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Putting on the squeeze

How to get the most from batteries in portable products. By Jürgen Neuhäusler.

There is a trend in portable products such as mobile phones, digital media players and digital still cameras to add more features or to increase operational performance. This is usually implemented through more powerful processors and more complex analogue circuitry. As a result, the application becomes more power hungry.
The increasing power demand could be met by increasing battery capacity – either larger batteries or improved battery technologies. Usually, increasing battery size is not an option, because case size is limited. Since improvement in current battery technologies and the development of new technologies cannot compensate for higher power demand at a similar size, more advanced power management circuits become necessary. The demand for smaller solutions makes the challenge even bigger.
In the past, achieving the required performance was just a matter of using several linear regulators connected directly connected to the battery in order to generate the required system voltage rails. Many power management units in portable products just used linear regulators to control power.
Typically, these applications used three NiCd cells or NiMH battery packs. However, those chemistries have been almost completely replaced by single cell Li-ion batteries due to their better performance. With the increasing current requirements of applications, some linear regulators have been replaced by more expensive, but more efficient, step down converters. Supply rails for processor core and I/O for example are very often generated this way.

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Vanessa Knivett

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