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POL converters break 100A barrier

Posted: 30 Apr 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:100A  point of load  POL  converters  inductors 

Over the course of the last two decades, the electronics industry has seen the supply voltage for high-density logic and processors drop from an average of 5V to 1V or less. At the same time, power envelopes for server-class equipment, which are generally thermally limited, are still potentially 100W or more. The result is a current demand that is beginning to exceed the 100A level at the point of load (POL), a shift that challenges conventional power-conversion architectures.

Scaling down voltage while current scales up has major implications for efficiency. Conduction-related losses are proportional to the square of the output current (I2out), with the inductors and power transistors being major contributors. Switching incurs higher-than-expected losses. During switching transitions, the control switch has a switching loss proportional to a combination of the output current, the difference between the input and output voltage of the converter, and the duration of the switching transition. These factors tend to point to the use of lower switching frequencies, which means devoting more space to the POL converters and passive support components such as inductors and decoupling capacitors, which is not an acceptable change.

Figure 1: An input distributed power architecture.

System design vs. marketing requirements
In many of these advanced systems, the available PCB space is not increasing but reducing, which places much higher pressure on designers who may not be power specialists. Engineers working with advanced processors and programmable logic devices also have to cope with late changes to specifications, putting even more pressure on the POL design. The initial data sheet may not reflect the voltage and energy demands of the final production chip, which can lead to a sub-optimal power delivery architecture using traditional analogue converter technology.

By improving topologies and approaches, it is possible to overcome some of the efficiency and space issues that face high-current power-conversion designs. One possibility is to be more flexible with the way that the converter uses space within the system. The natural answer is to design converters that trade board area for height, and it is possible to provide far greater flexibility to the space-conscious board designer by exploring the X, Y, and Z axes, depending on the space limitations. But there are also possibilities for new circuit topologies, especially as existing topologies have already reached their limits.

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