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October 9, 2008

Combining resistors

Revision history

0.1 October 10, 2007 Initial document


0.2 October 9, 2008 Restructured the document
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Schematic

A B C
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Design equations

    
Parallel connection (Schematic A):  

    

  
N different resistors:  ∑

 
  ∑
 


 
   
 ):

All resistors equal (

 
   

 
Choice of parallel resistor value:
   !
"
 #
 

$

  
 %0 ' ( ' 1*
$

Series connection (Schematic B):



+ 
,

N different resistors:
 ∑



 
   
 ):

All resistors equal (

 - .

   

Resistor and potentiometer in parallel (Schematic C):

Potentiometer nominal value:


/012

Potentiometer current value:


/  ( .
/012 %0 ' ( ' 1*
   $
Parallel combination:
  3 4   3 $4567
3 4 3 4567

 
Maximum value: (  1
  3 4567
3 4567
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Theoretical analysis

Two or more resistors may be connected together in order to combine their resistances to
obtain an equivalent resistance, which may not be available otherwise. Resistors can be
combined using two different connections; parallel as well as series connection. The two
ways of connecting resistors together have different effects on the equivalent resistance
formed, which affects the choice of connection type. Both cases will be discussed in this text.

Parallel connection of resistors

Schematic A shows how to connect two resistors in parallel. If desired, more than two
resistors may be connected in parallel. The procedure of connection is simple; one pin from
each resistor is chosen and these are, as a group, connected together to form a node. Thus,
each resistor has one pin unconnected; next, these are also connected together to form
another node. In a schematic (and often in reality, as well), this connection looks like the
resistors are next to each other, their bodies indeed parallel.

We will now start to analyze the parallel connection of two resistors. Assuming that a supply
voltage was connected to the two nodes in schematic A, both resistors would be subjected
to the same voltage, 8. According to this, the currents passing in the resistors equal:
: :
9  and 9 
 

The total current passing through the resistors is:

8 8 1 1
9;<;  9  9    8=  >






Dividing by 8, the expression is transformed into:

9;<; 1 1
 
8



This expression gives us a relationship between the supply voltage, the resistances of the
resistors, as well as the total current seen by the power supply. From the power supply point
of view, the two resistors could be replaced by a single resistor, with a resistance we will
:  ?@A@
denote as
 ? . We notice that the inverse of
is 
 :
, which can be
@A@

substituted into the expression above, yielding:


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October 9, 2008
1 1 1
 

  







From this, the final expression for the equivalent resistance can be derived:





 B
 ||


 


The || notation is commonly used to represent parallel connection.

If - resistors are connected in parallel, the expression is expanded into:

1 1 1 1  1
   D




 


A special case is the one in which all - resistors, which are to be connected in parallel, have
the same resistance
, i.e.


 
   
 B

In this case, the expression for the equivalent resistance simplifies into:



-

In a parallel connection of resistors, the equivalent resistance is always less than the
smallest of the individual resistances used. For example, if three resistors A, B and C are
connected in parallel, with resistor B being the smallest, then the equivalent resistance is
even smaller than B. Put practically, connecting resistors in parallel always lowers the
equivalent resistance.

Series connection of resistors

Schematic B shows how to connect two resistors in series. Just as with parallel connection, it
is possible to connect more than two resistors in series. The connection procedure is equally
simple; resistors are connected in a chainlike connection, leaving the two outermost pins
unconnected.

This section will analyze the series connection of two resistors. Assuming that a supply
voltage was connected to the two nodes in schematic B, both resistors would pass the same
current, 9. According to this, the voltages dropped by the resistors equal:

8+  9
+ and 8,  9
,
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The total voltage dropped by the resistors is:

8;<;  8+  8,  9


+  9
,  9%
+ 
, *

Dividing by 9, the expression is transformed into:

8;<;

+ 
,
9
This expression gives us a relationship between the supply voltage, the resistances of the
resistors, as well as the total current seen by the power supply. From the power supply point
of view, the two resistors could be replaced by a single resistor, with a resistance we will
:@A@
denote as
 ?
. We notice that
can be substituted into the above, yielding the
final expression:



+ 
,

If - resistors are connected in series, the expression is expanded into:





+ 
,   
  D



A special case is the one in which all - resistors, which are to be connected in series, have
the same resistance
, i.e.


