Mini-Circuits' new HXG amplifiers (Fig. 1) exemplify what can be achieved with load-pull technology and patent-pending Mini-Circuits System in Chip (MSIP) internally matched construction techniques: wideband frequency coverage with industry-leading IP3 performance. Model HXG-122+ spans 0.4 to 1.2 GHz with typical IP3 of +46 dBm from 600 to 800 MHz, while model HXG-242+ operates from 0.7 to 2.4 GHz with IP3 of greater than +46 dBm from 1.5 to 2.4 GHz (Fig. 2). Both amplifiers typically draw only 146 mA from a +5-VDC power supply.
What makes these amplifiers even more outstanding in terms of linearity are their ratios of IP3 to output power at 1-dB compression (P1dB). An accepted industry rule of thumb is that an amplifier's IP3 will be about 10 dB higher than its P1dB. But in the case of the HXG-122+, with a typical P1dB of +23 dBm from 600 to 800 MHz, its IP3 is typically 23 dB higher. For the HXG-242+, with typical P1dB of +23 dBm or more from 1.5 to 2.4 GHz, the IP3 levels are typically more than 22 dB higherwell beyond the usual 10-dB industry rule of thumb (Fig. 3).
Unlike standard GaAs monolithic-microwave-integrated-circuit (MMIC) amplifiers that require additional external impedance-matching circuitry to reach their advertised performance levels, the HXG-122+ and HXG-242+ MSiP amplifiers include carefully designed impedance-matching circuitry, optimizing performance across their frequency bands. Mini-Circuits has given the HXG amplifiers a balanced blend of performance characteristics, including high gain and low noise figures, as well as high P1dB and IP3 through 2.4 GHz (Fig. 4).
Another factor that sets the compact HXG amplifiers apart from most high-IP3 RF/microwave amplifiers is that they do not sacrifice small-signal performance for large-signal performance. The HXG models are truly wide-dynamic-range amplifiers, with highly linear performance in combination with low noise figures, as might be needed for any application requiring high spurious-free-dynamic-range (SFDR) performance.
The amplifiers are well qualified for use as secondary amplifiers in wide-dynamic-range receivers or as low-noise driver amplifiers for transmit systems where the noise figure is factored in as part of the amplifier signal chain's overall dynamic range. In addition to commercial communications applications, the wide dynamic range of the HXG amplifiers also makes them good candidates for military applications, such as in tactical radios and electronic-intelligence (ELINT) receivers, in which desired signals must be extracted from a wide range of intentional and unintentional jammers and blocking signals.
For the higher-frequency model HXG-242+, the noise figure is also quite respectable across the operating frequency range, within a 2.0 to 2.5 dB window from 0.7 to 2.5 GHz. The noise figure for the HXG-242+ at 700 MHz, for example, is 2.0 dB, with small-signal gain of typically 16.1 dB, P1dB of +22.7 dBm, and output IP3 of +40.7 dBm. At 1.5 GHz, the noise figure is 2.3 dB, with a typical gain if 15.1 dB, P1dB of +23.4 dBm, and output IP3 of +44.7 dBm. At the upper bandedge of 2.4 GHz, the noise figure is typically 2.4 dB, the small-signal gain is typically 13.8 dB, the output power at 1-dB gain compression is typically +23.9 dBm, and the output IP3 is typically +48.5 dBm.
High linearity is essential for maintaining the integrity of the complex modulated waveforms used in wireless telecommunications systems. Quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM), wideband-code-division-multiple-access (WCDMA), and orthogonal-frequency-division-multiplex (OFDM) modulation schemes can all cause amplitude levels to fluctuate wildly. Whenever multiple carriers hit simultaneous peaks, the amplitude of the combined waveform spikes, resulting in extremely high peak-to-average power ratios (PAPRs).
