltages. We have the making a digital
based power management controller with
some, but minimal analog circuitry that's able to keep the power supplies in even simple
looking handheld

I have limited the use of digital power management to that of controlling and monitoring the power supplies
and have said nothing of the inevitable integration of digital control into the power controller itself. We know
that limited digital

control is available in these controllers but it is expected that the power controller will
eventually look more like a CPU. A higher voltage will be used to “talk and listen” to the controller while a
lower voltage will be used to virtually perform all p
ower conversion in the digital domain.

George Hall is Staff Engineer at Summit Microelectronics. Before joining Summit, he worked at Monolithic
Power Systems. He also held positions at Micro Linear Corporation, Micrel, Raynet, Computer Products,
and Gener
al Electric. Mr. Hall has authored numerous application notes and holds a patent in phase
mode power supplies. Check out

for details of Summit's offerings.


A bit
power: digitally controlled power conversion

Ironically, perhaps, the last subsystem to undergo a substantive shift from an analog

to a
control architecture is the most
universal: the power supply. Beware the hype,
however. Digital power control may bring performance benefits to some applications, but
until you become familiar with the inner machinations, their sophistication will exact a
price in application

By Joshua Israelsohn, Technical Editor

EDN, 7/21/2005


Recent arrivals of
digital power
controllers mark
the beginning of
what many believe
is an important new
trend in power
control. Expect
several competing
parts to emerge
over the c

Digital power
controllers allow
you to exploit DSP
based filtering
methods and build
a range of supplies
from a common
core set of parts
Within reasonable limits of voltage and current ranges,
disparate applications often put remarkably similar demands
on power
management subsystems. This initially
counterintuitive observation derives from
the facts that many
applications draw on common core technologies, exploit similar
functional partitioning schemes, and operate dominantly on
only a few different energy sources. Independently of what you
design, declining operating voltages for major subs
have marked the evolutionary track of many of the
technologies you use. The supply tolerances that these
technologies impose upon power subsystems have been in
decline, too, in rough proportion to the supply voltages.
Simultaneously, standing curren
ts have been on the rise, and,
disproportionately, dynamic currents have as well.

In the loop

The typical SMPS (switch
supply) control loop
modulates the timing of its power switches depending on the
subsystem's output voltage (
Figure 1
). Working clockwise from
the output, a scaling network samples the output voltage,
multiplying it by V
. The term "error amplifier" is
something of a misnomer. The device co
mpares the scaling
network's output with the reference voltage and produces a
drive signal for the PWM sufficient to force the two input
voltages to match. (Some literature describes the error
amplifier as developing an output signal proportional to the
fference between its two input signals, which is not the case
as long as the loop is operating within its linear range.) A
compensation network scales the amplifier's dc and low
frequency gain appropriately to the PWM's sensitivity and also
provides a loca
l high
frequency feedback path to ensure
adequate phase margin for loop stability. This basic structure applies to both isolated and
nonisolated supplies. You can provide isolation (not shown) either at the power entry or
within the power
switching block.

with model
managed in

DPWM (digital
PWM) edge
placement requires
speed clocks,
which on
chip PLLs
generally provide.
Though the fastest
signals stay on
chip, use good
layout practices to
maintain switching
edge fidelity.

Online extra

This just in: More parts,
and an upcoming panel

After this article went to
press, Joshua Israelsohn
contributed information on
some more ICs coming to
the market and an
ng panel discussion
in which he's taking part.

Beyond the basic issues of voltage regulation, this architecture accommodates a variety of
common ancillary functions with little additional complexity. For example, one additional
resistor between the reference's output and the error amplifier's noninvert
ing input provides a
tracking option, which allows a regulator to follow another supply rail or voltage source. Here,
an external voltage source can take control of the regulator's output target as long as it can
adequately source (or sink as necessary) th
e reference current: |V

. Few
functions are implemented so simply, but the architecture accommodates such common
features as overvoltage protection, undervoltage protection, overcurrent protection, and
current reporting with moderate additiona
l complexity and with little impact on the regulator's
loop performance.

