GaN, MCUs Supply Data Center Power

Article By : Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio

Texas Instruments' GaN technology and its real-time MCU have been combined with Delta Electronics' expertise to create server power supply units in enterprise data centers.

Texas Instruments said its gallium nitride (GaN) technology and C2000 real-time microcontrollers have been coupled with Delta Electronics’ power electronics expertise to create an enterprise server power supply unit (PSU) for data centers.

According to TI, the combination can offer up to 99.2 percent efficiency and overall power cost reductions. Steve Tom, TI’s product line manager for GaN technology, said the coupling of its GaN power technology with C2000 MCUs boosts time-critical processing, precision control as well as software and peripheral scalability.

“These MCUs fully unlock the potential of GaN-based power solutions for server PSUs by supporting different power-design topologies and high switching frequencies to maximize the design’s power efficiency,” Tom added in an interview. Along with data center applications, the combination can be used in automotive applications, particularly onboard charging for electric vehicles.  EV power conversion also requires high efficiency and power density. The technology integration “in automotive applications enables stronger system performance,” Tom claimed.

GaN transistors can outperform silicon-based super-junction devices in at least two applications: data center power supply and telecom switching racks. When a system is constructed to make use of the wide-bandgap material’s inherent advantages, suppliers and system users stand to benefit from both system cost and operating benefits. According to Energy Innovation, a 1 percent improvement translates into an overall reduction of 1 megawatt per data center.

Powering data centers 

Data centers may be thought of as the Internet’s “brains,” storing, analyzing store and transmitting data that underpins ubiquitous information services. The electricity utilized by IT infrastructure is eventually converted into heat, which must be removed from data centers via cooling equipment. Some of the world’s largest data centers may store tens of thousands of servers and other devices that require more than 100 megawatts of electricity, enough according to the U.S. Energy Department to power roughly 80,000 American homes. As the number of internet users soars, so has the demand for data center services, raising concerns about data center energy usage.

Hence, improving energy efficiency is a critical step that requires steps such as server virtualization, which alone has greatly decreased the energy consumption, allowing several applications to operate on a single server.

Growing CO2 emissions from data centers is another concern, especially since growing demand for computing services will outpace efficiency gains that have historically kept data center energy use in balance. Maintaining that balance will require investments in next-generation computing, storage and cooling technologies needed to moderate the sharp rise in energy usage over the next decade.

With that in mind, TI said it teamed with Delta Electronics to leverage its decades-long commitment to GaN technology and the resulting C2000 MCU. For data center power application development, TI’s semiconductor manufacturing processes are to produce GaN technology on silicon and ICs. The chipmaker address instrument redundancy via in-house GaN epitaxy and assembly as well as testing.

Racks of data center servers. (Source: TI)

WBG materials

GaN is among a growing class of wide-bandgap materials, so-called because they exhibit an electron band-gap three times that of silicon, allowing the technology to withstand high electric fields in significantly smaller devices. Ultra-low resistance and capacitance are achieved using smaller transistors and shorter current pathways, allowing for up to 100 times quicker switching rates.

Low resistance and capacitance also result in greater power conversion efficiency, supplying more power for data center workloads. Rather than generating more heat that increases data center cooling requirements while performing more data center operations per watt. Furthermore, because each switching cycle stores significantly less energy, high-speed frequency switching reduces the size and weight of energy-storing passive components.

Testing GaN (Source: TI)

GaN and MCUs

Delta Electronics said its goal is to minimize carbon emissions using energy-efficient materials like GaN. In server power supplies, the company are aiming for 98-percent efficiency and a power density of 100 W/in3. That would surmount several hurdles, but GaN also has the potential to transform power design and architecture.

“GaN can support a variety of topologies,” TI’s Tom noted. “Most server [and] telecom AC/DC PSUs use a two-stage approach that rectifies the AC-line voltage with a [power factor correction] stage followed by a high voltage DC/DC converter.” Tom added that GaN “can support new topologies like the Totem Pole PFC that takes advantage of the superior switching performance of GaN to both increase efficiency as well as power density by enabling higher switching frequencies.”

For high voltage DC/DC, TI claims many GaN-based converter reference designs that can increase efficiency and power density.

TI’s GaN field-effect transistors include a fast-switching driver, inbuilt protection and temperature monitoring.


This article was originally published on EE Times.

Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio holds a Ph.D. in Physics and is a telecommunication engineer and journalist. He has worked on various international projects in the field of gravitational wave research. He collaborates with research institutions to design data acquisition and control systems for space applications. He is the author of several books published by Springer, as well as numerous scientific and technical publications on electronics design.


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