 
   
 B

In this case, the expression for the equivalent resistance simplifies into:


 -

In a series connection of resistors, the equivalent resistance is always greater than the
largest of the individual resistances used. For example, if three resistors A, B and C are
connected in parallel, with resistor B being the largest, then the equivalent resistance is even
greater than B. Put practically, connecting resistors in parallel always raises the equivalent
resistance.

Paralleling a resistor and a potentiometer

Schematic C shows a special case of paralleling resistors, in which one resistor is variable,
also known as a potentiometer. Because of the way its wiper is connected to one of its
terminals, the potentiometer is equivalent to a variable resistor which can be changed from
zero ohms up to its full resistance.
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In some cases, it might be desirable to reduce the swing of the potentiometer by adding a
parallel resistor. As presented earlier in this text, adding a parallel resistor always decreases
the equivalent resistance. Even if the potentiometer is turned to its full resistance, the
parallel resistor decreases the equivalent resistance to some desirable level.

The reason for including this case in this text is the fact that this connection introduces a side
effect. If the potentiometer is linear, as is common in most applications, one might be
tricked into thinking that the equivalent resistance will also be linearly adjustable using the
potentiometer. This is not the case however, as will be shown next.

Assuming that the nominal resistance of the potentiometer is


/012 , and that the current
resistance of the potentiometer is given by
/  (
/012 , with 0 ' ( ' 1 revealing the
length of the potentiometer track used, the parallel combination of
E and
/ can be
expressed as:


E
/ (
E
/012


E ||
/  

E 
/
E  (
/012

The nonlinear relationship is not easily perceived from looking at the expression, but a
graphical presentation reveals the truth. In the graph below, the following values have been
chosen:


E  4.7 (Ω K
F

/012  10 (Ω

The value of ( is visible on the x axis. The red


line represents the resistance of the
potentiometer without a parallel resistor. The
resistance increases linearly from zero to ten
kilo-ohms as the value of ( goes from zero to
one.

The green line represents the equivalent


resistance of the potentiometer in parallel with
the 4.7 kΩ resistor. The maximum equivalent
resistance is (as expected) at about 3.2 kΩ.
However, the response over the range of ( is
far from linear. At low values of (, the
response is approximately equal to the normal, linear potentiometer response. From a
practical point of view, the connection fulfils its original purpose of decreasing the swing of
the potentiometer. However, most of the adjustment potential is crammed into the lower
interval of ( values, which may be unattractive due to high power consumption and
expensive potentiometers. Thus, a better solution is to invest in a potentiometer with a
more suitable range, if available.
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Parallel resistor calculation

From time to time, a need may arise to obtain a specific resistance value for some
application. Oftentimes, the designer has a set of resistors at hand, but none are close
enough to the desired value. In such a situation, it is possible to combine resistors to achieve
the desired value. The problem is: what value resistor should be added to obtain the desired
value?

Let’s assume that we have a resistor A at hand. In the case where we want a greater
equivalent resistance, series connection is utilized. The suitable resistance for the resistor to
be connected in series can be calculated as:


0 L L 
M
N

For example, if
N  1 (Ω and
 1.25 (Ω, then
0 L L  1.25 (Ω M 1 (Ω  250 Ω.
Connecting a 250 ohm resistor in series with resistor A yields the desired equivalent
resistance.

If the desired equivalent resistance is less than that of resistor A, parallel connection is
utilized. To obtain the resistance of the resistor to be added, we start with:

1 1 1
 


N
0 L L

Solving for
0 L L , the expression is transformed into:

1 1 1
N M

 M 

0 L L

N
N

From this, the final expression for


0 L L is obtained:


N


0 L L 

N M

If the equivalent resistance is a certain fraction of


N , i.e.
 (
N where 0 ' ( ' 1, then
the expression can be transformed into:

(

0 L L 

1M( N
The table below provides a quick reference for selected values of (:

( 0.95 0.9 0.8 0.7 0.6 0.5 0.4 0.3 0.2 0.1

0 L L
19 9 4 2.33 1.5 1 0.67 0.43 0.25 0.11

N