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Now the cathode ray tubes have almost all been replaced by digital storage scopes with color LCD screens, and they look like these: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, 20115 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...

Real-time clocks: Does anybody really know what time it is?

Jason Sachs May 29, 20118 comments

We recently started writing software to make use of a real-time clock IC, and found to our chagrin that the chip was missing a rather useful function, namely elapsed time in seconds since the standard epoch (January 1, 1970, midnight UTC).Let me back up a second.A real-time clock/calendar (RTC) is a micropower chip that has an oscillator on it that keeps counting time, independent of main system power. Usually this is done with a lithium battery that can power the RTC for years, so that even...

Voltage - A Close Look

Ralph Morrison May 23, 201810 comments

My first boss liked to pose the following problem when interviewing a new engineer.  “Imagine two boxes on a table one with a battery the other with a light.  Assume there is no detectable voltage drop in the connecting leads and the leads cannot be broken.  How would you determine which box has the light?  Drilling a hole is not allowed.”

The answer is simple. You need a voltmeter to tell the electric field direction and a small compass to tell the magnetic field...

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 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 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:

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 5. Some FPGA Aspects.

Steve Maslen November 14, 2017
This part of the on-going series of articles looks at a variety of aspects concerning the FPGA device which provides the high-speed maths capability for the low-latency controller and the arbitrary circuit generator application. In due course a complete specification along with  application  examples will be maintained on the project website here.

Series circuit - 3 LEDs

Henryk Gasperowicz September 24, 20131 comment

How does it work???



Who else is going to Sensors Expo in San Jose? Looking for roommate(s)!

Stephane Boucher May 29, 20186 comments

This will be my first time attending this show and I must say that I am excited. I am bringing with me my cameras and other video equipment with the intention to capture as much footage as possible and produce a (hopefully) fun to watch 'highlights' video. I will also try to film as many demos as possible and share them with you.

I enjoy going to shows like this one as it gives me the opportunity to get out of my home-office (from where I manage and run the *Related sites) and actually...