It is a situation to which everyone can relate; you are sitting in a favorite chair, a lamp glowing brightly above as you read a book or magazine. Suddenly, someone in your house starts vacuuming or using a hair dryer. The light, once warm and bright, starts to flicker and dim. It happens because when the vacuum cleaner or hair dryer are turned on they cause a drop in the line voltage around the house, including the lamp under which you were reading. Pretty annoying, huh?
Well, what was merely annoying in your home can cause serious problems down here in the miniature world of a circuit board, such as the one shown below. Momentary surges or drops in voltage can wreak havoc with sensitive components (such as sensors or microprocessors) and result in missing or corrupted data. What is needed is a component that can regulate the voltage to all those microchips.
A typical board packed dozens of integrated circuits
Voltage Regulators have been around for years and were originally made from scratch using a number of individual passive components (called passive because they don’t require power to operate. Resistors, capacitors, or diodes are examples of passive components). As microprocessors and other integrated circuits got faster and more precise, voltage regulators needed to up their game and so silicon-based regulators were developed. They served us well, for a while, but as integrated circuits got even faster and more precise, the boards on which they sat also got a lot smaller (remember how large cell phones and computers were back in the 1990s?). And, despite efforts to lower the power requirements of the more sophisticated chips, heat was a constant threat. Further, despite parallel efforts to integrate multiple functions of multiple chips into single IC it was also getting pretty crowded on those circuit boards.
These challenges were first met ten years ago with the release of the Micromodule Regulator. Designed with the busy product engineer in mind, the micromodule line provides a tested, ready-to-use single-chip solution for a myriad of power requirements. Handing power management duties over to the micromodule gives the designer more time to focus on the DSPs, microprocessors and other digital hardware which bring the cool factor to their products. Because the micromodule regulator is incredibly precise, engineers can confidently use one for almost any design. And, should the requirements of the circuit change (called feature creep, as I described in a previous blog), a micromodule regulator is also easily configured for different voltages. One can also “stack” these regulators (like LEGOs, as was explained by a product representative) to increase the amount of power available for the circuit.
The newest member of this micromodule family, the LTM4668, comes with the micromodule performance features designers have come to expect, but this one comes in an ultra-thin package. How thin is that? How about 1.82mm – thinner than a nickel – which is so thin hardware designers can do something they couldn’t do before; move these regulators to the bottom of the circuit board. With the extra real estate on top, room is now available for ICs (such as memory, microprocessors, extra batteries, etc.) which can provide more functionality or “cool” factor to products.
By pushing the very boundaries of the manufacturing process for ultra-thin power regulators like the LTM4668, ADI is enabling its customers by providing more bang for their buck. For more information you are invited to visit the LTM4668 product page. Oh, and there are many other types of products in the micromodule family, see them here on our micromodule regulators page.