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Offset Voltage

Offset voltage, op-amp

Another practical concern for op-amp performance is voltage offset. That is, effect of having the output voltage something other than zero volts when the two input terminals are shorted together. Remember that operational amplifiers are differential amplifiers above all: they're supposed to amplify the difference in voltage between the two input connections and nothing more. When that input voltage difference is exactly zero volts, we would (ideally) expect to have exactly zero volts present on the output. However, in the real world this rarely happens. Even if the op-amp in question has zero common-mode gain (infinite CMRR), the output voltage may not be at zero when both inputs are shorted together. This deviation from zero is called offset.

A perfect op-amp would output exactly zero volts with both its inputs shorted together and grounded. However, most op-amps off the shelf will drive their outputs to a saturated level, either negative or positive. In the example shown above, the output voltage is saturated at a value of positive 14.7 volts, just a bit less than +V (+15 volts) due to the positive saturation limit of this particular op-amp. Because the offset in this op-amp is driving the output to a completely saturated point, there's no way of telling how much voltage offset is present at the output. If the +V/-V split power supply was of a high enough voltage, who knows, maybe the output would be several hundred volts one way or the other due to the effects of offset!

For this reason, offset voltage is usually expressed in terms of the equivalent amount of input voltage differential producing this effect. In other words, we imagine that the op-amp is perfect (no offset whatsoever), and a small voltage is being applied in series with one of the inputs to force the output voltage one way or the other away from zero. Being that op-amp differential gains are so high, the figure for "input offset voltage" doesn't have to be much to account for what we see with shorted inputs:

Offset null, op-amp

Offset voltage will tend to introduce slight errors in any op-amp circuit. So how do we compensate for it? Unlike common-mode gain, there are usually provisions made by the manufacturer to trim the offset of a packaged op-amp. Usually, two extra terminals on the op-amp package are reserved for connecting an external "trim" potentiometer. These connection points are labeled offset null and are used in this general way:

On single op-amps such as the 741 and 3130, the offset null connection points are pins 1 and 5 on the 8-pin DIP package. Other models of op-amp may have the offset null connections located on different pins, and/or require a slightly difference configuration of trim potentiometer connection. Some op-amps don't provide offset null pins at all! Consult the manufacturer's specifications for details.

Last Update: 2010-11-19