Voltage regulators

Voltage regulators apply a constant voltage to the output.
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The 3 most popular Voltage regulators

What is a voltage regulator?

A voltage regulator is a chip or module that controls the output voltage of a circuit to maintain a constant level. The basic function of a voltage regulator is to compare the output voltage to a reference voltage and adjust the output voltage to match the reference voltage. The reference voltage can be a fixed or variable value depending on the driver chip.

There are two main types of voltage regulators: linear voltage regulators and switching voltage regulators.

  • Linear voltage regulators work by using a voltage divider circuit to regulate the output voltage. They are simple, inexpensive, and easy to use, but they are not as efficient as other types of voltage regulators, as they tend to dissipate a lot of power as heat. Some popular linear voltage regulator integrated circuits (ICs) include the LM7805, LM7812, and LM317.
  • Switching voltage regulators, also known as switching mode power supplies (SMPS), work by rapidly switching a transistor on and off to regulate the output voltage. They are more efficient than linear voltage regulators, but they are more complex and can generate electromagnetic interference (EMI). Some popular switching voltage regulator ICs include the LM2675, LM2575, and LM3478.

Both types of voltage regulators have a feedback loop that senses the output voltage and compares it to the reference voltage. Depending on the design and the type of voltage regulator it is, it will adjust the current flow or switching to maintain the output voltage to the desired level.

What should I be aware of when selecting a voltage regulator?

It is important to choose a voltage regulator that is appropriate for your specific application, and to carefully review the manufacturer's specifications to ensure that it will perform as expected under the specific conditions of your circuit.

There are a few things to be aware of when using voltage regulators, including:

  1. Input voltage range: Make sure that the input voltage range of the voltage regulator is suitable for your application. The input voltage must be within the operating range specified by the manufacturer to ensure proper operation and to avoid damage to the voltage regulator.
  2. Output voltage range: Check the output voltage range to ensure that it is suitable for your application.
  3. Load current: Make sure that the load current (the amount of current flowing through the circuit) does not exceed the maximum rating for the voltage regulator. Exceeding the maximum load current can cause the voltage regulator to overheat and fail.
  4. Temperature range: Be aware of the temperature range in which the voltage regulator can operate. Many voltage regulators have a specified operating temperature range, and operating outside of this range can lead to poor performance or failure.
  5. Efficiency: Be aware that voltage regulators can have varying efficiencies, this means, how much energy is wasted as heat during the regulation process.
  6. Noise: Some voltage regulators can introduce noise or ripple into the output voltage. This can be a problem for sensitive electronic devices. Usually swtching regulators generate more ripple as linear voltage regulators.
  7. Protection features: Some voltage regulators have built-in protection features such as thermal protection, over-current protection and over-voltage protection.
  8. Mounting: Make sure that the voltage regulator is properly mounted and cooled to avoid overheating. As switching regulators are more efficient, they usually have less trouble with overheating.

What is a low dropout voltage regulator?

A low dropout voltage regulator (LDO) is a type of voltage regulator that can provide a stable output voltage with a relatively small voltage difference (i.e., "dropout voltage") between the input and output. This makes them particularly useful in applications where the input voltage is close to the desired output voltage, or where a precise output voltage is needed.

LDOs are typically linear regulators, which means that they work by adjusting the current flowing through a pass transistor to control the output voltage. Because the pass transistor is operating in its linear region, the output voltage is directly proportional to the input voltage. The voltage difference between the input and output is a result of the voltage drop across the pass transistor and any other internal losses in the regulator.

LDOs typically have dropout voltage between around 100mV to 2V, which is why they are considered as low dropout, this allow them to provide a stable output voltage even when the input voltage is only slightly higher than the desired output voltage.

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