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Regulated Power Supply vs Unregulated [Key Points]


What’s the difference between regulated and unregulated power supply? The unregulated power supply is more efficient than the Regulated power supply due to lower components count and complexity. On the other hand, regulated power supplies are more advanced in technology and performance.

The power supply is an electrical device that converts one form of energy into another (AC to DC or solar energy into electrical, for example) and powers electronic devices with it.

Power equipment doesn’t look fancy and sometimes we don’t give it enough attention due to its indirect influence on our business. But in the end, if the energy supply is not regulated properly to suit your needs, you may end up with high energy bills and costly “accidents” that could be avoided if given some thought.

AC power that is coming from a plant or DC power, that is coming from some sort of batteries, very often needs to be adjusted in the intensity before it gets to your equipment. This is where industrial power solutions come in to make sure that the right amount of power is being supplied to your electronic devices as well as give you protection against power failure and electrical surges.

Creating a power supply is extremely tricky and this is why we leave it to professionals! They will make sure that all measures are taken for us not to get electrocuted and everything is set up for our equipment to perform at its best.

You don’t need to know about all the things that go inside your power system, but getting acquainted with whatever is available on the market right now, could actually put you ahead of the game if you ever decide to implement new, cost-efficient technologies, for example.

The following table will compare Unregulated power supply with Regulated Linear power supply:

  Unregulated Regulated Linear
Weight Medium Heavy
Size Medium Large
Complexity Simple Moderate
Components count Low Medium
Power density Medium Low
Ripple  High Low
Noise High Low
Efficiency High Low

Now, let’s compare the Unregulated power supply with Regulated Switching (or Switcher):

  Unregulated Regulated Switching
Weight Medium Light
Size Medium Small
Complexity Simple Complex
Components count Low High
Power density Medium High
Ripple  High Medium
Noise High Medium
Efficiency High Medium

There are three main types of power supply:

  1. Unregulated
  2. Regulated Linear
  3. Regulated Switching

Let’s go over them:

1. Unregulated power supply

Even though this unit does exactly what regulated ones do, the only difference is that the output of this power supply is directly proportionate to its input. That means that an unregulated power supply has a lot of DC ripple voltage and is not suitable for electronic devices that are sensitive to voltage fluctuations.

Here is more information on the device:

Power Supplies for Beginners, Part 2 - Unregulated Power Supplies

This power supply unit is cheap due to its simple construction and fewer required parts. It is also more efficient and reliable. It could be used for relays, solenoids, led lights, or anything that will not be harmed by unstable voltage.

2. Regulated linear power supply

This type of power supply regulates the voltage by dropping the excess amounts of it (unused portion). That means if there is a spike in the input voltage, the output will not be affected by it.

A regulated power supply is capable of providing a steady voltage to highly sensitive equipment and devices like computers, monitors, etc. The conversion process is done by taking AC power down to the desired level and rectifying it into a rippled-DC voltage, which is then converted to a stable DC voltage.

After that, the voltage is maintained at the selected level. This type of power supply is known for significant energy dissipation, which leads to a lot of excess heat.

Here is some information on the linear power supply:

Power Supplies for Beginners, Part 3 - Linear Power Supplies

The units are usually large, heavy, inefficient, and expensive due to that problem. Also, it loses its regulation capabilities if the input voltage gets too low. 

3. Regulated switching power supply

This is the most popular power supply unit due to the recent improvements which make it more reliable and efficient. On the price side, the more expensive the switcher, the fewer ripples and noise it has, which makes it as clean and stable as the linear ones.

The design of this power supply is more complex and with cheaper versions, the ripple voltage and the noise in the output can get as bad as in an unregulated power supply. On the downside, switching power supplies can generate Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) or Radio-Frequency Interference (RFI), which unfortunately can interfere with other signals or even block them out completely.

On the bright side, internal RFI shielding and EMI filter are available with most units (check specifications). The regulated switching power supply offers a quite high-efficiency ratio and is also known to have excellent load and line regulation.

Now, this video will explain switching power supplies in-depth:

Power Supplies for Beginners, Part 4 - Switching Power Supplies

If size matters, you can get these units in smaller sizes and lighter in weight. Here is a nice video that will answer more questions about regulated vs unregulated power supplies:

Power Supplies for Beginners, Part 5 - Comparing Power Supplies


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