Power Electronics

Chipmakers Show Off Newest Digital Controllers at DPF

Attendees at last week’s Digital Power Forum (DPF) in San Francisco had the opportunity to glimpse some of the latest digital power controller ICs from both established and startup semiconductor companies. The newest devices target application niches such as power for memory modules, provide second sourcing for existing controllers, and offer new control algorithms.

Primarion, an Infineon Technologies subsidiary, introduced its latest digital power controller, a multi-phase controller targeting high-current memory applications.The PX3684 controls up to four phases, each capable of up to 1 MHz switching. It can be used to build dc-dc converters that provide up to 130 A output with low ripple, low component count and high efficiency across the entire operating range.

The PX3684 features dynamic phasing capability to increase efficiency at light loads. Phasing control for the PX3684 is based on the number of dual in-line memory modules (DIMMS) populated, which optimizes system efficiency when the number of DIMMS is below the maximum allowed number. When DIMMS are added, additional phases can be enabled so that the current handling capability of the PX3684-based system will increase.

The PX3684 supports two modes of phasing control: user-controlled and autonomous. Within the user-controlled mode, a system master controller will drive the PX3684’s dynamic phasing features via the controller’s I2C-bus serial interface. When in the autonomous mode, phases are dropped and/or added based on the average output current level. The dropping of phases at lighter loads increases the efficiency by several percentage points. The PX3684 will be available for general sampling this quarter.

Fairchild Semiconductor used the DPF to introduce its first point-of-load digital power control and management products. Aimed at communications and computing applications, the four chips introduced by Fairchild are second-source versions of digital power controllers and a MOSFET driver from Zilker Labs. The FD2004, FD2004-01, and FD2006 controllers and FD1505 driver are equivalents to the corresponding ZL200x and ZL1505 models. All of these controllers include I2C/SMBus compliant serial ports and support the PMBus command set.

Powervation, a semiconductor startup with corporate offices in Palo Alto, Calif. and Limerick, Ireland., used this year’s DPF to make its global debut. This debut came just days after the company announced its new class of Auto-control digital power IC solutions. Auto-control is a digital algorithm that enables a dc-dc control circuit to sense circuit conditions such as load, capacitance, inductance, etc., and automatically adapt the power-control function to compensate accurately. This stabilizes voltage conversion and transient response over a wide range of conditions.

The first product using Auto-control is Powervation’s Plug-and-Power controller aimed at power conversion in communications, computing and consumer applications. The product is a digital signal processing-based power controller that delivers flexibility, performance, ease-of-use, and potential energy savings across a broad range of power supply designs. Power management behavior can be configured by a resistor programming or via the industry-standard serial interface. Design-in is said to require minutes instead of days. The new chip will be available in the first quarter of 2009.

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