A Search for Standards in Board-Mounted Power

Feb. 1, 2004
Two power-supply vendors, SynQor and Tyco Electronics, recently formed an alliance to create and promote standards for board-mounted power converters.

Two power-supply vendors, SynQor and Tyco Electronics, recently formed an alliance to create and promote standards for board-mounted power converters. Their ambitious Distributed-power Open Standards Alliance (DOSA) aims to establish standards over a broad range of dc-dc converter form factors, footprints, feature sets and functionality. DOSA seeks to develop standards for the many nonisolated converters or point-of-loads (POLs). DOSA also looks to create new standards for the isolated dc-dc converters, including the bus converters.

The SynQor-Tyco alliance follows on the heels of industry initiatives such as the Point-Of-Load Alliance (POLA) formed by Texas Instruments and its partners last year. And while DOSA and prior agreements look to address their customers concerns about second-source availability, DOSA differs from the earlier pacts, which were primarily technology licensing agreements. The new alliance will be based on open standards — a move intended to encourage adoption of new standards, while allowing other vendors to join and have a voice in the alliance.

The dc-dc converters expected to emerge from DOSA promise pin-for-pin compatibility, identical form factors and functionally equivalent feature sets. While this fosters second sourcing, it also permits vendors to compete on performance and thus differentiate their products. DOSA's first project will seek a standard based on Tyco's Austin Lynx II POL converters. The alliance will then address future product plans, including a sixteenth-brick, a quarter-brick with a pinout optimized for higher current, and output-voltage sequencing for POLs in the Austin SuperLynx form factor.

The projects targeted by DOSA reveal how much the board-mounted power market has changed in a short time. If companies like Tyco and SynQor are seeking to revitalize even some of the venerable brick formats, then significant new power design challenges must lie ahead. Only a few years ago, the focus in the board-mounted power seemed to be on extending the performance of the bricks. Today, these isolated converters are part of a much-broader mix of evolving dc-dc products. What happened?

Up through the late 1990s, bricks were treading a fairly predictable development path of falling output voltages and rising output current and power capabilities. Periodically, as the bricks' performance improved, their makers would unveil newer, smaller formats. Although not completely uniform, at least the bricks came in standard footprints and pinouts, even the newer ones.

This process of de facto standardization lasted until the debut of the eighth-bricks in 2002. But even as vendors were introducing these 2-sq-in. converters, the same companies were acknowledging their customers also needed the less-costly nonisolated POLs (buck converters) to generate the growing number of voltages on the their pc boards. About this time, power-supply vendors started discussing the potential cost and space savings offered by an intermediate voltage bus architecture reliant on one isolated converter powering many POLs.

Then, in short order, the brick makers began designing and building the POLs with increasing zeal. Today, the fruits of that zeal include more than 1200 POL part numbers. The rapid development of these modules with their array of packages, electrical specs and features precluded a natural settling out that might have produced de facto standards.

Today, attempts at standardization face challenges from vendors promoting new proprietary power architectures and components — some of which are second sourced. Perhaps the board-mounted power world is big enough to allow existing power approaches to achieve standardization even as the proprietary power technologies find their place in the market. And maybe the standards-based and the proprietary approaches will eventually merge.

As the new editor of Power Electronics Technology, I will work closely with PET's editorial director, Ashok Bindra, to follow these developments wherever they lead. At the same time, we will work to identify and turn the editorial spotlight on the underlying technical issues that shape these broad industry trends.


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