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Electronics Components: How to Use an Op

Amp as a Voltage Comparator


By Doug Lowe from Electronics All-in-One For Dummies
A voltage comparator is an electronic circuit that compares two input voltages and
lets you know which of the two is greater. Its easy to create a voltage comparator
from an op amp, because the polarity of the op-amps output circuit depends on the
polarity of the difference between the two input voltages.
Suppose that you have a photocell that generates 0.5 V when its exposed to full
sunlight, and you want to use this photocell as a sensor to determine when its
daylight. You can use a voltage comparator to compare the voltage from the
photocell with a 0.5 V reference voltage to determine whether or not the sun is
shining.

In the voltage-comparator circuit, first a reference voltage is applied to the inverting


input (V); then the voltage to be compared with the reference voltage is applied to
the noninverting input. The output voltage depends on the value of the input voltage
relative to the reference voltage, as follows:
Input Voltage

Output Voltage

Less than reference voltage

Negative

Equal to reference voltage

Zero

Greater than reference voltage

Positive

Note that the voltage level for both the positive and negative output voltages will be
about 1 V less than the power supply. Thus, if the op-amp power supply is 9 V, the

output voltage will be +8 V if the input voltage is greater than the reference voltage, 0
V if the input voltage is equal to the reference voltage, and 8 V if the input voltage is
less than the reference voltage.
You can modify the circuit to eliminate the negative voltage if the input is less than
the reference by sending the output through a diode. In this circuit, a positive voltage
appears at the output if the input voltage is greater than the reference voltage;
otherwise, no output voltage exists.

To create a voltage comparator that creates a positive voltage output if the input
voltage is less than a reference voltage, apply the reference voltage to the inverting
(V) input, and the input voltage is applied to the noninverting (V +) input.

The final voltage-comparator circuit you should know about is the window
comparator, which lets you know whether the input voltage falls within a given range.

A window comparator requires three inputs: a low reference voltage, a high


reference voltage, and an input voltage.
The output of the window comparator will be a positive voltage only if the input
voltage is greater than the low reference voltage and less than the high reference
voltage. If the input voltage is less than the low reference voltage, the output will be
zero. Similarly, if the input voltage is greater than the high reference voltage, the
output will also be zero.
You need two op amps to create a window comparator. One op amp is configured to
produce positive output voltage only if the input is greater than the low reference
voltage (VREF(LOW)). The other op amp is configured to produce positive output voltage
only if the input is less than the high reference voltage (V REF(HIGH)).
The input voltage is connected to both op amps; the output voltage is sent through
diodes to allow only positive voltage and then combined. The resulting output will
have positive voltage only if the input voltage falls between the low and high
reference voltages.

Notice that the power supply connections arent shown separately for each op amp
in the circuit. Its common to omit the power supply connections when multiple op
amps are used in a single circuit. If the power supply connections were shown for all
of the op amps, the power supply connections would complicate the schematic
unnecessarily