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Power electronics design

If you are interested in power electronics design at the board or system level, I would recommend LTspice (note the correct spelling) by far above all the others. In addition to being superb for IC design (Linear Tech uses LTspice to design all their own ICs), it also has been specifically designed to run board level, switched mode simulations.

Because of its robust, excellent performance and because it is available at zero cost, LTspice has become the de facto standard SPICE with by far more engineers using it than any other flavor of SPICE. LTspice allows 100 percent transportability and work sharing, i.e., anyone, even those who have not been previous users, can open your files and run your simulations (the free download is well under 10Mb, installs very quickly and is very system friendly - not cookies, messy registry alterations, scattering of installation folders, etc. - removal, if you so choose, is easy and complete).

Like most versions of SPICE today, LTspice has a fine user interface, but that feature should be low on your list. Schematic entry is NOT where you will be spending most your time when doing serious design work. Beyond a point, desktop eye-candy does nothing to help you understand your design and see its flaws and weaknesses (in fact, too many layers of hand holding can just get in the way of that).

Personally, I never breadboard a design anymore until it has proven itself in LTspice (unlike with a breadboard, a simulated circuit's internals are ALL easily viewable - a great boon for understanding tricky operation). For me, first hardware is always a complete layout (and matches the simulation every time). Of course, the old axiom "garbage-in, garbage-out" very much applies, which means I often spend a lot of upfront time verifying (and modifying and/or making) models to match their components' data sheets. In fact, I would recommend doing that as a very worthwhile exercise and as something that should impress a potential employer.

When developing a design in SPICE, you will want to spend your time debugging your design, not your simulation or your simulator, therefor it is worthwhile to learn what a simulator needs to run smoothly (with LTspice, all that means is that the input has to be realistic). It was years of working with simulators and a lot of sweat and aggravation before the keys to problem-free simulations gradually crept into my understanding.

1. If possible, make all nonlinear circuit elements be functionally continuous with continuous derivatives (this is not possible for some component behaviors), and

2. *always* craft your simulations so that the nonlinear bits become linear at high frequencies (this is always possible). Non linear devices should never be strict voltage sources. They should be Nortonized and be shunted with small capacitances such that the capacitances (which are linear elements) dominate at small time steps.

3. Always verify that the building blocks of your simulation behave realistically (GIGO).

Follow these guidelines and you will never see the "time step too small" message (I have never met a simulation that couldn't be made to run well). Note that many (if not most) vendor supplied models fail to meet these guidelines and will give you nothing but headaches if you try to use them "as is."

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