Blog The Filter Wizard Remastered

Analog Integration: What Is It & How Shall We Talk About It?

Integration in electronics — what does that even mean? Whatever it is, people are talking about it more and more, so when I was asked to write something about integrated analog, I was intrigued.

Naively, I thought I would just reach into the Blogging Hat to pull out some thoughts from a lifetime spent integrating (OK, sometimes disintegrating) electronic systems. After all, it’s a chance to talk about the design processes we use to create electronic systems, instead of the subtle magicks involved in chasing signals around and submitting them to cruel and unusual transfer functions. Have those design processes changed beyond all recognition, or have we actually been this way before?

I started out thinking that a plan for this blog would be a good idea. But no plan survives contact with the enemy. In this case, the enemy is the pressure to contribute regularly, coupled with the unanticipated twists and turns created by focused feedback from the army of Planet Analog and EDN readers. So I’ve decided not to follow a preordained path through a set of issues. Instead, I’ll light a few torches and see where the crowd carries them, throwing in my own views whenever the ground becomes stable enough to put down a soapbox without fear that it will sink and topple.

My perspective is colored (I wanted to write “coloured,” but my iPad changed it) by several factors. First, I’ve been doing electronics for all my adult life and for a while before that. So in the last 40-odd years of holding a soldering iron or waggling a mouse, I’ve seen a lot of things go down (and go bang). Second, I’m an analog guy (guess what my iPad does there), and the burden of that endangered-speciesdom seems to press more each year. Integrating analog without understanding it seems like an awesomely bad idea to me.

Finally, I work for a company, Cypress Semiconductor, that’s working diligently to be in the lead pack of suppliers leveraging the integration trend. Oh, sorry, I just pressed the make-it-sound-like-marketing button. But you get the picture.

Professionally, I lean toward the belief that integration will and should happen, rather than a wait-and-see agnosticism. That probably makes me a punching bag for all the things that people are not going to like about the integration thing. I won’t use quote marks for the word, but since we still don’t really know what it means, we’ll have to tolerate our collectively imprecise use of it.

At the start, I asked whether we’d actually been this way before, and I think we have. As a boy hobbyist taking my first steps in the late 1960s, I thought a bright future awaited in which we would replace tens (perhaps hundreds) of transistors and passives with a single IC. Today, we are all agog at the thought of replacing tens (perhaps hundreds) of ordinary ICs and passives with a more highly integrated device, for which we haven’t even yet got a good acronym.

There are plenty of questions queuing up for an answer, but I’ll close this first epistle with some quotations from the editorial of the September 1968 edition of the UK magazine Practical Electronics. Launching a series introducing the home constructor to the systematic use of the integrated circuit, the editorial observed:

No enterprising constructor will wish to stand aside from the mainstream of emerging technologies. Even on the home constructor scale definite economic advantages will soon materialize from the outpourings of the micro-electronic plants. The cost of a “one-off” integrated circuit will become less than the equivalent discrete components. Nor is it fanciful to envisage IC’s [sic] at “give-away” prices in due time.

The magazine staff agonized over how to structure the projects using a very early operational amplifier. They presciently realized that “something more than the mere fitting of a ‘black box’ into a circuit was required if the problem was to be properly tackled.” The role of the articles was to “provide an introduction to system designing and to building ultimately on a larger scale — and this is how we are likely to make the most profitable use of ICs [sic] in the future.”

So I’m sure we’ll get many opportunities in 2013 and beyond to debate the editorial’s assertion that the projects “will also bring out the fact that circuit design will not become a redundant art even when microelectronic devices take over the major role in electronic equipment.”

14 comments on “Analog Integration: What Is It & How Shall We Talk About It?

  1. Brad Albing
    May 28, 2013

    @KCP – thanks for a good introduction to you and to some topics/areas of interest for future blogs. I'm looking forward to your next blog.

  2. RedDerek
    May 28, 2013

    I have seen many custom ICs turn into main-stream, especially when the fab house sees a potential revenue stream.

    Nice intro and I look forward to seeing more blogs.

  3. Steve Taranovich
    May 28, 2013

    Kendall is a silver-tongued British devil with an analogue (My spell check didn't change this!) background second to none! I've known him for more than 20 years since our Burr-Brown days together and I look forward to his expertise and commentary on IN!

  4. Brad Albing
    May 28, 2013

    I expect KCP can regale us with stories of Burr-Brown's product development, too. I always did like their super low distortion op-amps for audio applications. Expensive, but worth it.

  5. kendallcp
    May 28, 2013

    >>  Expensive, but worth it

    Why, that's exactly what I used to tell my customers.  And that's reminded me of a whole swathe of audio topics that I may get around to discussing.  for every customer that wanted to engage me on the topic of how many decimal places of THD could dance on the head of a pin, there was another one who would just want to talk cables and musical presentation.  Naturally i needed (and had) good answers for both of them.  Lyrics from “Cinema Show” by Genesis often came to mind:  “I have crossed between the poles / for me there is no mystery.”

  6. Brad Albing
    May 28, 2013

    Quoting Genesis to customers works (well, for me anyway), tho' I would sometimes quote King Crimson.

  7. Netcrawl
    May 29, 2013

    @redderek I agree with you, Analog ICs represent the largest single revenue category in the highly lucrative mobile hadsets market, and still on prowl! custom ICs turning getting into mainstream could be the next big development here, that would probbaly in the next couple of years.  

  8. SunitaT
    May 29, 2013

    But no plan survives contact with the enemy.

    @Kendall, welcome to Integration Nation. True, whenever plan meets the real world then everything assumed during planning go on toss. We need to adapt to the circumstances at hand and modify the plan.

  9. SunitaT
    May 29, 2013

    Unusual transform function is always a kind of magic for me. Signals in time domain transformed to frequency domain will have imaginary band, replication of band. Its hard to imagine why this phenomena happens.

  10. amrutah
    May 29, 2013


       Thanks for the blog and looking forward to learn Analog tricks from You on Planet analog.

    The devices that you mentioned that have low THD.  Now if I take the same device (design) and with today's advanced EDA tools how different are the results.   Any Info here?

    Are those designs still hold the same robust charactersitics or something needs to be changed?

  11. Brad Albing
    May 29, 2013

    @Sunita, I expect we will have more blogs here that will help you and others get a better understanding of the phenomenon.

  12. janneman
    June 5, 2013

    Kendall, good to see you back here! Looking forward to your ruminations


  13. Brad Albing
    June 17, 2013

    @Netcrawl – even aside from the mobile handset market, your point is still a good one. Parts that start out as custom can become mainstream once engineers become aware of their existance (and of course have a suitable application).

  14. Brad Albing
    June 17, 2013

    @Sunita – Things work out that way rather often with engineering tasks. So part of engineering becomes finding out how well you are able to deal with unforeseen problems.

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