I'm using an analog input on a NANO board to measure the midpoint between two photo resistive (Cadmium) cells, with the two outside ends tied to GND and a source voltage. Basically a simple voltage divider. So it almost wouldn't matter what reference voltage I used in a case like that, as long as the AnalogReference() was correctly set corresponding to the reference voltage, AND the load did not pull down that voltage.
Well if I used the 5V for my source, and set AnalogReference(DEFAULT), then assuming a worst case load of 4K-ohm, the total load on the 5V regulator is still only 1.25mA. But even so, I figured I could minimize the system load even more by setting AnalogReference(INTERNAL), and using the VREF pin as a source for my voltage divider.
Well it seems to work fine, but I don't know that I've seen any actual examples of what I'm doing, which is using the AREF pin as a source output voltage for my voltage divider. Using vREF as a source, a 4K load would only draw 27.5 microamps with a 1.1V source. But I can't find any spec for the max current I should avoid exceeding, That has me worried maybe I'm not even supposed to be doing that!
So is it acceptable to use the VREF pin as an output for light loads, when using the INTERNAL AnalogReference?
EDIT: After receiving a "no" answer yesterday, I did some bench checking. I configured my NANO board for Internal, and connected a fully open 100K linear pot from AREF to Ground, with a DVM in parallel. The AREF terminal output was about 1.076, with or without the 100K load. Not quite the 1.1 specified but close enough. I then slowly rotated the pot to increase load. At just under 9K the voltage dropped a somewhat insignificant amount, to 1.075. From there on there were additional small decreases, down to about 1K, at which point i measured about 1.062V. Below 1K, there was a very steep decrease.
Note that this was a "quickie" test, done while powering the NANO from a USB port. However, repeating the test with 12V on the DV input did not alter the results significantly.
Even considering the USB source, from this test I conclude:
1) There does appear to be some buffering on the VREF output. It certainly did not behave as there was a simple case of a 1.1V source in series with a high impedance.
2) Up to a load of 10K, the VREF output seems at least as stable as the 5.0V regulator output.
3) Since a 1.062 drop from an initial no-load voltage of 1.076 equates to less than a 2% difference, I have to conclude that a load on VREF (to ground) greater than 1K (lets say 2K for margin) makes VREF probably useful in cases like i described, with a worst case load of 4K.
4) I repeated my test with a second NANO board. This time the initial no-load voltage was salightly higher, 1.084. However, the response to increasing load and the K point where the slope changed dramatically were unchanged.
Again, this is an arduino NANO board, and probably a clone. Can anyone else verify or disprove my results? I'm sure someone else will need to consider using VREF as I did, and it would be good to know.