The Other Kind of Bypass Capacitor

Jason Sachs January 4, 20173 comments

There’s a type of bypass capacitor I’d like to talk about today.

It’s not the usual power supply bypass capacitor, aka decoupling capacitor, which is used to provide local charge storage to an integrated circuit, so that the high-frequency supply currents to the IC can bypass (hence the name) all the series resistance and inductance from the power supply. This reduces the noise on a DC voltage supply. I’ve...


How to Read a Power MOSFET Datasheet

Jason Sachs September 15, 20158 comments

One of my pet peeves is when my fellow engineers misinterpret component datasheets. This happened a few times recently in separate instances, all involving power MOSFETs. So it’s time for me to get on my soapbox. Listen up!

I was going to post an article on how to read component datasheets in general. But MOSFETs are a good place to start, and are a little more specific. I’m not the first person to write something about how to read datasheets; here are some other good...


Two Capacitors Are Better Than One

Jason Sachs February 15, 20155 comments

I was looking for a good reference for some ADC-driving circuits, and ran across this diagram in Walt Jung’s Op-Amp Applications Handbook:

And I smiled to myself, because I immediately remembered a circuit I hadn’t used for years. Years! But it’s something you should file away in your bag of tricks.

Take a look at the RC-RC circuit formed by R1, R2, C1, and C2. It’s basically a stacked RC low-pass filter. The question is, why are there two capacitors?

I...


Voltage Drops Are Falling on My Head: Operating Points, Linearization, Temperature Coefficients, and Thermal Runaway

Jason Sachs January 19, 2015

Today’s topic was originally going to be called “Small Changes Caused by Various Things”, because I couldn’t think of a better title. Then I changed the title. This one’s not much better, though. Sorry.

What I had in mind was the Shockley diode equation and some other vaguely related subjects.

My Teachers Lied to Me

My introductory circuits class in college included a section about diodes and transistors.

The ideal diode equation is...


Optimizing Optoisolators, and Other Stories of Making Do With Less

Jason Sachs December 15, 20144 comments

It’s been a few months since I’ve rolled up my sleeves here and dug into some good old circuit design issues. I started out with circuit design articles, and I’ve missed it.

Today’s topic will be showing you some tricks for how to get more performance out of an optoisolator. These devices — and I’m tempted to be lazy and call them “optos”, but that sounds more like a cereal with Greek yogurt-covered raisins — are essentially just an LED...


Someday We’ll Find It, The Kelvin Connection

Jason Sachs July 28, 20142 comments

You’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to measure electrical resistance accurately. And it’s really not, at least according to wikiHow.com: you just follow these easy steps:

  • Choose the item whose resistance you wish to measure.
  • Plug the probes into the correct test sockets.
  • Turn on the multimeter.
  • Select the best testing range.
  • Touch the multimeter probes to the item you wish to measure.
  • Set the multimeter to a high voltage range after finishing the...

10 Items of Test Equipment You Should Know

Jason Sachs June 22, 20141 comment

When life gets rough and a circuit board is letting you down, it’s time to turn to test equipment. The obvious ones are multimeters and oscilloscopes and power supplies. But you know about those already, right?

Here are some you may not have heard of:

Non-contact current sensors. Oscilloscope probes measure voltage. When you need to measure current, you need a different approach. Especially at high voltages, where maintaining galvanic isolation is important for safety. The usual...

First-Order Systems: The Happy Family

Jason Sachs May 3, 20141 comment
Все счастли́вые се́мьи похо́жи друг на дру́га, ка́ждая несчастли́вая семья́ несчастли́ва по-сво́ему.

— Лев Николаевич Толстой, Анна Каренина

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

— Lev Nicholaevich Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I was going to write an article about second-order systems, but then realized that it would be...


Lost Secrets of the H-Bridge, Part IV: DC Link Decoupling and Why Electrolytic Capacitors Are Not Enough

Jason Sachs April 29, 20147 comments

Those of you who read my earlier articles about H-bridges, and followed them closely, have noticed there's some unfinished business. Well, here it is. Just so you know, I've been nervous about writing the fourth (and hopefully final) part of this series for a while. Fourth installments after a hiatus can bring bad vibes. I mean, look what it did to George Lucas: now we have Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and


April is Oscilloscope Month: In Which We Discover Agilent Offers Us a Happy Deal and a Sad Name

Jason Sachs April 19, 2014

Last month I wrote that March is Oscilloscope Month, because Agilent had a deal on the MSOX2000 and MSOX3000 series scopes offering higher bandwidth at lower prices. I got an MSOX3034 oscilloscope and saved my company $3500! (Or rather, I didn't save them anything, but I got a 350MHz scope at a 200MHz price.)

The scope included a free 30-day trial for each of the application software modules. I used my 30-day trial for the serial decode + triggering module, to help debug some UART...


