Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for electronics and electrical engineering professionals, students, and enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I recently built-up a quick little LM317-based adjustable power supply schematic:

enter image description here

However I've noticed the output can take several seconds (on the order of 10 or so) to "settle down" after turning the trimmer to desired output voltage. What happens is if I set it to 5.000V (as an example), my DMM will show the output slowly tick down in 1mV increments or so until the voltage finally settles; sometimes as much as 100mV lower than what I initially set.

Doesn't seem to matter if I turn the trimmer fast or slow. Once I let go, my DMM will show the voltage slowly "tick down" until it finally stabilizes. The same issue occurs with or without load. To provide stable load for testing (100mA or so) I'm using a constant current dummy load similar to the EEVblog one. Also, originally I didn't have the 10uF adj cap, but adding it doesn't seem to make a difference.

Any idea why this is happening or is this just normal? Seems like I have enough smoothing capacitance so I don't think it's a ripple issue. Could it be too much capacitance on the output? I've seen other people demo their LM317 circuits on youtube and their DMM doesn't seem to "tick down" after setting the output voltage like mine does.

Maybe my DMMs are just too accurate, heh. =)

EDIT: I tried replacing the 'dummy load' with a simple 1k resistor (also tried a 100-ohm). Didn't really seem to make a difference. Also, seems like after I set the voltage my meter 'ticks down' pretty fast at first then slower and slower. "Feels" almost logarithmic:

I just remembered my agilent meter does data logging (duh). Here's graph of ~90 data points showing the voltage drop (after setting to around 5.25V or so) over ~90 seconds:

Vout over time using 1k resistor load

Here's another over 5 minutes (I was trying to dial-in 15V):

Vout over 5 minutes using 1k resistor load

UPDATE: Replaced the 5K pot (which was a crappy single-turn rated at 50mW) with a 5K 10-turn precision pot (rated at 2W). Now I can crank it up to, say 5V or 12V or whatever and my DMM shows a stable reading right away.

share|improve this question
Any chance you have a scope that you could use to see what is actually happening and then post the results here? – Kellenjb Jan 31 '12 at 15:52
Ugh, don't I wish. Sorry, no scope. – Craig Jan 31 '12 at 15:59
just curious: what schematic drawing program did you use? – Jason S Feb 1 '12 at 3:13
Eagle. I did tweak a few things 'by hand' using an image editing program after the fact. Faster than making custom eagle symbols for a quick schematic for illustration purposes only. – Craig Feb 1 '12 at 5:19
The 100 mV drift you are asking about is only 2% of the 5 V set point; but National's LM317 is only spec'ed for +/- 4% accuracy. Other vendors may be spec'ed differently. An off-the-shelf potentiometer may not have great temperature stability (and at 5 V setpoint you're burning over 20 mW in the pot) You're probably just seeing the precision limits of your components. – The Photon Feb 3 '12 at 17:56
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I think that you are dissipating too much power into the potentiometer. My calculation works out to 161mW when the total resistance is used. If it is a low power 200mW version, it might be too much. Swap R5 for a 1K or 910 ohm and do the experiment with the 5V again and see how it varies.

share|improve this answer
I think you're on the right track. I was using a crappy, single-turn Bourns 5K pot (PTV09 series). Tried replacing it with a 50K, 10-turn that I had and it seemed to help. Then I got a proper Bourns 5K 10-turn (3590S-2-502L) and now it's rock solid up to about 16.5V. – Craig Feb 18 '12 at 3:02
Thank you for posting your result. This is some years later obviously, but I have built a similar power supply, had a similar problem with slow downward drift, and I'm using the same potentiometer! -- Will try different pots and static resistors. – Jay Keegan May 21 at 3:45

Given the information provided by your data logger's diagrams, I am fairly sure you are looking at thermal drift. The time constant of your drift is in the range of some 10 seconds to some minutes, which is quite common for thermal settling of small-ish parts. You say that in your first tests, your load takes something like 0.1 A, and the difference between input and output is approximately 20 V - 5 V = 15 V. This means your LM317 is dissipating apporximately 1.5 W - enough to give it a noticeable temperature rise, depending on the heatsink. When you set the output to a higher voltage, and assuming the current stays the same, you reduce the power dissipation (heating action), which would explain why the drift takes longer with a higher output voltage. (Edit: Slightly different numbers would apply for your experiments with a 1k load resistor, of course.)

If the LM317's internal reference drifts to a slightly lower voltage with rising temperature, the output will drift as well. If you start at 5.27 V at room temperature and get 0.1 V less with a hot LM317, this is something like a drift of 2 %. Not exactly good, but also not unheard of for a standard integrated voltage regulator...

You can test this theory by using cooling spray (or just by blowing cold air along the part) or a hot air gun (or a soldering iron) and monitoring the regulated output voltage with your precision DMM. Your particular regulator seems to have a negative temperature coefficient, so cooling it should make the output voltage higher and heating it should make it lower.

TI's LM317 data sheet looks like their version of the regulator IC even has a negative tempco, so it should do what your IC does. Other manufacturers' parts may have a positive tempco, however. Cf. top left of pages 4 and 5.

share|improve this answer

As in all such circumstances, even a very low spec oscilloscope is of great value. An oscilloscope extends your eye-brain capabilities into the time domain for periods much shorter than it is otherise capable of :-). They are an essential tool in all serious electronic development situations. You can probably find an old tired one for less than the cost of the parts in this supply and it will provide you with insights otherwise impossible to obtain.

Oscillation?: This sort of result is often due to oscillation BUT your circuit looks reasonably OK. Some regulators require output caps within a Goldilocks range (not too high and not too low) AND ESR also with a range, but LM317 is not as finnicky, but check datasheet to be certain that caps used do meet range requirement.s Caps mounted near regulator is a very good idea.

Load/Supply interaction?: Try with a sinple resistor load to start say 100 ohms to 1000 ohms. Could be an interaction between load and supply.

With circuits of this sort (which are an excellent idea in principle and often excellent in practice) you are at the mercy of the algorithm implemented inside the load controller. If it needs to iterate the loading to meet the constant current spec this may cause unexpected results, and potentially it too may oscillate as it seeks the desired operating point. The LM317 SHOULD be voltage stable under varying load within its load range but there's no certainty that there will be no interaction.

enter image description here

share|improve this answer

My firts guess was that you have an abnormally large value for C7, but you say that the effect also occurs without C7, so that can be ruled out.

A you sure you didn't set your DMM to some weird setting, like average-peak or AC? Can you measure the output with some other instrument (oscillsocope, old-fashioned analog multimeter, or even a LED+resistor to get a rough idea)?

share|improve this answer
Nope.. had meter at regular volts DC setting. Seeing same thing on my U1272A and 87V. More so on the U1272A since it has more resolution. Unfortunately I don't have an analog meter or scope. – Craig Jan 31 '12 at 16:02
Could it be an instability (oscillation)? – Wouter van Ooijen Jan 31 '12 at 17:09
Possibly. I did find this article that suggests a 4700pF adj cap might be better than the 10uF one. Also, my 10uF isn't a tantalum (maybe it should be?). ema-eda.com/products/other/articles/Regulator.pdf – Craig Jan 31 '12 at 17:37
I have definitely seen linear regulators oscillate due to trying to add a cap at the C7 location on a device that didn't want one. Which makes me suspect 10 uF may be too much. I'd probably start out testing with C7 removed and find an optimal value later after you've solved your slow response problem. – The Photon Jan 31 '12 at 23:36
Replace electronic load with 1k resistor. Test. report. – Russell McMahon Feb 1 '12 at 4:37

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.