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Digital-to-Analog Converters (DACs)

• The digital information is in the form of a binary number with some

fixed number of digits.
• A unipolar DAC converts a digital word into an analog voltage by
scaling the analog output to be zero when all bits are zero and some
maximum value when all bits are one.
• This can be mathematically represented by treating the binary
number that the word represents as a fractional number.
In this context, the output of the DAC can be
defined using the Equation below as a scaling of
some reference voltage:

• Vout = VR [b12-1 + b22-2 + ... + bn2-n]

where :
Vout = analog voltage output
VR = reference output
b1b2 … bn = n-bit binary word

The minimum is zero, and the maximum is determined

by the size of the binary word
Thus, a 4-bit word has a maximum of

and an 8-bit word has a maximum of

By modifying the previous equation, we can obtain
the easier to use based on noting that the
expression really just the fraction of total counting
states possible with the n bits being used.

Then we can obtain :

where N = base 10 whole-number equivalent of DAC input
A generic DAC diagram

showing typical input and output signals

DAC Characteristics
For modern applications, most DACs are integrated circuit (IC) assemblies, viewed as a black
box having certain input and output characteristics.
The associated characteristics can be summarized as follows by referring to this figure:
• Digital input Typically, digital input is a parallel binary word composed
of a number of bits specified by the device specification sheet. TTL
logic levels are usually required, unless otherwise noted.
• Power supply The power supply is bipolar at a level of to V as required
for internal amplifiers. Some DACs operate from a single supply.
• Reference supply Areference supply is required to establish the range
of output voltage and resolution of the converter. This must be a
stable, low-ripple source. In some units, an internal reference is
• Output The output is a voltage representing the digital input. This voltage
changes in steps as the digital input changes by bits, with the step determined by
Equation (8). The actual output may be bipolar if the converter is designed to
interpret negative digital inputs.
• Offset Because the DAC is usually implemented with op amps, there may be the
typical output offset voltage with a zero input. Typically, connections will be
provided to facilitate a zeroing of the DAC output with a zero word input.
• Data latch Many DACs have a data latch built into their inputs. When a logic
command is given to latch data, whatever data are on the input bus will be
latched into the DAC, and the analog output will be updated for that input data.
The output will stay at that value until new digital data are latched into the input.
In this way, the input of the DAC can be connected directly onto the data bus of a
computer, but it will be updated only when a latch command is given by the
• Conversion time ADAC performs the conversion of digital input to analog output
virtually instantaneously. From the moment that the digital signal is placed on the
inputs to the presence of the analog output voltage is simply the propagation
time of the signal through internal amplifiers. Typically, settling time of the
internal amplifiers will be a few microseconds.