Thermistor signal conditioning: Dos and Don'ts, Tips and Tricks

Jason Sachs June 16, 201114 comments

In an earlier blog entry,  I mentioned this circuit for thermistor signal conditioning:

It is worth a little more explanation on thermistor signal conditioning; it's something that's often done poorly, whereas it's among the easiest applications for signal conditioning.

The basic premise here is that there are two resistors in a voltage divider: Rth is the thermistor, and Rref is a reference resistor. Here Rref is either R3 alone, or R3 || R4, depending on the gain...


10 Circuit Components You Should Know

Jason Sachs November 28, 20111 comment

Chefs have their miscellaneous ingredients, like condensed milk, cream of tartar, and xanthan gum. As engineers, we too have quite our pick of circuits, and a good circuit designer should know what's out there. Not just the bread and butter ingredients like resistors, capacitors, op-amps, and comparators, but the miscellaneous "gadget" components as well.

Here are ten circuit components you may not have heard of, but which are occasionally quite useful.

1. Multifunction gate (


Byte and Switch (Part 1)

Jason Sachs April 27, 201112 comments

Imagine for a minute you have an electromagnet, and a microcontroller, and you want to use the microcontroller to turn the electromagnet on and off. Sounds pretty typical, right?We ask this question on our interviews of entry-level electrical engineers: what do you put between the microcontroller and the electromagnet?We used to think this kind of question was too easy, but there are a surprising number of subtleties here (and maybe a surprising number of job candidates that were missing...


Analog-to-Digital Confusion: Pitfalls of Driving an ADC

Jason Sachs November 19, 20112 comments

Imagine the following scenario:You're a successful engineer (sounds nice, doesn't it!) working on a project with three or four circuit boards. More than even you can handle, so you give one of them over to your coworker Wayne to design. Wayne graduated two years ago from college. He's smart, he's a quick learner, and he's really fast at designing schematics and laying out circuit boards. It's just that sometimes he takes some shortcuts... but in this case the circuit board is just something...


Two Capacitors Are Better Than One

Jason Sachs February 15, 20155 comments

I was looking for a good reference for some ADC-driving circuits, and ran across this diagram in Walt Jung’s Op-Amp Applications Handbook:

And I smiled to myself, because I immediately remembered a circuit I hadn’t used for years. Years! But it’s something you should file away in your bag of tricks.

Take a look at the RC-RC circuit formed by R1, R2, C1, and C2. It’s basically a stacked RC low-pass filter. The question is, why are there two capacitors?

I...


Which MOSFET topology?

Jason Sachs September 2, 20119 comments

A recent electronics.StackExchange question brings up a good topic for discussion. Let's say you have a power supply and a 2-wire load you want to be able to switch on and off from the power supply using a MOSFET. How do you choose which circuit topology to choose? You basically have four options, shown below:

From left to right, these are:

High-side switch, N-channel MOSFET High-side switch, P-channel MOSFET Low-side switch, N-channel...

Another 10 Circuit Components You Should Know

Jason Sachs October 30, 20131 comment

It's that time again to review all the oddball goodies available in electronic components. These are things you should have in your bag of tricks when you need to design a circuit board. If you read my previous posts and were looking forward to more, this article's for you!

1. Bus switches

I can't believe I haven't mentioned bus switches before. What is a bus switch?

There are lots of different options for switches:

  • mechanical switch / relay: All purpose, two...

Oscilloscope Dreams

Jason Sachs January 15, 20125 comments

My coworkers and I recently needed a new oscilloscope. I thought I would share some of the features I look for when purchasing one.

When I was in college in the early 1990's, our oscilloscopes looked like this:

Now the cathode ray tubes have almost all been replaced by digital storage scopes with color LCD screens, and they look like these:

Oscilloscopes are basically just fancy expensive boxes for graphing voltage vs. time. They span a wide range of features and prices:...


How to Estimate Encoder Velocity Without Making Stupid Mistakes: Part II (Tracking Loops and PLLs)

Jason Sachs November 18, 20139 comments

Yeeehah! Finally we're ready to tackle some more clever ways to figure out the velocity of a position encoder. In part I, we looked at the basics of velocity estimation. Then in my last article, I talked a little about what's necessary to evaluate different kinds of algorithms. Now it's time to start describing them. We'll cover tracking loops and phase-locked loops in this article, and Luenberger observers in part III.

But first we need a moderately simple, but interesting, example...


Byte and Switch (Part 2)

Jason Sachs May 7, 20116 comments

In part 1 we talked about the use of a MOSFET for a power switch. Here's a different circuit that also uses a MOSFET, this time as a switch for signals:

We have a thermistor Rth that is located somewhere in an assembly, that connects to a circuit board. This acts as a variable resistor that changes with temperature. If we use it in a voltage divider, the midpoint of the voltage divider has a voltage that depends on temperature. Resistors R3 and R4 form our reference resistance; when...