Outside the context of a switching regulator, servo circuits similar to this one date back to the
days of vacuum tubes and are among the best studied, characterized, and documented
ntrol topologies in the literature (
Reference 1
). Considering the levels of performance that
modern implementations provide, this loop is a remarkably simple and efficient structure,
, until recently, not easy to replace with a digital equivalent. Indeed, little more than a
year ago, Astec Power Vice President Geof Potter stated, "Peripheral functions have long
been within the scope of digital
control methods because [the] necessary sp
eed and
complexity are not great. On the other hand, digital control of an active feedback loop,
including a pulse
modulation process ... has been an elusive prize due to size, cost, and
power consumption of components needed for practical operation. To su
ccessfully compete
with a low
cost analog
control system, a digital equivalent requires data resolution and
latency numbers that have been available only in large, expensive DSP and ADC products.
To compound the difficulty, there are few, if any, integrate
d devices on the market ... that
contain all the necessary functions to constitute a reasonable [digital] power 'controller'"
Reference 2

Bits of empowerment

The motivation for such
devices is multifold: Supplies for product variants within a family can
use identical power
management circuits with model
specific tuning and optimization coded
in software or by operational coefficients. Onboard self
test programs can reduce, enhance,

eliminate production testing of power
management functions, depending on your
organization's design and test
method policies. A digital power
management section can
automatically compensate or replace components subject to parametric variation over
tion, time, or temperature. Product and accessory identification and recognition
schemes can fit into a digital
management design with little additional hardware and
provide enhanced safety, product
tracking, and diagnostic information.

The digitally

controlled loop replaces the error amplifier and its compensation network with
an ADC and a control
law processor; the processor often implements a PI (proportional
integral) or PID (proportional
derivative) compensator (
Figure 2
). The processor can
access stored coefficients that determine the loop dynamics and can modify those
coefficients to optimize operation during various normal operating modes, transient events,
and faults. The

processor's output drives the input to a DPWM (digital PWM), which in turn
determines the switching
edge positions by calculating and timing as opposed to exploiting
the analog loop's threshold
detection method.

The macroscopic similarities between the an

and the digital
loop topologies
mask the complexity of such a replacement. For example, both analog

and digital
loops must compensate for the phase lags that the forward path imposes between the
switch inputs and the filter out
put. The digital implementation must also contend with
the additional phase lag due to analog
conversion delays and computational
latencies through the control
law processor.

In addition to operating as a discrete time circuit, the digital
ol loop is a quantizer,
whereas the analog
control loop operates in continuous time and amplitude. These
distinctions impose structural requirements and performance limitations on the digital loop.
These constraints have until recently made high loop bandw
idths and tight output tolerances
difficult to attain on a large mixed
signal IC. For example, the ADC determines the resolution
of the output
voltage setting

the first line item on your output
error budget. You can
calculate your minimum resolutio
n from your nominal output voltage, V
, and the setting
resolution, ΔV

To prevent limit
cycle oscillations in the output, quantizers that follow the ADC, including the
DPWM, must exhibit a greater resolution than the ADC (
Figure 3
). This requirement ensures
that a stable output value will exist for each possible ADC quantity. Referring to
Figure 2

The DPWM essentially transl
ates bits of amplitude into bits of time. The power section's
switching rate and the converter's amplitude resolution set the DPWM's minimum timing
resolution: The DPWM must fit 2

bits within the power section's switching interval. For
example, in a contr
oller that follows an 8
bit DAC with a 9
bit DPWM controlling a power
section with a 1
MHz switching rate, the DPWM timing resolution is

The reciprocal of the DPWM timing resolution gives the DPWM clock rate, which for this
modest example is

As the
setting resolution increases, the DPWM clock does likewise: one octave per
bit. Because some emission is likely at both the system and the DPWM, consider the
noise spectrum of a power supply that uses a digitally controlled loop in the con
of your application's signal band before committing to the power
subsystem design. Also, be
sure to observe good high
layout practices, particularly in the regions of the
drive and clock signals. Conduction of RF from the regulated dc

output, V
, is unlikely
due to the output filter, but radiated RF emissions are still a layout concern (
Reference 3

Power in numbers

The theoretical and technological
development wor
k behind digital power controllers has
been ongoing for some years, but this spring brought the announcement of ICs that
implement the architecture from Texas Instruments and Silicon Laboratories. The Texas
Instruments approach is a two
chip set with sever
al options to accommodate a variety of
SMPS topologies (
Figure 4
). ICs from the UCD9k and UCD7k families combine with your
switching and filter sections to form a complete power subsyste

The UCD7100 and 7201 single

and dual
channel, low
side MOSFET gate drivers feature

and DSP
compatible inputs and can operate at switching rates as fast as 2
MHz. The drivers can typically source or sink 4A and feature maximum rise and
fall times of
20 and 15 nsec, respectively, when driving 2.2
nF loads. The maximum input
propagation delay is 35 nsec. Both drivers provide cycle
cycle current limiting,
programmable limit thresholds, and logic
level limit
status flag outputs.

