Choosing the right voltage regulator is critical when building a functional electronic device. Since every electronic device requires power input, there must also be a power management system to ensure the proper delivery. In this blog, we will discuss which factors go into choosing the best voltage regulator for your intended application.
Electronic devices are generally fed power from one of three sources: batteries, AC voltage, or DC power. The first power source can either be finite or rechargeable, while the latter two provide continuous current. Voltage regulators interact with each of these power sources differently but still achieve the same level of stable voltage within a system. For example, when examining a fully charged lithium-ion battery, one will notice a high initial voltage. As time increases, the battery's voltage drops linearly until it is dead. Therefore, if a proper voltage regulator is applied to the system, the voltage delivered to a device remains constant until the battery requires recharging.
There are several important factors that one must consider when selecting a voltage regulator, including output voltage, accuracy, load current, and efficiency, among others. The output voltage is the constant at which the regulator is set to deliver. This is arguably the single most important parameter to consider, as too little or too much voltage can harm the device. Load current is the maximum current traveling from the power source to the device. For example, a 12v battery could theoretically deliver very close to a 12v current at once, in which case that number would be considered the load current.
Accuracy refers to the voltage regulator's ability to deliver a steady output voltage over a wide range of operating temperatures and load currents. If a voltage regulator has poor accuracy, then the electronic device may be vulnerable when coupled with a power supply with a high load current. The efficiency of a voltage regulator is expressed in terms of % out of 100. It may be calculated by taking a ratio of the output to the input voltage and multiplying by 100. For example, if a power supply has an input voltage of 5V and the voltage regulator has a set output of 3.3V, the efficiency equals 3.3v/5.5v*100=66%.
While voltage regulators come in several configurations and performance levels, there are only two main types. Linear voltage regulators act similar to variable resistors in that their resistance varies in conformity with the load current. For example, as a 12v battery decreases in maximum voltage over time, a linear voltage regulator will modulate its resistance to achieve a constant output. Such regulators are used in applications in which output voltage is close to the input voltage, low-cost applications, and low input power.
Switching regulators are nearly universal on all modern electronic devices. These devices are more complex than their counterparts and deliver with higher efficiency. Switching regulators are also unique in their ability to provide an output voltage higher than the input. Finally, this voltage regulator has optimal thermal performance and dissipates little power as heat.
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