Author Topic: End of the analog era  (Read 1813 times)

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Offline bdunham7

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End of the analog era
« on: June 18, 2021, 05:40:34 pm »
As MCUs and FPGAs gradually replace complex analog ICs, we may look back and wonder when the analog era ended, much like we look back and see the end of the vacuum tube era in the 60s.  Of course, the odd example always lingers on, but I think you could fairly uncontroversially say that the transition happened in that decade.

For analog, I'd say we could pin the date down more precisely to a decade ago, June of 2011.  Jim Williams and Bob Pease both passed away that month--Pease exactly 10 years ago on June 18, 2011 and Williams the week before.  Of course we'll still be using analog products for a long time, but their passing seems to me to be the end of an era.



« Last Edit: June 18, 2021, 05:44:13 pm by bdunham7 »
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Offline Benta

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #1 on: June 18, 2021, 05:58:07 pm »
This mantra has been hummed for the last four decades. It wasn't true then, and it isn't true now.
The fact is, that the "analog border" has moved, meaning that digitization has moved closer and closer to the signal source (and the actuator output).
This has resulted in higher and higher demands being placed on the analog part. Analog today is very high performance.

Try digitizing sunlight directly (as in brightness measurement). Won't work, no?

"End of the analog era?" Pah!

 

Offline Gribo

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #2 on: June 18, 2021, 06:44:34 pm »
Sometimes a 0.1$ analog circuit can make the difference between a 1$ MCU and a 0.1$ MCU. These solutions are not going away anytime soon.
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Online Zero999

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #3 on: June 18, 2021, 08:18:35 pm »
Many of DMMs still have an analogue true RMS converter IC.
 
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Offline Weston

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2021, 09:21:53 pm »
I am not sure about the future of discrete analog components in commercial products (although DC/DC converters will continue using analog feedback loops for a while longer), however analog design is far from dead.

With moore's law slowing down you are probably doing to see some interesting analog computing approaches, especially for machine learning where the accuracy of the individual math operations is relatively low.
 

Offline Tomorokoshi

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2021, 10:43:09 pm »
"Analog" and "Digital" electronics appeared to diverge in the '70's and '80's because it was possible to synthesize the implementation logic design with direct realization in digital logic parts.

Common speeds are fast enough now compared to size on both the micro and macro scales that the "analog" aspect of "digital" design becomes more and more important. Consider how much time and money is spent in the EMC lab: this isn't testing out VHDL.

The apparent re-convergence is only because the illusion of separation is fading away.
 

Offline T3sl4co1l

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #6 on: June 18, 2021, 10:58:29 pm »
Yeah, analog died a long, long time ago.  It's just been a matter of scale ever since.  First in the largest scale (high cost, demanding performance) applications, like radio and television production.  (I mean, easier applications of course far earlier, like the whole conception of digital computers as we know them; I don't think there was much if any analog computation (beyond mere lab curiosities) past the 60s or so?)  Slowly over time, more and more applications opened up; microwave ovens replaced mechanical dials with digital timers or microcontrollers.  Eventually even televisions, radios, etc. became wholly digital, save for the interfaces themselves (like VGA cables and CRT displays -- okay, the video path in those were still analog, but entirely digital signal paths are the norm since ca. DVI, HDMI).

The advantage is obvious.  Why do varying amounts of something, at great expense to power consumption and noise floor, and without any means to reconfigure the system, when you can do it only every once in a while (might be microseconds, nanoseconds..) and throw a metric shitton of infinitesimally small transistors at it, fully programmable and using less power?  For sure, a lot of battery operated devices we take for granted, would be simply impossible.  TVs and radios were around back then of course, but they ran through batteries pretty quickly (primary cells at that, replacing them weekly perhaps), and performed poorly (not much volume, small and dim picture, etc.).  I mean, not that we have any better situation with battery life today (even with great improvements in their performance), but that's at least in part motivated by the common (human) element, and it's unquestionable the sheer amount of computing power we have at our fingertips.  We're walking around with literal supercomputers (as of ca. early 2000s?) in our pockets!

