Maxim > Design Support > Technical Documents > Application Notes > Power-Supply Circuits > APP 3519
Keywords: distributed power, telecom power
Integrated DC-DC Converters Save Space and
Design Time in Distributed-Power Systems
May 24, 2005
Abstract: Traditional distributed-power architectures employ several isolated DC-DC power modules to
convert a 48V bus voltage to system supply-voltage rails such as 5V, 3.3V, and 2.5V. That configuration,
however, poses difficulties in meeting the load requirements of fast, low-voltage processors, DSPs,
ASICs, and DDR memories. Such devices impose stringent requirements on the power supply: very fast
transient response, high efficiency, lower voltage rails, and a reduced footprint area.
Improved performance can be obtained by using a single isolated, high-power DC-DC module to convert
48V to an intermediate supply rail of 12V or less. The intermediate voltage is then converted to the
system voltages required for specific loads. Such voltage conversions can be achieved with nonisolated,
point-of-load power supplies as shown on the right side of Figure 1. Integrated switching regulators are
excellent candidates for this second power-conversion stage, because the required input voltage (≤ 12V)
and output current (< 10A) are both relatively low.
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Figure 1. Compared with the conventional power-distribution architecture for telecom boards (left side),
the integrated switching-regulator architecture (right side) offers better efficiency and reliability, faster
design, and a smaller footprint.
Benefits of an Integrated Switching Regulator
Many areas of the electronics business, including the power-electronics industry, employ a strategy that
integrates system components to reduce overall cost, enhance reliability, and minimize valuable real
estate on the PC board. In the past two decades, manufacturers of power-management ICs have done a
tremendous job of producing devices that integrate many of the functional blocks required in power
supplies for isolated and nonisolated DC-DC conversion applications.
The integrated switcher, which combines the MOSFETs, gate drivers, and PWM controller of a DC-DC
switching converter within a single package, is not a new concept. What is new is the increased current
capability and enhanced features now provided by such devices. They are well suited to the distributedpower requirements of modern telecom boards, which require compact, multiple, point-of-load power
supplies that provide an excellent transient response to dynamic loads.
Design, development, and testing of the power supply for a telecom system board represents a
substantial part of that board's development time. Apart from the time required for PCB layout, a major
part of power-supply development consists of fixing layout-related problems. Those problems include
improper power-stage layout, incorrect grounding schemes, routing of sensitive analog traces near power
traces that carry rapidly changing currents and voltages, failure to provide Kelvin connections for voltage
and current sensing, excessive EMI, and the location of decoupling capacitors. Most of these problems
can be traced to the higher probability of layout mistakes when implementing a power supply containing
several discrete external components.
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Integrated switching regulators, in contrast, avoid many layout problems by integrating the power stage
(MOSFETs and gate drivers) and current sensing within the device to eliminate several PCB
interconnects. Moreover, the pin configuration of an integrated switcher is designed to preclude questions
that would otherwise be faced about component location and grounding. Integrated switching regulators
often come with compact, optimized, and tested PCB layouts which reduce the design cycle and time to
Because the environment of modern telecom systems demands higher performance along with smaller
size and less floor space, PCB real estate is increasingly valuable. Apart from the space saved by
integrating the power stage and PWM controller, an integrated switcher conserves PCB area by
operating at higher frequencies than a discrete-component alternative. Higher switching frequencies
allow physically smaller input/output capacitors, inductors, and other filtering components. Higher
frequency operation also produces a faster load-transient response by enabling the design of higher
bandwidth control loops.
Power-conversion efficiency is an important measure of power-supply performance and a primary
motivation to use switching power supplies instead of linear power supplies. This is true in spite of the
higher levels of noise and EMI from a switcher. Power dissipation in a switcher consists of conduction
losses, which are related to the MOSFETs' ON-state resistance (RDS(ON) ), and switching losses, which
are related to how fast the MOSFETs make transitions between the ON and OFF states. At higher
operating frequencies, switching losses dominate because the MOSFET switching transitions occur more
times per second. Transition times are determined primarily by impedance in the gate-drive circuitry that
turns the MOSFETs ON and OFF. For power supplies with discrete MOSFETs and gate drivers, the
gate-drive impedance is larger at high frequency due to parasitic components such as MOSFET lead
inductance and PC trace inductance. An integrated switcher, however, minimizes these parasitic
components by combining the gate driver and MOSFETs in a single package, thereby delivering faster
transition times and better efficiency at high frequencies.
Thermal management is one of the most critical considerations in large-system power design. In point-ofload architectures, the heat generated from power conversion is distributed among the integrated
switching regulators instead of being concentrated in one power module. The higher efficiency of
integrated switching regulators further reduces heat generation. In addition, integrated switching
regulators are often packaged in thermally enhanced packages with exposed metal "paddles" that solder
directly to the PCB and allow thermal vias (with 8-to-12 mil diameters) to transfer heat into the internal
ground layers. (Ground layers eliminate bulky heat sinks by spreading heat into the board.) Finally,
thermal-shutdown circuitry coupled directly to the integrated power switch increases system reliability by
protecting the device from catastrophic failure in the event of thermal runaway.
Integrated switching regulators feature a variety of package options and a wide range of input voltages
(3V to 12V) and output currents (< 1A to 10A). Low-power versions are available in packages such as
SOTs, MSOPs, and TSSOPs. High-power versions use packages such as QFNs and BGAs, which offer
higher power-dissipation.
Integrated switching regulators are ideal candidates for the intermediate-bus power-supply architectures
of modern telecom systems. When compared with regulators based on discrete MOSFETs, gate drivers,
and controllers, their use reduces time to market, saves space, improves efficiency, simplifies thermal
management, and yields better reliability.
For a list of our internal-switch, step-down inductor-based DC-DC converters, click here.
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A similar article first appeared in EE Times in October, 2004.
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Application Note 3519:
APPLICATION NOTE 3519, AN3519, AN 3519, APP3519, Appnote3519, Appnote 3519
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