The ICs can operate
supplies in the range of 4.5 to 15V and include an on
chip 3.3V regulator rated for 10 mA,
which you can use to power external circuits, such as a low
power microcontroller or ASIC.
The 99
cent, single
channel and $1.20, dual
channel d
rivers are available in QFN
14 and
16 packages, respectively. Both parts are also available in HTSSOP
14 packages and
are rated for operation at

40 to +105°C.

TI also currently offers four other drivers in the UCD7k family. Various members include a
buck driver with current sensing, and single

and dual
channel, low
side drivers
with 110V start
up capability. The dual
channel ICs are available with either independent or
common current sensing. Members of the UCD7k
family drivers mate with a

variety of
processors, including the UCD9501 and its kin. The 9501, the first of the UCD9k family,
comprises a 100
MHz, 32
bit Harvard DSP core; a clock

and timing
control block; a 12
sample/sec ADC; extensive digital I/O, including PWM output
s; and memory.

The ADC features a 16
channel multiplexer and a sample
hold amplifier and operates
over a 3V unipolar range. You can program the ADC to synchronize with the PWM outputs or
initiate a conversion by either software command or hardware inte
rrupt. A built
in sequencer
can take as many as 16 samples with one command. You can program the sequencer to
take each sample from any of the 16 input channels. The converter's INL (integral
nonlinearity) and DNL (differential nonlinearity) are typically
1.5 and 1 LSBs, respectively, at
6.25M samples/sec; the manufacturer provides no limit specs. Similarly, ac
specifications are available only as typical values: 76
dB SFDR (spurious
free dynamic
range), 67
dB SNR, and 10.6
bit ENOB (effective num
ber of bits), all at 100 kHz, suggest
that the converter is largely noise
limited but at sufficiently low values for power
management applications. When the device is operating with a 100
MHz system clock, on
chip timers can set the output edge positions o
f the three high
resolution PWM channels to a
nominal granularity of 150 psec. At a 1
MHz power
switching rate, errors due to the PWM's
placement resolution fall below the converter's noise floor.

TI offers the $5.79 (1000) digital power contro
ller in an LQFP
100 package with three
range options extending to 125°C. The IC operates on 3.3 and 1.8V supplies
and typically dissipates ½W. Support tools include a $495 eZdsp starter kit, a C/C++
compiler/assembler/linker, TI's Code Composer

Studio IDE, evaluation modules, JTAG
controllers, and TI's DSP/BIOS.

Silicon Labs takes a dual
processor approach that separates all of the communication and
housekeeping activities from the primary task of loop control (
Figure 5
). At the block
level, the Si8250 digital
controller family performs the functions of TI's UCD9k family,
though their internal architectures significantly differ. That fact leaves you to provide the
er and current sensing that the TI UCD7k family provides. However, a cursory search
reveals some 15 reputable vendors of power
MOSFET drivers, so it is reasonable that
Silicon Labs didn't reinvent the wheel when developing its first power
controller ICs.

ne advantage of the Si8250 that is evident at first glance is its size: The dual
controller fits into QFN
28 and LQFP
32 packages. In exchange for the reduced pinout, the
SiLabs part does without some of the ADC's multiplexer width

eight rather t
han 16

and the 8250 family provides a somewhat more modest complement of digital
facilities than does the UCD9k, which devotes more pins that function


than does the
entirety of the 8250's package. (Ironically, perhaps, the Si8250 manages to

fit in six PWM

the business end of these devices

compared with the UCD9k's three.) If you can
do with the more modest facilities of the $2.49 (1000) Si8250, another benefit in addition to
its relatively reduced girth is a maximum dissipation of 69


The 8250 operates with an internal 25
MHz system clock. An internal PLL
based clock
multiplier derives 50
, 100
, and 200
MHz clocks for the loop
control ADC, DPWM, and some
peripherals. Programmable options include operation with an external clock wi
th an on
bit programmable prescaler and an integrated 80
kHz, low
frequency clock, which is useful
for certain low
power, nonoperational modes.

Silicon Labs provides a dedicated 10
MHz, 6
bit loop
control ADC and a separate 12
ADC with an eight
channel multiplexer for current, temperature, and other housekeeping
measurements. The loop
control ADC meets 2

and 1
bit INL

and DNL
limit specs,

a bit chubby for a 6
bit converter from a specsmanship perspective, perhaps,
but adequate for many power
controller applications. A reference DAC allows you to
program the LSB size from 2 to 20 mV for a dynamic range of 128 mV to 1.28V. As yet,
SiLabs has neither specified the loop
control ADC's ac performance, nor announced an
intention to do so.

