This versus That: Average Power versus Peak Power

Average power and peak power are two important measurements for all RF products. Power measurements drive internal designs, whether products need heat sinks or not, and of course, where each product can be used. So, what is the difference between maximum average power versus peak power?


It’s all in the timing. Maximum average power is the amount of constant power input a product can handle over a long period of time. If a product is used as a measurement tool or a way to send out a signal, the constant power supply routing through the part cannot exceed the maximum average power. Peak power, on the other hand, is found by cycling high power through the part for a specific amount of time. The high-power spike is called a “pulse.” The amount of power (or “height” of the power spike) in the pulse depends on the product, and the pulse lasts on the scale of microseconds. The timing of each pulse is dependent on the “duty cycle.” Duty cycles are in percentage units and demonstrate the ratio of time the power is pulsing versus zero. Different applications may require different pulses and duty cycles, so these numbers are often included alongside the peak power specification.


Oftentimes, parts with a high average power will have a high peak power, due to the internal geometry of the product and the materials used. In order to handle this power without overheating, high power attenuators have a heat sink to dissipate the heat generated during attenuation.


As always, I hope you enjoyed your time reading my blog and learned something new! If you have questions, please use our contact form. Have a great week!