Simple enough question. Why not use a 741 op-amp in a target circuit or anyone's target circuit? What are the reasons not to use it? What might be the reasons to still choose this part?

  • 5
    Maybe the 358 has become the new 741?! – Autistic May 10 '17 at 10:01
  • 3
    It seems novices are drawn to the 741 because that's what they read about and they're easily and cheaply obtainable. Besides explanations of why not to use the 741, I feel this question could benefit from suggestions for alternative jelly-bean parts. – marcelm May 10 '17 at 10:14
  • 8
    @marcelm: On SE recommendations for anything are a difficult thing, they can get outdated and start flame wars and just not cover everything. Especially for choosing an opamp it is very important for novices to learn about a lot of parameters and why they make sense. Output voltage swing is one of those that you find a lot of questions here is a problem source. – PlasmaHH May 10 '17 at 10:34
  • 2
    I do think that if reccomendations for 741 have lived this long, reccomendations for replacements will take a long time to become "outdated". – pjc50 May 10 '17 at 12:35
  • 3
    Can we protect this question now to prevent the inevitable "Guyz my 714 circuit doesnt work!!!1 HELP!"? – Matt Young May 10 '17 at 23:03

There are many good reasons not to use the 1968-vintage LM741: -

  • Minimum recommended power supply rails are +/- 10 volts
    • Modern op-amps have power supplies that can be as low as 1.8 volts.
  • Input voltage range is typically from -Vs + 2 volt to +Vs - 2 volt
    • Modern op-amps can be chosen that are rail-to-rail
  • Input offset voltage is typically 1 mV (5 mV maximum)
    • Modern op-amps can easily be as low as a few micro volts and have low drift.
  • Input offset current is typically 20 nA (200 nA maximum)
    • Modern op-amps are commonly available that are less than 100 pA
  • Input bias current is typically 80 nA (500 nA maximum)
    • Modern op-amps are commonly less than 1 nA
  • Input resistance is typically 2 MΩ (300 kΩ minimum)
    • Modern input resistance starts at hundreds of MΩ
  • Typical output voltage swing is -Vs + 1 volt to +Vs - 1 volt
    • Many cheap rail-to-rail op-amps get to their supplies within a few mV
  • Guaranteed output voltage swing is -Vs + 3 volt to +Vs - 3 volt
  • Supply current is typically 1.7 mA (2.8 mA maximum)
    • Modern op-amps with this current consumption are ten times faster and better in many other ways too.
  • Noise is 60 nV/sqrt(Hz) for LM348 (quad version of 741)
  • GBWP is 1 MHz with a slew rate of 0.5 V/us

The LM741A is slightly better but still a dinosaur in most areas.

Things of importance that the 741 data sheet does not appear to list (and that may depend on the age and manufacturer): -

  • Input offset voltage drift versus temperature
  • Input offset current drift versus temperature
  • Common mode rejection ratio versus frequency
  • Output resistance (closed or open loop)
  • Phase margin
  • likeliness of latchup (and gain reversal)

I can't think of any valid reasons to use the 741 other than "that's all I will ever have or own". Common reasons why they are still used in actual devices appear to be: -

  • Someone had a design that they didn't want to change from the 70s
  • Someone had millions of them lying around and wanted to put them to use
  • Someone actually determined that all the parameters are fine for their design, and at that moment the 741 was the cheapest to acquire and in millions of units it saved a few thousand dollars in total.

I've been an electronics designer since 1980 and I have never used or specified a 741 in any design I've been associated with. Maybe I'm missing out on something?

If there weren't loads of textbooks dating back decades that used the 741 as an example, I'd be surprised if many people knew of it now. It'd now be remembered like the OC71, which was the BC108 of the mid/late 60s.

One of the reasons I think it persisted for so long beyond the mid-80s, when it was well superseded, was because of its many bad characteristics. It is an example to teach students the characteristics to be concerned about, that highlight the inner workings of the op-amp. It has the input offset voltages, input current, needs the offset null, shows the bandwidth/gain product so vividly. Few/no op-amps of 20 years past have brandished so many of these so prominently.

I've been designing for 30 years, starting with mid-volume equipment in the mid-80s. In my experience, the 741 wasn't anyone's choice then or since - there were always much better and cheaper parts to use. I imagine maybe I've worked on a circuit with one on in that time but I genuinely can't recall it.

  • 5
    I agree - I've been employed as an EE since 1980 and never once have I chosen a 741. Chosen plenty of LM324s back then and TL08x op-amps but never the 741. – Andy aka May 10 '17 at 12:02
  • I guess a 709 (pretty obscure part these days, and idiosyncratic by today's standards) would be an OC71, a 741 a BC108 (pretty obsolete as a literal part number but still exists in very similar forms)... – rackandboneman May 10 '17 at 14:28
  • 7
    It is very common to see 741s listed at hobbyist vendors like adafruit or sparkfun or radioshack. It seems that they are one of the default "jellybean" components that hobbyists are expected to use and learn simply because of the large number of example projects that one can find on the intertubes. These vendors are somehow able to sell them at up to 8x cost. I suspect that most of the people using 741s now are hobbyists, and they simply don't know any other op-amp (since they possibly won't appreciate the complex subtleties involved in picking a better one). – Wossname May 10 '17 at 16:09

Another reason not to use a 741 is that under certain conditions it can go into a latch-up state, where the output saturates and sticks to one of the supply rails until it is powered down. I can't find a reference specifically about the 741, but this page describes something similar: https://www.allaboutcircuits.com/textbook/semiconductors/chpt-8/op-amp-practical-considerations/ (search for the word "latch-up" on the page).

