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What's the difference between isolated and non-isolated dc-dc converters?
Isolation describes the electrical separation between the input and output of a dc-dc converter. An isolated dc-dc converter uses a transformer to eliminate the dc path between its input and output. In contrast, a non-isolated dc-dc converter has a dc path between its input and output. Non-isolated dc-dc converter designs usually employ ICs specifically intended for that purpose.
Why is isolation necessary for system power sources?
For safety considerations, there must be isolation between an electronic system's ac input and dc output. Isolation requirements cover all systems operating from the ac power line, which can include an isolated front-end ac-dc power supply followed by an isolated "brick" dc-dc converter, followed by a non-isolated point-of-load converter. Typical isolation voltages for ac-dc and dc-dc power supplies run from 1500 to 4000 V, depending on the application.
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