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Targeting niche applications feeds innovation for programmable analogue. By Philip Ling.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the engineers tasked with designing analogue circuits, especially rf, would qualify for special privileges. Digital designers, meanwhile, were considered to have taken the easy option. But while the digital domain is becoming markedly more difficult as clock speeds rise and voltage rails drop, it could be argued that analogue is becoming easier – or at least it isn't getting any more difficult.

Before the introduction of programmable analogue devices – such as Lattice Semiconductor's ispPAC and Anadigm's field programmable analogue array – putting the two together in the past has been restricted to: d/a or a/d converters; other application specific devices; or custom asics. In each case, the analogue function is largely fixed or at best allows parameter settings to be adjusted using external passives.

The reliance on passives has been a stumbling block in the past for general purpose integrated analogue devices because it introduces tolerances, drift, and can often require a select on test procedure. All of these factors are unfortunate because they are a contributing factor to analogue's reputation of being one of the 'black arts' and work against one of the bonuses of designing analogue – its inherently modular construction, with the venerable op amp at the heart of many classic designs.

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Graham Pitcher

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