I admit it: I'm somewhat skeptical and jaded when it comes to lists and predictions. I have little faith in those who predict what the “next big thing” will be (3DTV at home — really?) or trend pieces based on a few anecdotes or pseudo data points (there's a joke that when columnists count, they say, “one, two, trend”).
I also don’t care for columns that purport to know which recent developments will really, truly make a difference. (As Yogi Berra supposedly said, “Predictions are really hard to make, especially about the future.”) Nor do I care for “Ten Best” lists (think of Buzzfeed and its meaningless, unprovable “listicles”). After all, who's to say what's best, by what criteria, and in what context?
But I think it's fair to note when there are significant products that merit attention, or when there is an underlying momentum in a certain direction, if not an all-out trend. This year, I saw that many vendors are adding small and medium amounts of digital logic, memory, and even processors to their power-related devices.
Obviously, “power” is an inherently analog parameter, and has been effectively measured and controlled by advanced, clever, sophisticated analog circuitry for many years. By adding digital capabilities to these circuits, whether to augment the analog circuitry or replace it, we see that more efficient, cost-effective, and functionally capable power circuitry is a reality.
Among the analog+digital products for small and large power I found interesting were these (and there were many, many more):
- The LMP92064, which Texas Instruments asserts is the industry's first digital-current sensor and voltage monitor with simultaneous sampling and SPI interface. It integrates a precision current-sense amplifier and dual 12-bit A/D converters channels to simultaneously capture voltage and current data, while the SPI interface transfers real-time data at up to 20 MHz. The LMP92064 is used in applications where precise power monitoring is crucial, such as communications infrastructure applications, including telecom, servers, and central office equipment.
- Maxim's MAX78700/MAX78615 isolated energy measurement chipset comes with preloaded firmware, and measures AC or DC power usage from any phase without the need for bulky sensors, optocouplers, or an extra power supply for the measurement subsystem. The chipset integrates a unique isolated interface between the analog (MAX78700) and digital (MAX78615) domains and requires only a single pulse transformer — a nice approach to the challenge of providing power to isolated circuitry. (Maxim is this site's sponsor.)
- For solar-powered systems and their charging subsystems, the LT8490 from Linear Technology Corp. is a high-voltage, high-current, buck-boost battery-charge controller, which implements a constant-current/constant-voltage (CCCV) charging profile used for most battery types, including sealed lead-acid (SLA), flooded, gel, and lithium-ion. The device operates from input voltages above, below, or equal to the output voltage. Internal logic provides automatic maximum power point tracking (MPPT) for solar-powered applications.
- Intersil's ZL8800 is a dual-channel/dual-phase controller for DC/DC converters that uses a digital control loop to deliver fast transient response without the need for compensation, simplifying design and saving time. It provides excellent transient response for digital point-of-load (POL) converters, reducing output capacitance and minimizing board space, and is targeted at basestations, routers, and similar infrastructure designs. It also incorporates on-chip nonvolatile memory, which allows users to store all configuration and setup parameters.
- Also for energy measurement and management, the ADE7933, ADE7932, and ADE7978 chipsets from Analog Devices measure 3-phase electrical energy and provide calculated results. The ADE7933 and ADE7932 are isolated, 3-channel, delta-sigma, analog-to-digital converters (Δ-Σ ADCs) for applications that use shunt-current sensors. The ADE7978 is a 3-phase electrical energy-measurement IC with serial interfaces and three flexible pulse outputs. It incorporates a fixed-function digital signal processor (DSP) to perform total (fundamental and harmonic) active, reactive, and apparent energy measurement and RMS calculations, as well as fundamental-only active and reactive energy measurement and RMS calculations.
Are these the “top” mixed-signal integrated power-related products of the year? That's not for me to say. Are they representative? Maybe. Is the list complete? By no means! Just when you think you've seen it all, something newer, better, or cleverer comes our way, whether using very old principles in a new implementation, or using a very new topology. I'm sure 2014 will bring further excitement and advances — that is, after all, what drives this industry to do so much at so little cost, for so many.