Advanced Control Schemes for Voltage Regulators

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

The microprocessor faces a big challenge of heat dissipation. In order to enhance the performance of the microprocessor without increasing the heat dissipation, the leading microprocessor company, Intel, uses several methods to reduce the power consumption. Theses methods include enhanced sleep states control, the Speed Step technology, and multi-core architecture. These are closely related to the Voltage Regulator (VR), a dedicated power supply for the microprocessor and its control method. The speed of the VR control system should be high in order to meet the stringent load-line requirements with the high current and high di/dt, otherwise, a lot of decoupling capacitors are necessary. Capacitors make the VR cost and size higher. Therefore, the VR control method is very important. This dissertation discusses the way to increase the speed of VR without degrading other functions, such as the system efficiency, and the required control functions (AVP, current sharing and interleaving).

The easiest way to increase the speed of the VR is to increase the switching frequency. However, higher switching frequency results in system efficiency degradation. This paper uses two approaches to deal with this issue. The first one is the architecture approach. The other is the fast transient control approach.

For the architecture approach, a two-stage architecture is chosen. It is already shown that with a two-stage architecture, the switching frequency of the second stage can be increased, while keeping the same system efficiency. Therefore with the two-stage architecture, a high performance VR can be easily implemented. However, the light-load efficiency of two-stage architecture is not good because the bus voltage is designed for the full-load efficiency which is not optimized for the light load. The light-load efficiency is also important factor and it should be maximized because it is related to the battery life of mobile application or the energy utilization. Therefore, Adaptive Bus Voltage Positioning (ABVP) control has been proposed. By adaptively adjusting the bus voltage according to the load current, the system efficiency can be optimized for whole load range.

The bus voltage rate of change is determined by the first stage bandwidth. In order to maintain regulation during a fast dynamic load, the first stage bandwidth should be high. However, it is observed from hardware when the first stage bandwidth is higher, the ABVP system can become unstable. To get a stable system, the first stage bandwidth is often designed to be slow which causes poor ABVP dynamic response. The large number of bus capacitors necessary for this also increases the size and cost. In this dissertation, in order to raise the first stage bandwidth, a stability analysis is performed. The instability loop (TABVP) is identified, and a small signal model to predict this loop is suggested. TABVP is related to the first stage bandwidth. With the higher first stage bandwidth, the peak magnitude of TABVP is larger. When the peak magnitude of TABVP touches 0dB, the system becomes unstable. Two solutions are proposed to reduce this TABVP magnitude without decreasing the first stage bandwidth. One method is to increase the feedforward gain and the other approach is to use a low pass filter. With these strategies, the ABVP system can be designed to be stable while pushing first stage bandwidth as high as possible. The ABVP-AVP system and its design are verified with hardware.

For the fast transient control approach hysteretic control is chosen because of its fast transient and high light-load efficiency with DCM operation. However, in order to use the hysteretic control method for multiphase VR applications interleaving must be implemented. In this dissertation, a multiphase hysteretic control method is proposed which can achieve interleaving without losing its benefits. Using the phase locked loop (PLL), this control method locks the phase and frequency of the duty cycles to the reference clocks by modifying the size of the hysteretic band, to say, hysteretic band width. By phase shifting the reference clocks, interleaving can be achieved under steady state. During the load transient, the system loses the phase-locking function due to the slow hysteretic band width changing loop, and the system then reacts quickly to the load change without the interruption from the phase locking function (or the interleaving function).

The proposed hysteretic control method consists of two loops, the fast hysteretic control loop and the slow hysteretic band width changing loop. These two nonlinear loops are difficult to model and analyze together. Therefore, assuming these two loops can be separated because of the speed difference, the phase plane model is used for the fast hysteretic control loop and the sampled data model is then used for the slow hysteretic band width changing loop. With these models, the proposed hysteretic control method can be analyzed and properly designed. However, if the transient occurs before the slow hysteretic band width changing loop settles down, the transient may start with the large hysteretic band width and the output voltage peak can exceed the specification. To prevent this, a hysteretic band width limiter is inserted.

With the hardware, the proposed hysteretic control method and its design are verified. A two-phase VR with 300kHz switching frequency is built and the output capacitance required is only 860μF comparing to 1600μF output capacitance with the 50kHz bandwidth linear control method. That is about 46% capacitor reduction.

The proposed hysteretic control method saturates the controller during the transient and the transient peak voltage is determined by the power stage parameters, the inductance and the output capacitors. By decreasing the inductance, the output capacitors are reduced. However, small inductance results in the low efficiency. In order to resolve this, the coupled inductor is used. With the coupled inductor, the transient inductance can be reduced with the same steady state inductance. Therefore, the transient speed can be faster without lowering down the system efficiency. The proposed hysteretic control method with the coupled inductor can be implemented using the DCR current sensing network.

A two-phase VR with the proposed hysteretic control and the coupled inductor is built and the output capacitance is only 660μF comparing to 860μF output capacitance with the proposed hysteretic control only. A 23% capacitor reduction is achieved. And compared to the 50kHz bandwidth linear control method, a 60% capacitor reduction is achieved.

hysteretic control, adaptive bus voltage positioning, fast transeint, voltage regulators