Have You Ever Seen an Ideal Op-Amp?

Jason Sachs April 30, 2012

Somewhere, along with unicorns and the Loch Ness Monster, lies a small colony of ideal op-amps. Op-amp is short for operational amplifier, and we start our education on them by learning about these mythical beasts, which have the following properties:

  • Infinite gain
  • Infinite input impedance
  • Zero output impedance

And on top of it all, they will do whatever it takes to change their output in order to make their two inputs equal.

But they don't exist. Real op-amps have...


Hot Fun in the Silicon: Thermal Testing with Power Semiconductors

Jason Sachs April 20, 2012

Here's a trick that is useful the next time you do thermal testing with your MOSFETs or IGBTs.

Thermal testing?!

Yes, that's right. It's important to make sure your power transistors don't overheat. In the datasheet, you will find some information that you can use to estimate how hot the junction inside the IC will get.

Let's look at an example. Here's a page from the IRF7739 DirectFET datasheet. I like this datasheet because it has almost all the thermal stuff on one page,...


10 More (Obscure) Circuit Components You Should Know

Jason Sachs February 5, 20121 comment

The interest in my previous article on obscure but useful electronics parts, "10 Circuit Components You Should Know" was encouraging enough that I thought I would write a followup. So here are another 10:

1. "Ideal Diode" controllers

Load-sharing circuits use diodes tied together at their cathode terminal to take the most positive voltage among the sources and connect it to a load. Works great: you have a DC/DC power supply, a battery, and a solar cell, and it will use whichever output is...


Oscilloscope Dreams

Jason Sachs January 14, 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Now the cathode ray tubes have almost all been replaced by digital storage scopes with color LCD screens, and they look like these: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:...


Stairway to Thévenin

Jason Sachs December 31, 2011

This article was inspired by a recent post on reddit asking for help on Thévenin and Norton equivalent circuits.

(With apologies to Mr. Thévenin, the rest of the e's that follow will remain unaccented.)

I still remember my introductory circuits class on the subject, roughly as follows:

(NOTE: Do not get scared of what you see in the rest of this section. We're going to point out the traditional approach for teaching linear equivalent circuits first. If you have...


10 Circuit Components You Should Know

Jason Sachs November 27, 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 (


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

Jason Sachs November 19, 20117 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...


Complexity in Consumer Electronics Considered Harmful

Jason Sachs October 1, 20111 comment

I recently returned from a visit to my grandmother, who lives in an assisted living community, and got to observe both her and my frustration first-hand with a new TV. This was a Vizio flatscreen TV that was fairly easy to set up, and the picture quality was good. But here's what the remote control looks like:

You will note:

  • the small lettering (the number buttons are just under 1/4 inch in diameter)
  • a typeface chosen for marketing purposes (matching Vizio's "futuristic" corporate...

Which MOSFET topology?

Jason Sachs September 1, 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...

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

Jason Sachs June 15, 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...


Feedback Controllers - Making Hardware with Firmware. Part 7. Turbo-charged DSP Oscillators

Steve Maslen January 5, 20187 comments
This article will look at some DSP Sine-wave oscillators and will show how an FPGA with limited floating-point performance due to latency, can be persuaded to produce much higher sample-rate sine-waves of high quality. 

Comparisons will be made between implementations on Intel Cyclone V and Cyclone 10 GX FPGAs. An Intel numerically controlled oscillator


Stability or insanity

Tim Wescott May 17, 20161 comment

I've just spent over two weeks getting ready to do my next video.  It was a combination of one of those vast underestimations one occasionally makes, combined with falling into a bit of an obsession.

I am, at this point, not only wondering if it was worth it, but questioning my sanity in carrying on even when the going went beyond tough to just plain crazy.

At any rate, a good video needs a visual aid, and I decided that my video needed to demonstrate stability with a pendulum....


Sensors Expo - Trip Report & My Best Video Yet!

Stephane Boucher August 3, 20182 comments

This was my first time at Sensors Expo and my second time in Silicon Valley and I must say I had a great time.  

Before I share with you what I find to be, by far, my best 'highlights' video yet for a conference/trade show, let me try to entertain you with a few anecdotes from this trip.  If you are not interested by my stories or maybe don't have the extra minutes needed to read them, please feel free to skip to the end of this blog post to watch the...


Feedback Controllers - Making Hardware with Firmware. Part 3. Sampled Data Aspects

Steve Maslen September 9, 2017
Some Design and Simulation Considerations for Sampled-Data Controllers

This article will continue to look at some aspects of the controllers and electronics needed to create emulated physical circuits with real-world connectivity and will look at the issues that arise in sampled-data controllers compared to continuous-domain controllers. As such, is not intended as an introduction to sampled-data systems.


The Art of Debugging

Mike December 11, 20151 comment

Debugging electronics is similar to any technological process.  In theory we know how things are supposed to work, in reality they don't behave as expected.  The challenge of engineering boils down to making things work, and debugging is the fundamental task we use to go from lumps of sand to picosecond accurate switching networks.  Debugging is an art that requires a lot of time to learn.  Like any skill, the more we work at it, the better we become.  

The first...


Feedback Controllers - Making Hardware with Firmware. Part 8. Control Loop Test-bed

Steve Maslen March 21, 2018

This part in the series will consider the signals, measurements, analyses and configurations for testing high-speed low-latency feedback loops and their controllers. Along with basic test signals, a versatile IFFT signal generation scheme will be discussed and implemented. A simple controller under test will be constructed to demonstrate the analysis principles in preparation for the design and evaluation of specific controllers and closed-loop applications.

Additional design...

Feedback Controllers - Making Hardware with Firmware. Part 9. Closing the low-latency loop

Steve Maslen July 9, 2018

It's time to put together the DSP and feedback control sciences, the evaluation electronics, the Intel Cyclone floating-point FPGA algorithms and the built-in control loop test-bed and evaluate some example designs. We will be counting the nanoseconds and looking for textbook performance in the creation of emulated hardware circuits. Along the way, there is a printed circuit board (PCB) issue to solve using DSP.    

Fig 1. The evaluation platform

Additional design...


The New Forum is LIVE!

Stephane Boucher February 18, 20161 comment

After months of hard word, I am very excited to introduce to you the new forum interface.  

Here are the key features:

1- Easily add images to a post by drag & dropping the images in the editor

2- Easily attach files to a post by drag & dropping the files in the editor

3- Add latex equations to a post and they will be rendered with Mathjax (tutorial)

4- Add a code snippet and surround the code with


Feedback Controllers - Making Hardware with Firmware. Part 4. Engineering of Evaluation Hardware

Steve Maslen October 10, 2017
Following on from the previous abstract descriptions of an arbitrary circuit emulation application for low-latency feedback controllers, we now come to some aspects in the hardware engineering of an evaluation design from concept to first power-up. In due course a complete specification along with  application  examples will be maintained on the project website. 

Feedback Controllers - Making Hardware with Firmware. Part 6. Self-Calibration Related.

Steve Maslen December 3, 20177 comments

This article will consider the engineering of a self-calibration & self-test capability to enable the project hardware to be configured and its basic performance evaluated and verified, ready for the development of the low-latency controller DSP firmware and closed-loop applications. Performance specifications will be documented in due course, on the project website here.

  • Part 6: Self-Calibration, Measurements and Signalling (this part)
  • Part 5: