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How to choose high quality rheostat or potentiometer

The word Potentiometer is often used to categorize all variable resistors, but another type of variable resistor, known as a rheostat, is different from a true Potentiometer. Rheostats are two-terminal devices, with one lead connected to the wiper and the other lead connected to one end of the resistance track.

Although a Potentiometer is a three-terminal device — its leads connect to the wiper and to both ends of the resistance track — you can use a Potentiometer as a rheostat (as is quite common) by connecting only two of its leads, or you can connect all three leads in your circuit — and get both a fixed and variable resistor for the price of one!


Rheostat typically handle higher levels of voltage and current than Potentiometers. This makes them ideal for industrial applications, such as controlling the speed of electric motors in large machines. However, rheostats have largely been replaced by circuits that use semiconductor devices, which consume much less power.

How to choose high quality rotary rheostat

A rheostat is a variable resistor which is used to control current. They are able to vary the resistance in a circuit without interruption. The construction is very similar to the construction of a Potentiometers. It uses only two connections, even when 3 terminals (as in a potentiometer) are present. The first connection is made to one end of the resistive element and the other connection to the wiper (sliding contact).  In contrast to potentiometers, rheostats have to carry a significant current. Therefore they are mostly constructed as wire wound resistors. Resistive wire is wound around an insulating ceramic core and the wiper slides over the windings.

Rheostats were often used as power control devices, for example to control light intensity (dimmer), speed of motors, heaters and ovens. Nowadays they are not used for this function anymore. This is because of their relatively low efficiency. In power control applications they are replaced by switching electronics. As a variable resistance they are often used for tuning and calibration in circuits. In these cases they are adjusted only during fabrication or circuit tuning (preset resistor). In such cases trimpots are often used, wired as a rheostat. But dedicated 2 terminal preset resistors also exist.


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What is a Potentiometer?

A Potentiometer is a manually adjustable variable resistor with 3 terminals. Two terminals are connected to both ends of a resistive element, and the third terminal connects to a sliding contact, called a wiper, moving over the resistive element. The position of the wiper determines the output voltage of the Potentiometer. The Potentiometer essentially functions as a variable voltage divider. The resistive element can be seen as two resistors in series(potentiometer resistance), where the wiper position determines the resistance ratio of the first resistor to the second resistor.

A potentiometer is also commonly known as a potmeter or pot. The most common form of potmeter is the single turn rotary potmeter. This type of pot is often used in audio volume control (logarithmic taper) as well as many other applications. Different materials are used to construct potentiometers, including carbon composition, cermet, wirewound, conductive plastic or metal film.


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