An Overview of Dual Power Supply Design

Mark Harris
|  Created: July 12, 2021
An Overview of Dual Power Supply Design

Dual power supplies are circuits that generate two different output voltages from a single input source. There are numerous types and configurations possible. The most common configuration provides two different positive DC voltage outputs or two equal magnitude and opposite polarity DC voltage outputs.

For circuits that combine digital control with a high power function, such as an industrial control application, the requirement for two different positive DC voltage outputs is common. First, a regulated and low-noise 5V supply provides power for the digital control elements such a microcontroller chips and digital signal processors. Secondly, the higher voltage output is then used for switching and motor control functions where a lower supply voltage could require excessively high current flow. Such elements may have less stringent noise requirements; indeed, they may generate noise that needs to be isolated from the digital control circuitry. 

Another typical dual power supply application is analog signal processing and amplification circuits such as audio equipment. Having positive and negative output voltages of equal magnitude is required for circuits built around operational amplifiers or the processing and conversion of analog signals using analog to digital converters where waveform characteristics need to be preserved. Often, circuits with very low power requirements can use a single power supply linked to a resistive divider circuit that creates a virtual ground. This simple, low-cost solution is effective as long as the power loss and voltage drop across the resistors are acceptable. For higher power or better efficiency, the dual power supply circuit is necessary.

Tapped Transformers

The simplest method of generating dual output voltages is to use a transformer with two taps on the output winding. For example, a center-tapped transformer will produce two equal output voltages. Bespoke transformers can have any voltage ratio depending on the number of windings in each part of the output side of the transformer.

The transformer can be connected directly from an AC supply such as the mains supply or driven from a DC supply as part of a switch-mode power supply circuit. For example, a single rectifier across two of the transformer outputs with the third output as the ground reference will generate two unregulated DC outputs. Regulation and filtering can then be separately applied to each of the two outputs as required.

In the case of the positive and negative output voltages of equal magnitude, these post-rectifier circuits will most probably be almost identical. The only difference is if integrated circuit regulators are used. One will be regulating a positive voltage and the other a negative voltage, requiring different models from the same product family.

In the case of the two positive voltages with different applications, the post-rectifier circuits for each voltage can be optimized for the circuits driven by each supply. In addition, regulators and output filtering can be tuned as required to meet the design goals and constraints for the overall device.

Single Line Transformers

An alternative option for generating the two positive voltages for different applications is to use a transformer with a single output winding to generate the higher voltage with a traditional rectifier, filter, and regulator circuit. The second, lower voltage, can then be generated using a second regulator to produce the lower output voltage. This approach simplifies the transformer but with the trade-off that the lower power rail will be more susceptible to disruption or interference due to loads on the higher voltage rail.

Integrated Solutions

For applications where the dual supply is only required for low power circuits and board space is a premium, single-chip voltage converters can offer a simple solution. These chips will take a DC supply voltage and generate equivalent positive and negative output voltages. 

For example, the Intersil ICL7660A chip is a monolithic CMOS power supply circuit that can take an input voltage in the range +1.5V to +12V and generate output voltages of ±1.5V to ±12V with a 95% power efficiency. This function can be implemented with the 8-pin chip plus two external capacitors, one to act as a charge pump and the second a charge reservoir.

Design Tips

Designing circuits and board layouts for dual power supplies should follow precisely the same principles and rules for an equivalent single power supply. The additional factors to consider are the interactions between the two supplies.

Noise generated by one circuit may be coupled to the other, particularly if traces from the two supplies are routed alongside each other on the board. If this is a particular issue, keeping traces separated and crossing traces at ninety degrees can minimize cross-coupling effects.

Thermal management considerations may be affected if the supply circuitry creates additional localized heating, particularly in the two supplies' components close.


There is a range of techniques available for the designer who needs dual power supplies for the circuit. The most appropriate will be dictated by the loads that the power supplies drive regarding current flow needs and tolerance to voltage drop, ripple effects, and noise. In addition, the common trade-offs of performance, cost, and space will determine the optimum solution from a simple resistor divider to mirrored switch-mode circuits.

Have more questions? Call an expert at Altium and discover how we can help you with your next PCB design. You can download a free trial of Altium Designer here.

About Author

About Author

Mark Harris is an engineer's engineer, with over 12 years of diverse experience within the electronics industry, varying from aerospace and defense contracts to small product startups, hobbies and everything in between. Before moving to the United Kingdom, Mark was employed by one of the largest research organizations in Canada; every day brought a different project or challenge involving electronics, mechanics, and software. He also publishes the most extensive open source database library of components for Altium Designer called the Celestial Database Library. Mark has an affinity for open-source hardware and software and the innovative problem-solving required for the day-to-day challenges such projects offer. Electronics are passion; watching a product go from an idea to reality and start interacting with the world is a never-ending source of enjoyment. 

You can contact Mark directly at:

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