Microwave Journal

Microwave Power Amplifier Fundamentals

March 15, 2011

Amplifiers are available in a large number of form factors ranging from miniscule ICs to the largest high-power transmitter amplifiers. In the following discussion the focus will be on solid state power amplifiers used at microwave frequencies, particularly in test and measurement applications.

Microwave power amplifiers may be used for applications ranging from testing passive elements, such as antennas, to active devices such as limiter diodes or MMIC based power amplifiers.

Furthermore, other applications include testing requirements where a relatively large amount of RF power is necessary for overcoming system losses to a radiating element, such as may be found at a compact range, or where there is a system requirement to radiate a device-under-test (DUT) with an intense electromagnetic field, as may be found in EMI/EMC applications.

As varied as the system requirements may be, the specific requirements of a given amplifier can also vary considerably. Nevertheless, there are common requirements for nearly all amplifiers, including frequency range, gain/gain flatness, power output, linearity, noise figure/noise power, matching, and stability. Often there are design trade-offs required to optimize any one parameter over another, and performance compromises are usually necessary for an amplifier that may be used in a general purpose testing application.

The following discourse includes a description of amplifier topologies introducing the basics of spatially combined distributed amplifiers, a discussion of typical amplifier specifications and a review of performance verification measurements.