A voltage regulator is a device that works to maintain a constant voltage level in an electronic device. The regulator may be used to regulate AC current and DC current with some varieties being capable of regulating multiple AC and DC current sources. This ensures that the device receives the right amount of electricity or power at all times. Without regulators of this type, electronic devices would not operate properly. The regulator is designed to gauge the voltage output of your device against the device reference voltage. The regulator ensures that a continual flow of power reaches your device at all times.
Many electronic devices make use of an active regulator. This type of regulator uses an amplifying component. This component may come in many forms such as an operational amplifier or a transistor. There are a variety of active regulators and each has its own uses.
Linear regulators are used with devices that operate in a linear region. Vacuum tubes have been used in the past for the variable resistance. Now thanks to advances in technology, transistors are frequently used. Often you will find these transistors in an integrated circuit. The benefits of using this type of regulator include clean output and little noise introduced into DC output. There are drawbacks though. This type of regulator isn't overly efficient and may not be able to invert or step up the input voltage. Higher input is required in these regulators than output.
A switching regulator is another type of voltage regulator. Here the regulator is designed to switch a device in a series on and off rapidly. This device has a duty cycle which determine the amount of charge transferred to a load. Advantages of using this type of regulator include high efficiency and the ability of the device to generate more output voltage than input. This type of regulator does require an external component though, in the form of an inductor.
Many things must be considered when determining which is right for your needs. Linear regulators generate less output noise and are appropriate for situations where a fast response is needed for voltage disturbances. When a low level of power is all that is required, a linear regulator is best as it is less expensive and occupies less space on a printed circuit board. Switching regulators are more appropriate when the power efficiency is critical although there are exceptions. When DC voltage is the only power supply you must use this type of regulator and the same is true when you need a higher output voltage. Consider the above when determining which is right for the device on which it will be used.