Power Electronics
Digital Power Q&A

Digital Power Q&A

"What are the obstacles that prevent adoption of digital power technology?"


Dave Freeman
System Engineering Manager
Texas Instruments

"The biggest hurdle for digital power adoption is a solid value proposition. The big guys are looking for significant improvements in real time power diagnostics, adaptive control, and optimization. The final impact to system cost must be neutral or decreased—this is a big challenge. Much of the power cost is not in the control IC but the discretes and passives connected to it.

They [customers] know that the system needs to be much more power aware than they have today with what is mostly some monitoring and supervision. If the promise of very high switching frequencies (>5 MHz) pans out, then integration of the added cost components may result in a general decrease in system cost as POL power moves to all integrated solutions."

Deepak Savadatti
Vice President Marketing

"Better power management requires real-time system-level information, reporting and flexibility, but misconceptions about the cost, complexity and availability (risk) of full-featured digital power solutions have delayed adoption of the new technology. In truth, digital benefits are accessible today in space-saving, CMOS-based, single-chip digital power management solutions at cost parity with analog solutions for high-end servers, graphics, datacom and storage.

In addition, today’s digital programming involves easy-to-use, wizard-driven GUI control of thermal management, reliability and manufacturability via real-time telemetry. As digital solutions continue to demonstrate value—benefits and results without additional cost—and multiple sources emerge, customer adoption will intensify."

Brett Etter
Marketing Manager
Silicon Laboratories

"The switch to digital power control is a paradigm shift that leading vendors are embracing, but in order for it to be widely adopted it must be cost competitive, easy-to-use and offer tangible benefits. Today, digital control is offering cost competitive solutions for the low- to mid-power ranges and potentially cheaper solutions in some higher power applications. Silicon vendors must enable the transition by offering enhanced tools that meld the analog and digital worlds together to design more capable, higher-performance power supplies.

Ultimately, digital power must deliver lower total cost of ownership and higher system reliability with predictive fault correction and the ability for remote diagnosis and configuration, all tangible benefits for the entire product value chain that offers benefits and competitive differentiation that the end consumer is willing to pay for."

Jim Templeton
Vice President Marketing
Zilker Labs

"“Digital power ICs have the potential to simplify embedded system design by eliminating many single-function power and thermal management ICs from a design. However, most digital power solutions, while simplifying system design, complicate power conversion design. This anomaly is due to the fact that while system designers are experienced in programming processors, FPGAs etc., programming is not part of an analog power supply designer’s world (and moving amps through FETs and inductors is not part of the system designer’s world).

Solving this paradox was a main focus for Zilker Labs when we developed our Digital-DC technology. Our power ICs can be configured using pin-strap or resistor connections, which is a very familiar practice for analog engineers and/or they can be configured via an SMBus serial port which is a familiar practice for system designers."

Keith Curtis
Principal Applications Engineer, Security, Microcontroller and Technology Development Division
Microchip Technology

"The primary obstacle to the adoption of digital power technology is the youth of the market. Many customers have little experience with the cost-and-benefit tradeoffs associated with digital power technology, OEM designers have little experience writing tight software, and IC makers are evolving the mix of features and processing power provided in their digital power chips.

However, with education and time, customers are expected to see the value of this technology and revise their price expectations accordingly. Likewise, OEM designers are expected to become proficient in software design to reduce development cycles and cost, and IC makers are expected to offer chips with features optimized for digital power."

Bill Hutchings
Product Marketing Manager, Digital Signal Controller Division
Microchip Technology

"Digital power technology is becoming more common in a wide variety of products. From an IC manufacturers’ perspective, the cost, integration, performance and size of the processors required to perform digital power conversion have been the primary obstacles to the greater adoption of digital power technology. To further the adoption of digital power technology, cost-effective digital controllers that include the high performance pulse-width-modulators (PWMs), analog-to-digital converters (ADCs) and comparators necessary for the digital loop are needed. These types of digital controllers also need to be easy-to-program, small and self-contained so that they are practical for real-world digital power applications."

Greg Miller
Director - Power Management Applications Engineering

"I believe that there are two fundamental issues preventing wide-scale adoption of digital power. First, there is still a price premium for most digitally-controlled power ICs and converters. Until the BOM costs are at parity, or digital power brings value commensurate for the price premium, analog solutions will continue to dominate. Secondly, power electronics design is dominated by analog design engineers. Analog power converter design techniques are well understood and digital control loops are still considered black magic by most designers.

The shift to digital power is clearly underway however. The price gap is narrowing and the well-chronicled advantages of digital power (performance, flexibility, telemetry, etc) are enticing designers and system integrators to migrate to the new technology. Additionally, software GUI’s are making strides in simplifying the task of designing digital control loops."

Want to share your opinion with the world? E-mail the editor, and have your thoughts on making the leap from analog PWM controllers to digital PWM controllers posted here.
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