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Offline bob91343

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2021, 01:14:31 am »
As an old timer who has been around the block several times, I would say that there will be analog for a long time to come.  Digital is great but has its limitations.

I hesitate to say analog will always be with us primarily because such predictions have a way of backfiring.

I do decry the wholesale adoption of digital just to be modern.  In the old days you switched on a piece of equipment and, unless you had to wait for tubes to work, it worked right away.  Now, everything does a self test and sometimes that takes a long time.  It takes time for all these digital gadgets to become operational.  My old car starts with a turn of the key, no self testing.  My analog scope the same.  Not so for my digital scope.

There are many exceptions of course.  But these delays can be annoying.  At least in the vacuum tube era you knew it would work within about 30 seconds, if it was going to work.  Of course you dealt with turn-on stability but I think we still do.  Even the master clock in modern gear is an analog oscillator.
 

Offline ejeffrey

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #8 on: June 19, 2021, 04:21:18 am »
One thing that happened is that that discrete semiconductors and small scale basically integration went away -- both analog and digital.  A lot of the interesting work in analog circuit design is now in chip design and integrated with digital circuitry.  There is, after all, a lot of analog wizardry in a cell phone radio.  Even a humble 10 bit ADC on a micro is a pretty impressive bit of circuitry.  Its absolute performance isn't stunning but it isn't trivial to operate as well as it does in the power and area budget available while sitting right next to a CPU and its peripherals.
 

Online Ed.Kloonk

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2021, 05:11:00 am »
What did Bob Pease do to earn a mug shot?

https://youtu.be/RLz_g0YzvQ0?t=62
« Last Edit: June 19, 2021, 05:48:40 am by Ed.Kloonk »
 
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Offline coppercone2

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #10 on: June 19, 2021, 05:23:16 am »
first off for the long term, there is quantum analog, bio-analog, component improvements, adoption of ridiculous high frequencies, greater stability requirements,etc (how much money is put into analog compared to making smaller processors because they sell well?) etc

for the short term keep in mind everyone keeps saying everything is dead to try to reduce salary and try to get 'lower cost' solutions in people heads for the overall bottom line.
« Last Edit: June 19, 2021, 05:29:35 am by coppercone2 »
 

Offline Kleinstein

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #11 on: June 19, 2021, 05:44:38 am »
Many of DMMs still have an analogue true RMS converter IC.
Many still have it the old analog way, but the digital solution starts to become more common. Not just in highend DMMs, but also in moderate cost DMM chip sets.

Try digitizing sunlight directly (as in brightness measurement). Won't work, no?
For ligh intensity there are actually sensor chips with a frequency output - which is kind of half way to a digital signal. Frequency is still analog, but the signal level are digital.

Still most sensors are analog, though the conversion to digital can move closer to the sensor, like temperature sensors with integrated ADC. There are still parts that need to be done analog. The very input signals are usually analog - it is only the information processing that can move to the digital domain. Here some parts are more suitable to do analog and some that are easier / better to do digital.
 

Offline temperance

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #12 on: June 19, 2021, 09:11:23 am »
I'm pleased toilets have taken over from shitting in the woods. But it's still shitting.
 
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Offline Siwastaja

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #13 on: June 19, 2021, 01:14:17 pm »
For ligh intensity there are actually sensor chips with a frequency output - which is kind of half way to a digital signal. Frequency is still analog, but the signal level are digital.

You are mixing up the concepts of "binary" and "digital". The chip is analog.

Digital literally means something that can be expressed accurately as number; encoding can be binary, but can be something else like multi-level voltage, or a number written on a piece of paper. Analog means some continuous physical phenomenon represents the value. This can be voltage, current, frequency, picture made of silver particles, and so on.

Similarly, an analog meter is where a needle is moved in a continuous manner, whereas a digital meter shows a number exactly and directly.

Even analog TV had a discrete number of lines (like y axis pixels). What made it "analog" is the continuous and direct relationship from voltage to brightness.

