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General Purpose Op-Amp: The Everyman Amplifier

Key Takeaways

  • General-purpose op-amps offer a wide range of functionality in applications where high-speed or high power demands aren’t present.

  • Working with any op-amps starts with a basis of the ideal model before integrating nonideal and nonlinear behavior.

  • General-purpose op-amps are a great design choice when component parameters are fluid due to their general applicability.

View of many 8-pin DIP op-amps in a clear drawer.

The 741 and other similar general-purpose op-amps provide unmatched viability in circuit applications.

Op-amps are a fundamental circuit element with many functional implementations. While some amplifier designs are better suited for high-speed, high-power, or other specific conditions, broader applications can eschew these components in favor of generalized amplifiers. This decision can be a cost-saving move or reflect component availability in light of ongoing shortages. Still, designers should be confident that general-purpose op-amps are germane even in today’s products that increasingly focus on low-power and high-speed demands.

A Nonexhaustive List of Common General-Purpose Op-Amps

Package Options



8-pin PDIP,  CDIP,  or TO-99




Quad-amplifier chipset



High gain-bandwidth



High gain-bandwidth and JFET-input suitable for audio

Understanding Op-Amp Basics

It’s worthwhile to start with the idealized form of the op-amp to understand the functionality of general-purpose op-amps. Significant differences exist between real-world applications and the idealized form, but it’s a more manageable conceptual undertaking before folding in factors that cause the practical model to diverge. The baseline ideal op-amp characteristics are:

  • An infinite input impedance.
    • As a result, an input current of zero.
  • An output impedance of zero. 
  • Infinite open-loop gain.
  • An input offset voltage of zero (an identical voltage on the differential inputs will produce an output of zero volts).

These parameters are physically impossible or impractical to manufacture, but they give designers an approximate model for designing feedback networks. Comparatively, the non-idealized op-amp will have finite and non-zero values where appropriate, in addition to other effects that cause the observed measurements to diverge from ideal calculations:

  • Capacitance on the inputs that can alter the impedance.
  • Amplification of signals common to both inputs instead of the difference (i.e., common-mode gain).
  • Noise on the power supply can reach the inputs, funneling it into the feedback network.
  • Performance swings as a function of temperature and age of the device.
  • The inverse relationship between bandwidth and gain: a low gain provides a broader bandwidth, while a maximum gain allows for the minimum bandwidth.

These drawbacks only account for the linear behavior of the op-amp; additional complexities arise when considering the nonlinear operating region. However, op-amps with high open-loop gain and input impedance relative to the feedback network are effectively “ideal enough” for most situations. 

Op-amp packages are commonly an 8-pin DIP and other similar SMT styles, but typically, only 5 or 7 pins are assigned (with the remaining pins remaining unconnected). The essential pins are the differential inputs (inverting and noninverting), the output, and the positive and negative supply rails, with some packages also providing voltage offset pins for in-circuit adjustment. As mentioned, the input offset voltage will not produce zero even with identical voltages on the input due to imperfections in the manufacturing process. Furthermore, since the input offset voltage can drift over temperature ranges and age-related wear, a user-adjustment option allows the offset to react to these changes. 

Advantages of General-Purpose Op-Amps

Another factor to consider is performance capabilities: general-purpose op-amps offer lower quiescent current (zero-load draw) than more specific applications like high-speed or large-bandwidth response. This attribute can make them more attractive for portable devices where power consumption demands and battery life are critical. Specific low-quiescent current op-amps that draw far below standard models make the general op-amps something of a Goldilocks in functionality, with the higher drawing amplifiers exhibiting better noise immunity and the lower drawing amplifiers having a restricted bandwidth.

Choosing a general-purpose op-amp will require designers to weigh the component attributes that most closely match the demands of the overall device. Foremost will be the supply voltage ratings, which not only set the safe operating limits of the device but also naturally limit the differential input voltage. General-purpose op-amps are more likely to have a larger supply voltage range than specialized components; this endears them to a wider range of applications but reduces their effectiveness in low-power settings. It’s quite feasible that an early design prototype or revision uses amplifiers with a greater range of operability for testing and measurement purposes before graduating to the target components associated with reduced power draw and size for portable electronics.

Similarly, applications that do not require high-speed signal transmission can benefit from more rugged and robust component voltage ratings. Amplifiers have a metric that describes the voltage or current change rate per unit time. Like the gain-bandwidth product, the maximum voltage or current throughput and overall speed is a tradeoff based on the component’s construction; an amplifier can optimize either to varying degrees, but not both. Protecting the input from capacitance will also impact the amplifier’s power dissipation ability, as the reduced input impedance will increase the power demands of the output. The general-purpose op-amp excels in circuits where high-end speeds or high-power needs are not an issue, making it immensely viable for less demanding circuit requirements. 

Cadence Solutions Amplify Design Capabilities

A general-purpose op-amp has a wide range of applications due to its middle-of-the-road capabilities in terms of bandwidth, processing speed, voltage rating, and other robustness measures. While high-speed or high-power demands may necessitate an amplifier more suitable for the circuit design, a jack-of-all-trades amplifier still has numerous uses in final designs and prototypes. Transitioning from a general op-amp to a more specific device will require extensive modeling software to accurately capture the circuit behavior of the heightened requirements. Fortunately, Cadence’s PCB Design and Analysis Software suite offers design teams a comprehensive simulation toolset to characterize circuit behavior quickly. Alongside the powerful yet easy-to-use OrCAD PCB Designer, DFM ECAD has never been faster.

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