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Why the Future of Power Supplies Might be Digital

PMBus Compliant Power Supply

Computers have come to change the world as we know it. They’ve redefined how we live, communicate, and create. It’s no doubt that we are living in the digital age but for some strange reason, we are still using analog technology to power our servers and computers. Most power supplies on the market today are operating using analog controllers that create very basic data for the power supply to operate on. While it may seem strange that most power supplies are still controlled by analog circuits, there are reasons why fully digitally controlled power supplies aren’t too common.

Everything is digital. So why are most power supplies controlled by analog means?
The benefits that a fully integrated, digital controller has to offer are quite immense, so why has it been so hard for fully digital power solutions to compete with analog? Primarily, the problem has been the lack of a suitable, industry-wide standard for digital power management. While manufacturers have made efforts to implement fully digital power via add-ons based on proprietary architecture, the lack of a trustworthy standard has always inhibited any kind of digital revolution. That’s where PMBus comes in.

What is PMBus?
A group of semiconductor manufacturers recognized the industry’s lack of a digital standard for power management and decided to fill the hole by creating PMBus. PMBus is an open-standard digital power-management protocol with a fully defined command language and interface. Essentially, PMBus is that industry-wide Digital power management standard that’s been missing from the digital controller movement and it has been gaining mass acceptance ever since its debut. This has made way for the digital power supply to become a real contender in the IPC power supply market.

What are the benefits of digital power control?
The potential benefits of the digital power supply are far reaching and could benefit most applications where analog power supplies are used today. Digital control circuitry greatly improves both the quality and quantity of the data available for the controller to make decisions with.

Typically, when an analog controller makes a decision regarding the operation of a power supply, it is using simple data based on thresholds (i.e. above or below threshold). Digital circuitry can produce an abundance of data pertaining to whatever the power supply’s designer deems necessary. So the power supply can behave in a much more flexible manner than with classic analog control. A digital power supply would be able to alter its control parameters based on the power supply’s operating conditions. The result is higher efficiency, higher density power supplies with lower maintenance costs. Additionally, the unique data produced by the digital circuitry could be stored and implemented in algorithms that could be used to tweak power supplies to improve functionality or used to improve future power supplies.

While the technology of digital controllers is still fairly young compared to tried and true analog controllers, the potential benefits of a fully digital power supply now greatly outweigh any drawbacks. It seems safe to say that you’ll be seeing more and more digital power supplies in the coming years.

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