To accommodate these occurrences, a common practice at the system level is to "back off" the signal strength of the system's amplifiers, thus avoiding saturation at the upper end of the dynamic range and operating under conditions that favor a more linear translation of signals from the input to the output ports. While this practice does provide improved linearity, it does not make the most efficient use of the amplifier power supplies. The high IP3 and wide dynamic range of the HXG-122+ and HXG-242+ amplifiers reduce the need for operation under "backed-off" conditions, helping to improve the efficiency along the entire signal path.
To better understand the practical benefits of the HXG series amplifiers in use with high PAPR signals typically found in modern wireless communications systems, Mini-Circuits engineers evaluated the amplifiers in terms of another parameter commonly used to measure linearity: adjacent-channel power ratio (ACPR). This is a logical extension of the classic two-tone test for IP3, using actual modulated waveforms as the input signals instead of sinewave test signals. These waveforms cover a specific frequency range (the "main channel"), and ACPR is defined as the ratio of the output power in adjacent channels (undesired signals, primarily intermodulation and other distortion products) to output power in the main channel (the desired signals). ACPR directly correlates to the linearity of any device, and side-by-side characterization of the HXG-242+ and a typical GaAs MMIC amplifier demonstrates a full 3-dB improvement in ACPR performance even when operating in the "backed-off" region (Fig. 5). This outstanding linearity makes the HXG series amplifiers ideal candidates for transmit-path applications in third-generation (3G) and fourth-generation (4G) wireless communications systems alike, including in the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), WiMAX, and Long-Term-Evolution (LTE) cellular communications systems.
In addition to the established linearization methods already mentioned, high-power linearized amplifiers will often make use of different techniques to improve efficiency, like Dohery combining techniques, envelope elimination and restoration (EER), and envelop tracking. In contrast, the HXG series amplifiers achieve linearity without sacrificing efficiency, as evidenced by their relatively low current consumption.
Both models draw 110 to 180 mA current from a single +5-VDC supply, with typical current draw of 146 mA per amplifier. The advantages of high-IP3 performance at low power levels are clear, considering the potential impact on reliability of increased heat dissipation within a small package space, component size, and overall cost. These benefits equip the HXG series amplifiers for applications in rugged outdoor environments, or wherever a small-signal amplifier or groups of components are being pushed to their thermal maxima.
The high IP3 performance of the HXG series amplifiers breaks with tradition, and may require a further break with tradition to properly characterize these amplifiers. For example, one additional means of evaluating the efficiency of the amplifiers could be through a parameter defined as the ratio of output IP3 to DC power consumed, or "IP3 efficiency." Using IP3 efficiency (IP3e) as a yardstick, a number of different commercially available, high-linearity GaAs MMIC amplifiers was compared with the HXG amplifiers (Fig. 6). The results clearly show the higher IP3e performance of the HXG amplifiers. This new parameter offers a fast means of comparing amplifiers for linearity while also evaluating the DC power efficiency.
Supporting this level of performance in the marketplace with integrity requires strong verification processes and calibrated, accurate test tools. The HXG amplifiers are 100% tested for IP3, ensuring that the advertised performance is the actual performance. Data compiled from a typical example of 20 production units (Fig. 7) shows that the performance of the HXG amplifiers is highly repeatable, and they are backed by an IP3 performance guarantee for every unit sold.
The HXG-122+ and HXG-242+ amplifiers are the first two units in the series. Recent customer feedback from the IMS2011 exhibition in Baltimore indicates that in addition to requirements served by these first two amplifier models, additional needs exist at higher frequencies. As a result, work is in progress to extend the amplifier module family to 5 GHz and beyond.
Each of the RoHS-compliant HXG amplifiers is supplied in a sealed ceramic package with input and output ports internally matched to 50 O. Each MSiP module measures 0.25 x 0.27 x 0.09 in. (6.4 x 6.4 x 2.4 mm), including gold-plated nickel terminations for good solderability. The HXG series amplifiers are designed for operating temperatures from -40 to +85C. The only external components required are DC blocks for input and output ports and a bias choke.