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Discrete Voltage RegulatorThe title of this article naturally raises the question of why we think that the generous selection of fully integrated voltage regulators needs to be extended with a version constructed using discrete components. In other words, what does this circuit offer that the well-known ‘three-leggers’ don’t have? To start with, we can point out that this circuit is refreshingly simple for a discrete version. Three semiconductors, three resistors, a capacitor and a diode are all it needs. Of course, that’s still more components than an integrated regulator, so what exactly are the advantages of this circuit?
They are to be found in three areas: voltage range, bandwidth and current rating. The last of these is the primary strength of this circuit, since the maximum current depends only on the specifications of the output transistor. With the BD680, as used here, a current of 4 A can be delivered at a collect-emitter voltage of 10 V with adequate cooling (Rth = 3.12 K/W). The peak current is even 6 A. Try matching that with an integrated voltage regulator! The maximum input voltage is 30 V with the illustrated version of the circuit (UDSmax of T1), but this can easily be increased by using special high-voltage transistors.
The same applies to the bandwidth, which can be extended as desired, without any modifications to the circuit, by using high-speed transistors. Generally speaking, wide bandwidth is also not one of the strong points of integrated voltage regulators. As noted, the circuit is basically very simple. A zener diode (D1) fed with a constant current of around 1mA by a JFET current source (T1) provides the reference potential. C1 is connected in parallel with D1 to provide well-behaved startup behaviour (soft start). This capacitor also provides additional buffering and decouples noise and other disturbances. The startup time is around three seconds.
The only additional item that is needed for the voltage regulator is an output buffer for the reference potential. This takes the form of a sort of super-Darlington using T2 and T3. This works very well, but has the disadvantage that the output voltage is a bit lower (one diode drop) than the Zener voltage. P1 can be added to correct this, but this does reduce the regulation of the circuit. If the voltage difference is not important, it is thus better to replace P1 with a wire jumper. The main specifications of the voltage regulator are listed in Table 1.