Just out of school, I built a thermostat for our fish-tank, using a 741 with a small amount of positive feedback to act as a comparator to switch the tank heater with a relay. Twice the 741 latched up and killed all our fish.

  • 1
    This page also mentions the 741 latching up – DaveBoltman May 10 '17 at 15:26
  • 1
    The latch-up in that kind of op amps was frequently caused by the inversion of the sign of the gain of the first differential stage when the common mode voltage exceeded the specified limits: the feedback turns from negative to positive and the amplifier turns into a Schmitt trigger. – Massimo Ortolano May 11 '17 at 20:37
  • 3
    Now in the box office: "741: The Fish Killer" – vaxquis May 12 '17 at 15:00
  • 1
    :) Yes - poor fish. It happened only twice over several years in the 80s, but I still felt sorry for the fish, and eventually plugged in a more modern op-amp (once I was working as an engineer and could afford something i didn't find at the bottom of my Dad's drawers :) – DaveBoltman May 12 '17 at 15:14
  • You didn't add a "butter thermofuse" which melts at 25°C (or similar). – Janka May 15 '17 at 12:13

No one has mentioned the social signalling aspect in that a circuit using a 741 will probably work with most any opamp, at least for a relaxed definition of "work". So if you need higher freq or different voltage limitations given that the original design was very vanilla, substituting a somewhat different amp will almost certainly work. This can be extremely educational, if you're trying to build an ultra low noise low pass input then build a boring low pass input with a 741 to wrap your brain around the "low pass" part of the project, then figure out the modifications needed (if any...) to substitute in a low noise amp to divide and conqueror a two part project like that. Lets say you have a very special ultra high input impedance circuit, that is unfortunately static sensitive, you could debug at least portions of the design with a mostly indestructible and very cheap 741, then swap in the ultra high impedance (probably expensive?) op amp at the very end. One reason to still use 741s is noobs and experts think its very predictable. Folks with experience in the middle tend not to like the 741 because they've probably latched a few up or found a way for a project to fail due to lack of rail to rail output. But they're mostly trustworthy and better understood than the rest of the project, most of the time.

Be wary of substitution if the design spec'd some obscure ultra high freq part or an ultra high output current or ultra low noise or chopper stabilized. If you slap in a 741 or possibly any other amp than the specified one, the design is almost certain not going to work.

The safest way to professionally figure out the above paragraphs with an actual design is to figure out the Venn diagram of the two components specs, then figure out how those specs relates to your individual project, then decide if the performance difference is irrelevant or a bit deal. This works as an engineering strategy for almost any component substitution problem you'll ever run into.

  • 6
    That's an excellent point about the 741 being used as an "insert your favorite op amp here" placeholder in a design. – ThreePhaseEel May 10 '17 at 23:59
  • @ThreePhaseEel, but only if the 741 was ever one's favourite op-amp :-) – TonyM May 11 '17 at 9:42

What are the reasons not to use it?

High supply voltage requirement, high bias current, not rail-to-rail operation, limited current drive, slow, etc.

What might be the reasons to still choose this part?

For many applications, it gets the job done, respectable DC performance, fast enough, wide availability, cheap, limited current drive, slow, etc.

High performance isn't always needed, and sometimes low performance has its advantages.

  • 11
    A well-known MIT analog circuits professor had a saying: "Those who ask for more bandwidth than they need deserve what they get." Words to live by. – WhatRoughBeast May 10 '17 at 12:12
  • 7
    @Finbarr There is a classic low parts count two transistor flasher cct that relies on the beta product of the two transistors being below what is needed to allow a high resistance timing resistor to latch the circuit on. Use ancient low beta parts and it works. Use transistors with Beta of say 300 each and it latches. Ask me how I know :-). – Russell McMahon May 10 '17 at 12:59
  • 4
    "this circuit won't work if the transistor's ß is too high" and there are plenty of examples of "this circuit" :) – rackandboneman May 10 '17 at 14:26
  • 6
    High speed and high slew rate opamps are downright evil from the perspective of a beginner and layout engineers. They are more like error amplifiers that show off ones ignorance to the world, proudly so. I think there is a lot of wisdom in introducing beginners to an easy opamp like the 741 that tolerates design errors. – dannyf May 10 '17 at 20:57
  • 3
    @IanBland And the 741 tolerates it! – Christian May 11 '17 at 9:44

Your Answer

 

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

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