Analog Angle Article

Following up and following through, before 2007 slips away entirely!

It's common for editors and pundits to either do a “look-back” at the year just ended, or a “look-ahead” at the one just underway, as the calendar transitions from December to January. Here at Planet Analog , we'll do something a little different: we'll pull together some odds and ends before they are lost entirely.

But first, a brief obligatory overview: this year there was a continued outpouring of analog-centric ICs, which is nice to see. Despite the comments from those know-nothing commentators that “analog is dead or dying” (believe me, I run into many of these folks, outside our industry), the reality is that the digitization of everything has opened more need and opportunity for analog than ever. Enough said on that.

I am also happy to see that this past year saw the release of many high-performance analog building blocks. Despite the trend towards higher levels of integration which, of course, makes technical and economic sense in many applications, there still is a large need for products which do one thing, do it well, and do nothing else. We've had new and much better op amps, in amps, filters, A/D and D/A converters, log amps, rms/dc converters, dc/dc converters, LDOs, and many of the other basic analog-function ICs.

These new products can be grouped into two rough categories. Either they strive to hit a sweeter spot in the always-churning “price versus performance versus power” tradeoff cloud; or, instead, they place relatively less weighting on two of those attributes, in order to really push the envelope on the third. That's the basic challenge that IC vendors and their marketers have to address, of course: whether to go for a product with an even better balance among conflicting attributes (that's why there are so many op amps out there, for example), or to move hard along one attribute dimension.

In the “hey, that's a different function” department, I did see one product that is not a new function, but which you don't see a lot of news about: an electro-pyrotechnic initiator chip resistor (EPIC) or pyro igniter, for short. (This component must be a lot better to use than an old lamp filament, as some of us made do with, back in the day!). Unlike most resistors, which have to manage their I2 R dissipation for long-term performance, this one is designed for short-term bursts. What I found interesting about the Vishay passive device, besides its basic function, were the parameters used to characterize its performance; they are not what you normally see for resistors! Check it out by clicking here.

Many of you emailed me agreeing with my recent column (December 14, 2007) “How about NOT buying that electronic toy?” (click here), agreeing with the premise that high-tech toys are actually detrimental to the learning and fun experience. After that column ran, I saw an interesting article in Machine Design , December 13, 2007, with some specific suggestions (“Toys that Teach”, click here). Unfortunately, their web version of the article does not have the photos that the print version had, so you'll have to go to the listed vendor URLs to see what the items look like, if you can't envision them from the text.

Finally, for those of you who are either a) interested in the history and engineering of Apollo moon-landing program, as I am, or b) like to see some real hardware: I recently saw an episode of a PBS series called “Wired Science” (from Wired magazine) about a Norton Sales, a salvage yard and spare-parts shop in North Hollywood, California. This fascinating place sells original Apollo hardware, some small, some huge, all very serious stuff. (The sheer size and power of the Saturn boosters is hard for us to fathom.) You can check out the Wired story by clicking here, or the yard itself by clicking here. What I find interesting, besides the items themselves, is that while most of the electronics are obsolete by our standards, in contrast, much of the mechanical and hydraulic products are still quite viable–and are being purchased by companies, experimenters, and even NASA, for orbital and space missions!

Looking forward to continuing our relationship into 2008. . .

Bill Schweber , Planet Analog Site Editor

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