The distinction isn't always clear. Even digital signalling can have loss of precision while still being called "digital".
« Last Edit: June 19, 2021, 01:21:00 pm by Siwastaja »
 

Offline schmitt trigger

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #14 on: June 19, 2021, 01:16:39 pm »
Jim Williams, Bob Pease, Bob Widlar. Those were real legends.

But there were many more, low key analog super stars: Bob Dobkin, Thomas Frederiksen, Barrie Gilbert, Jim Solomon and many others that escape my memory.
 

Offline dirtcooker

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #15 on: June 20, 2021, 05:01:52 pm »
When turning on a modern piece of gear such as a TV, A/V receiver, test equipment, etc, I sometimes joke that you have to wait for its "vacuum tubes" to warm up.
Microwave antennas are the final frontier of analog. In some equipment the only remaining analog elements are the amplifier and filter at the radiating element, followed by an a/d and/or d/a converter. Everything else is done in software. For larger arrays we are not there yet however, since fast converters are very power hungry, as are FPGA's to run the software.
 

Online rsjsouza

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #16 on: June 20, 2021, 05:48:04 pm »
As others have said, this overblown statement that analog is dead has been spewed for at least a couple of decades already.

Everything around us belongs to the continuous domain, which in electronics is dealt with an analog approach when creating circuits to extract and shape the information for other purposes (measurement, transmission, etc.). What was observed is that the manipulation is quite difficult to create and adapt to varying changes of parameters, scaling and sources, thus the work kept progressing to minimize these issues. One of the popular solutions was to move to a simpler quantized domain, which gained tremendous ground in the past decades. Although still comprised of analog circuits, the quantized domain reduces the external world to finite amounts of levels (digits) that can be controlled in a more deterministic way and, provided the levels are in sufficient number, can be sent back to the continuous domain in a way that accomplishes the task well enough - if applied to human interfaces (eyes, ears, etc.), it "fools us" very efficiently in believing the reproduction is good enough.

That is what is changing: the interface between continuous and quantized domains is narrowing down to the sub-chip level. Otherwise, it is still pretty active.
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Offline Bud

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #17 on: June 20, 2021, 06:53:17 pm »
Try to listen to binary audio, watch a binary TV , eat binary food and that will give you the answer if the analog era is over.
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Offline NiHaoMike

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #18 on: June 20, 2021, 09:12:42 pm »
Try to listen to binary audio
Isn't that called DSD?
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Offline Doctorandus_P

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #19 on: June 20, 2021, 10:04:33 pm »
Digital elelectronics does not exist.
It's just analog electronics that conveys digital information.

These days we need carefully designed transmission lines for USB, length and impedance matching for DDRx chips etc. And oh, don't forget your decoupling capacitors.
 
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Offline eti

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #20 on: June 23, 2021, 12:47:03 am »
Atoms are analogue, transistors are analogue, electrons are analogue, HUMANS are analogue. It is *literally* impossible to "end" it.
 

Offline T3sl4co1l

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Re: End of the analog era
« Reply #21 on: June 23, 2021, 01:43:57 am »
Depends on what you understand "digital" to mean.  A good definition of digital is: a subset of analog, obeying a set of rules, which is easier to work within and, as a result, more powerful.

Then, there's no argument over "analog vs. digital", because digital is implemented by analog, and this is maybe understood implicitly by some, but bears emphasizing as above.

Likewise, there's no "end", only new beginnings: we can configure analog systems however we like, and as it happens, there are configurations that permit simpler, more productive rules.  Indeed it's been so productive that we've had multiple levels of abstraction over the last few generations, as software is built upon hardware, and software is built upon in turn; structures evident in OS architectures and programming languages, to name two examples.  It builds on top, it doesn't destroy.

Like that other thread on here maligning Arduino and "forgetting the classics" or whatever is being discussed there (I don't care to read or participate in such threads), it's not "killing" the old way, it's a new way of doing things, it builds on top, it doesn't destroy.

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