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Electronics Components: The Ideal Op Amp

If you read about op amps on the web or in an electronics book, youll undoubtedly come across
the term ideal op amp. An ideal op amp is a hypothetical op amp with certain characteristics that
real op amps strive to achieve. Real op amps come very close to the ideal op amp, but no op amp
in existence actually achieves the perfection of an ideal op amp.
Depending on which list you read, an ideal op amp has anywhere between two and seven
characteristics, the most important of which are

Infinite open loop gain: The open loop gain in an op amp is very large on the order
of tens or even hundreds of thousands. In an ideal op amp, the open loop gain is infinite,
which means that any voltage differential on the two input terminals will result in an infinite
voltage on the output.
In real op amps, the output voltage is limited by the power supply voltage. Because the
output voltage cant be infinite, the gain cant be infinite either.

Infinite input impedance: Impedance represents a circuits opposition to current flow,


whether the current is alternating or direct. In an ideal op amp, the impedance of the two
input terminals is infinite, which means that no current enters the op amp from the inputs.
The inputs are able to see and react to the voltage, but that voltage is unable to push any
current into the op amp.
What that means in practice is that the op amp has no effect on the input voltage. In an actual
op amp, a small amount of current usually, a few milliamps or less does leak into the
op amps input circuits.

Zero output impedance: In an ideal op amp, the output circuitry has zero internal
impedance, which means that the voltage provided from the output is the same regardless of
the amount of load placed on it by the circuit to which the output is connected.
In reality, most op amps have an output impedance of a few ohms, which means that the
actual voltage provided by the output terminal will vary a small amount depending on the
load connected to the output.

Zero offset voltage: The offset voltage is the amount of voltage at the output terminal
when the two inputs are exactly the same. If you connect both inputs to ground, for example,
there should be exactly 0 V at the output.
In reality, real world op amps have a very small voltage on the output even when both inputs
are grounded, connected to each other, or not connected to anything at all. For most op amps,
this offset voltage is just a few milli volts.

Infinite bandwidth: The term bandwidth refers to the range of alternating current
frequencies within which an op amp can accurately amplify. In an ideal op amp, the
frequency of the input signal has no effect on how the op amp behaves. In real-world op

amps, the op amp doesnt perform well above a certain frequency typically, a few
megahertz (millions of cycles per second).
The characteristics are often summed up with the following two golden rules of op amps:
1.

The output attempts to do whatever is necessary to make the voltage difference


between the inputs zero.
This rule, which applies only to closed-loop amplifier circuits, means that the feedback sent
from the output to the input causes the two input voltages to become the same.

2.

The input draws no current.


This rule means that the input terminals look at the voltage placed across them but dont
allow any current to flow into the op amp.

Although no actual op amp is able to live up to the standards of the ideal op amp, most come
pretty close. Close enough, in fact, that you can safely design an op amp circuit as if the op amps
were ideal. In particular, the two golden rules apply: The feedback will equalize the input
voltages, and the op amp draws no current from the input.