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System analysis in the field of electrical engineering characterizes electrical systems and their properties. System analysis can be used to represent almost anything from population growth to audio speakers; electrical engineers often use it because of its direct relevance to many areas of their discipline, most notably signal processing, communication systems and control systems.

Characterization of systems

A system is characterized by how it responds to input signals. In general, a system has one or more input signals and one or more output signals. Therefore, one natural characterization of systems is by how many inputs and outputs they have:

It is often useful (or necessary) to break up a system into smaller pieces for analysis. Therefore, we can regard a SIMO system as multiple SISO systems (one for each output), and similarly for a MIMO system. By far, the greatest amount of work in system analysis has been with SISO systems, although many parts inside SISO systems have multiple inputs (such as adders).

Signals can be continuous or discrete in time, as well as continuous or discrete in the values they take at any given time:

With this categorization of signals, a system can then be characterized as to which type of signals it deals with:

Another way to characterize systems is by whether their output at any given time depends only on the input at that time or perhaps on the input at some time in the past (or in the future!).

Analog systems with memory may be further classified as lumped or distributed. The difference can be explained by considering the meaning of memory in a system. Future output of a system with memory depends on future input and a number of state variables, such as values of the input or output at various times in the past. If the number of state variables necessary to describe future output is finite, the system is lumped; if it is infinite, the system is distributed.

Finally, systems may be characterized by certain properties which facilitate their analysis:

There are many methods of analysis developed specifically for linear time-invariant (LTI) deterministic systems. Unfortunately, in the case of analog systems, none of these properties are ever perfectly achieved. Linearity implies that operation of a system can be scaled to arbitrarily large magnitudes, which is not possible. By definition of time-invariance, it is violated by aging effects that can change the outputs of analog systems over time (usually years or even decades). Thermal noise and other random phenomena ensure that the operation of any analog system will have some degree of stochastic behavior. Despite these limitations, however, it is usually reasonable to assume that deviations from these ideals will be small.

LTI systems

Main article: Linear time-invariant system

As mentioned above, there are many methods of analysis developed specifically for Linear time-invariant systems (LTI systems). This is due to their simplicity of specification. An LTI system is completely specified by its transfer function (which is a rational function for digital and lumped analog LTI systems). Alternatively, we can think of an LTI system being completely specified by its frequency response. A third way to specify an LTI system is by its characteristic linear differential equation (for analog systems) or linear difference equation (for digital systems). Which description is most useful depends on the application.

The distinction between lumped and distributed LTI systems is important. A lumped LTI system is specified by a finite number of parameters, be it the zeros and poles of its transfer function, or the coefficients of its differential equation, whereas specification of a distributed LTI system requires a complete function, or partial differential equations.

See also

Important concepts in system analysis

Related fields


  1. ^ Oppenheim, Alan; Willsky, Alan; Nawab, S. (1996-08-06). Signals and Systems (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson. ISBN 978-0-13-814757-0.