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Taking the system view

The factors involved in effective system level power management. By Mark Davidson and Werner Berns.

Until recently, power supplies were not considered an integral part of the system design. It wasn’t until the last design stage that the power supply was shoved into a corner with power ‘rails’ braided across the board and modern techniques involved point of load, where regulators are sprinkled close to their loads.
But these days, neither of these techniques is acceptable. The need for longer battery life and reduced power consumption has become so important that even the digital processors themselves are being developed with power management in mind. Either implementing different power domains which can be switched on and off independently, or including voltage scaling to provide the minimum allowable power for a given set of instructions, prove the importance that power management plays in any system design.
When developing an effective power management system, designers must start by understanding the characteristics of the source. Many of the points which will be made in this article apply to battery powered (3 to 4.2V) systems or to systems with fixed 3.3V rails, where size and efficiency are equally important.
When it comes to selecting power management devices, many engineers simply consider input voltage, output voltage and current requirements. Effective power management techniques also require knowledge of the type of load.

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Author
Vanessa Knivett

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