December 1952 QST
Table of Contents
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
QST, published December 1915 - present (visit ARRL
for info). All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
Here's a topic
that never goes out of style. Without bothering to worry about source and load impedances, this brief tutorial on the
fundamentals of power supply filter design using series inductors adn parallel capacitor combinations. The author offers
a rule-of-thumb type formula for guessing at a good inductor value based on peak-to-average expected current. This is by
no means a comprehensive primer on power supply filter design and is directed more toward someone new to the concept.
Fundamental Facts for the Beginner
By Gabriel P. Rumble, EX-W5BBB
If the requirement is pure (that is, unvarying) direct current, the rectifier outputs shown in a previous article1
will not fill the bill.
We must use the properties of L and C (or sometimes R and C) to iron out the ripples in the rectified current.
If a condenser is placed in parallel with the load on a half-wave rectifier, as shown in Fig. 1A, the voltage between
alternations does not drop to zero, because the condenser charges during the conducting half-cycle and discharges through
the load during the nonconducting half of the cycle, as shown in Fig. 1B.
Fig. 1 - The discharge of a condenser connected across the load resistance helps to smooth out the bumps
in the output of the rectifier.
Fig. 2 - A choke in series with the load provides further smoothing. If additional filtering is required,
a second filter section may be added.
Fig. 3 - Comparison of the voltage regulation with condenser- and choke-input filters.
A comparison of the output waveforms shown previously should make it clear why the output of a full-wave rectifier is
easier to filter than that of a half-wave rectifier. In either case, the condenser will by-pass some of the ripple around
the load. The greater the capacitance, the slower the RC decay and the shallower the ripple.
The action of a condenser in a filter circuit is analogous to that of shock-absorber springs in a wagon traveling over
a cobblestone road. We can further smooth out the ride by adding weight to the wagon. This step is comparable to the addition
of a choke (inductance) to the filter circuit, as shown in Fig. 2A. The elasticity of the condenser and the inertia of the
inductor are being utilized to smooth out the ripples that would otherwise exists across the load. Further filtering and
the consequent approach to pure direct current may be accomplished by additional sections of filter, as shown in Fig. 2B.
(Suggestion: Consult your favorite textbook on the interesting subjects of resonant filters and swinging chokes.)
If the full rectifier output voltage is applied to the condenser, as shown in Fig. 2A, the filter is said to be of the
condenser-input type. If, instead, the ripple voltage first undergoes an IXL drop before being applied to the
condenser, as illustrated in Fig. 2B, the filter has choke input. (Suggestion: Look up the subject of critical inductance.)
A comparison of the voltage regulation of supplies having condenser and choke input is shown in Fig. 3 (p. 130). With
condenser input, the output voltage varies considerably with varying loads. With choke input, the output is almost constant
for a wide range of load variation. The variation occurring in this flat range is caused by the d.c. resistance of the choke
and rectifier resistances and the leakage reactance of the transformer. However, in well-designed components these are usually
quite low. The load current at which the knee of the curve occurs is dependent on the inductance of the input choke. The
greater the inductance, the smaller the value of load current at which the curve starts to flatten out.
In addition to providing a flatter characteristic, the use of choke input has another advantage. It reduces the ratio
of peak to average current passed by the rectifier. If it were desired to design a rectifier for a fixed load current of
I amperes and E volts, and if it were further desired that the peak rectifier current should exceed the average by only
P%, then the inductance, L, in henrys, of the input choke, should be
L = E / (10*P*I), where:
L is inductance in Henries
E is peak voltage
I is peak current
P is peak-to-average current ratio
The knee of the characteristic will occur at a current of P*I amperes. If it were desired to have the knee at a lower
current, a smaller value of P would be selected and a higher L would be called for. Where good regulation down to low values
of load current is not of interest, and the values of full-load current and rectifier current rating permit, the values
of P above 5 per cent will usually be more economical.
Filter chokes are usually placed in the ungrounded side of the rectifier output. If the choke is placed in series with
the transformer and ground, the capacitance of the secondary winding of the transformer to grounds tends to by-pass the
If the expected current drain on a rectifier is very slight, resistors, which are comparatively inexpensive, may be used
in place of the chokes. A 1000-ohm resistor, for example, will do just as much filtering as 1000 ohms of inductive reactance
at any given ripple frequency. It should be stressed that this is practical only when the load resistance is much higher
than the filtering resistance. Also, the d.c. voltage drop in the filter resistor and its adverse effect on regulation must
be taken into account.
1 Rumble, "How Rectifiers Work," QST, October, 1952, p.42.
Posted April 14, 2016