What Is Discrete Electronics?

By Timothy Smithee

Individual transistors are discrete electronic components.
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Discrete electronics is a term with various meanings, depending on the context. In general, it refers to individual and separate components. For example, electronic circuits can be built with integrated circuit chips containing multiple electronic devices, or with discrete transistors, resistors and capacitors.

Discrete Compoments in Electronic Circuits

Most electronic devices contain a mix of discrete components and integrated circuits. Discrete components are larger and more expensive but may be necessary to handle relatively large amounts of power. Integrated circuits are much smaller and cheaper and are the only option when components must be close together, such as the transistors in a display or processing chip. Audio amplifier circuits in less expensive and smaller devices like smartphones and clock radios use integrated circuits, while audio amplifier circuits in higher quality home receivers use discrete components.

Other Meanings of Discrete Electronics

Discrete electronics can also refer to circuit design. For example, in an audio amplifier, if each audio channel is electrically isolated and has no shared components, the audio channels are discrete. An audio receiver that uses discrete components will also have discrete channels, whereas a receiver that uses integrated circuits may or may not have discrete channels. In computers, audio and video processing on the motherboard is called integrated, while discrete audio and video refers to processing done on add-on cards. As a general rule, discrete audio and video cards enable more features and higher quality than integrated components, at additional expense.