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Looking ahead: Data converter trends for 2010

(Our guest columnists this week are James Caffrey, Marketing and Applications Director, Precision Converter Group, and Rob Reeder, Application Engineer, High-Speed Converter Group, both with Analog Devices, Inc.
&#8211Bill Schweber )

The year ahead in data-conversion technology improvements will be marked by the continued development of higher-performance converters that simultaneously reduce power consumption.
But as data converters add functionality, they provide more and more of the core capability of the end-equipment, thereby driving the IC manufacturers to develop applications expertise beyond chip design and fabrication technology.

Raw data-converter performance improves every year, and the need for more accuracy, usable bandwidth, and higher sampling rates will not diminish in 2010. By themselves, these figures of merit will help system designers shrink the size, complexity and energy use of their signal chains.

In some cases, after a certain performance level is achieved, the nuances of how that performance is delivered to match system requirements become equally important in applications as diverse as industrial motor and process controls, medical devices, automotive sub-systems, communications infrastructure and energy metering. The required combination of circuit- and system-design know-how will include a proven ability to incorporate more digital processing features, integrate front-end signal chains, and add other support features that make data converter design-in quicker and easier.

Within almost all of these applications areas, portable products will represent a potential growth opportunity as battery-powered medical, communications and computing devices reach deeper, especially in emerging-market countries. In addition to requiring advanced data-conversion technology to scan, measure, and send information quickly, these handheld devices will need extended battery life provided by integrated energy management functions.

Even as they do their part to help control total system power, data converters in 2010 must themselves become even more energy efficient. In the high-speed converter space, for example, the current bar Analog Devices sees for many high-speed converters is a 1 mW/MSPS ratio. So for a 14-bit, 125-MSPS clock-rate converter, the power is only 125 mW.

Advances in data converter technology will drive at least one other system-level trend in 2010 as OEMs embed more sensors in their end products to measure temperature, pressure, motion, and other real-world conditions that can affect system-level performance. The variety, complexity and sheer number of sensors that are being added to almost every application–from cell phones to industrial motors–is introducing a host of associated signal-processing requirements.

Many multi-domain sensors, for instance, require the sophisticated precision acquisition of signals that can differ considerably from each other. Breakthroughs in converter performance should allow a single converter to process inputs of different magnitude and signal type with minimal pre-conditioning, which in turn will further reduce OEM cost and time to market.

Ultimately, getting to the right converter solution can mean both signal type (digital, analog or mixed signal) and technology domain (active vs. passive, integrated vs. discrete) considerations. However, as companies such as Analog Devices continue to innovate new mixed-signal solutions and push the boundaries in applying mixed technology to converter solutions, these traditional trade-offs will become less relevant. The integration of mixed-signal converter technology and signal isolation in a single product is a good example of this trend. ♦

About the authors

James Caffrey is the marketing and applications director for the precision converter group at Analog Devices, Inc. in Limerick, Ireland. He has worked for the company for 10 years and is involved with product and business development strategy for precision analog-to-digital converters. James received his Masters in Engineering from the University of Limerick, Ireland, MBA from Henley Management College and Diploma in Law from the University of London, United Kingdom. He can be reached at james.caffrey@analog.com.

Rob Reeder is a senior converter applications engineer working in the high-speed converter group at Analog Devices, Inc. in Greensboro, NC. He has worked for the company since 1998, and is responsible for development and support on high-speed analog-to-digital converters. Rob received his MSEE and BSEE from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL. He can be reached at rob.reeder@analog.com

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