One unusual "feature"

in the "it's
feature" sense of the word

of the
Si8250's 300
page data sheet is that the specification table does

not exist in a single section.
Instead, the document tucks away pieces of the table at the end of each table segment's
relative text. This approach distributes information critical to the part
selection process and
design phases throughout the book
sized data sheet. In many cases, you'll find spec
table fragments under subparagraphs that you might otherwise hardly notice. Although this
organization may be useful for those who assembled the data
sheet source materials, it can
be cumbersome for users o
f the resultant document. You may, therefore, wish to have the
data sheet in PDF form on a laptop for quick text searches, particularly if you are developing
your first application using the 8250. Alternatively, you can arm yourself with a healthy supply
f Post
it Notes.

Among the support tools for the Si8250 family is a $199 IDK, which features a GUI
design interface and timing design wizard. The tool set comprises a real
time firmware kernel
with C source code, microcontroller
configuration softwar
e, and a USB debugging adapter.

This just in: More parts, and an upcoming panel discussion

In addition to the digitally controlled power
conversion ICs from Texas Instruments and
Silicon Laboratories, devices are now or soon
be available from Primari
on and Zilker
Labs, respectively.

Primarion's PX3535 generates power
switching signals for configurations operating one to
six power
stage phases. The controller provides individual phase
current monitor inputs,
which share a common ADC, and a high
speed v
feedback path that provides a typical
bandwidth of 1.5 MHz. Over temperature, the current
sense amplifier's linearity error and
sense ADC's error contribute a maximum of 2% and 2.2%, respectively, to the
sense INL. Also over temperat
ure, the voltage
channel's maximum error
contributions include a 0.75% voltage
conversion gain term and 9
mV of conversion INL.
Typical setpoint accuracy is ±10 mV over the operating temperature range of 0 to 85°C.
When comparing several parts for these ki
nds of specifications, be sure to distinguish
between performance guarantees that apply over a part's full operating
temperature range
from those that apply only to room
temperature operation.

The controller allows programmable offsets in the phase
s for thermal balancing in
applications that do not afford all phases equal cooling. These can include designs that
cannot economically provide identical air flow for all phases or where some phases are
nearer than others to dissipating components.

The IC
supports programmable switching frequencies of 100
kHz to 2
MHz, which allows
significant flexibility in filter

and switching
stage design. In addition to common features that
enhance the power subsystem's robustness, such as on
chip temperature monitorin
g, output

and over
voltage protection, and per
phase and total
current limits.

The $1.95 (1000) PX3535 is available in LQFP
48 and QFN
48 packages and dissipates
less than 0.5W when operating on 3.3V supplies. The controller is compatible with VID c
maps for Intel and AMD products. It also provides space for an OEM programmable code

More on the horizon

Expect more semiconductor companies to enter this segment in the coming quarters, and
with them, a wider variety of architectures. One recent
startup, Zilker Labs, is taking a hybrid
signal approach in which much of the loop's dynamic
control processing remains in
the analog domain and monitoring and management functions are implemented in digital
circuitry. This segmentation supports a hi
performance controller that requires no loop
programming and dissipates less power than more thoroughly digital architectures. Parts are
currently sampling to beta customers and a formal announcement of the part is due at the
upcoming second
annual Digi
tal Power Forum (
) in Boston
Sept. 12 through 14.

The Digital Power Forum will also be hosting a roundtable discussion entitled "Digital Power:

Ready for Prime Time?" in which

I will be discussing the current state of digital power
technologies with panelists Dave Freeman, systems engineering manager at Texas
Instruments; Jim Templeton, founder and vice president of marketing at Zilker Labs; Geoff
Potter, vice president of Aste
c; and Phillip Roux, power systems manager at EMC. Howard
Abramowitz from Systel will moderate the session. Given the rapid pace of technology
development in this segment and the keen interest in deploying systems that realize the
advantages these architec
tures offer, I expect a lively session and look forward to seeing you

Author Information

You can reach Technical Editor Joshua Israelsohn at



Black, Harry, "Stabilized Feedback Amplifiers,"
Bell System Technical Journal
Volume 13, January 1934.


Potter, Geof, "An introduction to digital control of switching power converters," Astec,
April 2004.


Israelsohn, Joshua, Gary Levy, and Ron Gatzke, "A

circuit board layout guide for
RFICs," EOEM Design Expo, June 2005,