Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Should I Use a Switching or Linear DC Power Supply For My Next Test System? (part 2 of 4)

Part 2 of 4: Switching DC system power supply attributes
In part 1 we looked at the topology and merits of a linear DC power supply. To be fair we now have to give equal time to discuss the topology and merits of a switching DC system power supply, to make a more informed choice of what will better suit our needs for powering up and testing our devices.

Traditional switching DC power supply topology
The basic traditional switching power supply depicted in Figure 2 is a bit more complex compared to a linear power supply:
1. The AC line voltage is rectified and then filtered to provide an unregulated high voltage DC rail to power the following DC-to-DC inverter circuit.
2. Power transistors switching at 10’s to 100’s of kHz impose a high voltage, high frequency AC pulse waveform on the transformer primary (input).
3. The AC pulse voltage is scaled by the transformer turns ratio to a value consistent with the required DC output voltage.
4. This transformer secondary (output) AC voltage is rectified into a pulsed DC voltage.
5. An LC (inductor-capacitor) output filter averages the pulsed voltage into a continuous DC voltage at the power supply’s output.
6. As with a linear power supply, an error amplifier compares the DC output voltage against a reference to regulate the output at the desired setting.
7. A modulator circuit converts the error amplifier signal into a high frequency, pulse width modulated waveform to drive the switching power transistors.

Figure 2: Basic switching DC power supply circuit

In spite of being more complex the key thing is its much higher operating frequency, several orders of magnitude over that of a linear power supply, greatly reduces the size of the magnetic and filtering components. As a result traditional switching DC power supplies have some inherent advantages:
• High power conversion efficiency of typically 85%, relatively independent of output voltage setting.
• Small size and lightweight, especially at higher power.
• Cost effective, especially at higher power.

Traditional switching DC power supplies also have some typical disadvantages:
• High output noise and ripple voltage
• High common mode noise current
• Slow transient response to AC line and DC output load changes.

High-performance switching DC power supplies lessen the gap
Traditional switching DC power supply performance is largely a result of optimizing well established switching topologies for cost, efficiency and size, exactly the areas where linear DC power supplies suffer. Performance generally had been a secondary consideration for switching DC power supplies. However, things have now improved to better address the high-performance needs for electronics testing. Incorporating more advanced switching topologies, careful design, and better filtering, high-performance switching DC power supplies compare favorably with linear DC power supplies on most aspects, while still retaining most of the advantages of switchers.

So our choice on whether to use a linear or switching power supply has now gotten a bit more difficult! One area that still differentiates these DC power supply topologies is common mode current noise, worthy of its own discussion, which is exactly what I will do in part 3, coming up next!


  1. Hello,

    You have provided a very good site to knowing about power supply. It stated I-sense which mean current sense and it is short circuit in the secondary side drawn would be increase and this will lead the PWM IC to stop generating output to the power fet and thus the power supply would shut down.

    PC Power Supplies

  2. Hi Dainard, Thanks for visiting our site! We'll do our best to provide helpful and informative things related to power in future posts. You have a good eye for detail there regarding the switching power supply diagram. It is a very basic block diagram just to get the switching concept across. More practical implementations need to limit the range of the PWM to keep it always switching and would have a current limit control amplifier that would take over control from the voltage amplifier and pull back on the PWM under short circuit conditions.