by chris halford
Signal Integrity Engineer Advanced Layout Solutions Ltdchris.firstname.lastname@example.org
What is it? Why is it important? How is itcontrolled through the PCB design flow?
At Advanced Layout Solutions Ltd (ALS) wecontrol impedance throughout the board layout process by utilising an accurately defined crosssection, a trusted field solver and a constraintdriven design flow.
But what is trace impedance?
If you measure the impedance of the 65 Ohmtrace in Figure 1, your multi-meter will report~10 Ohms. Faulty board? Of course not, just aslow meter. The meter is reporting the(negligible) resistance of the PCB traces plus the10 Ohm resistor.
Dielectric65 Ohm TracePlane10 Ohms
Figure 1. Test Circuit
However, it takes a finite time for a voltage stepto propagate along a PCB trace, and if you couldmeasure the initial instantaneous impedance before the test voltage reached the resistor, then itwould read ~65 Ohms.During this initial time we are not driving the 10Ohm load at the end of the trace - the load beingdriven
the trace. The current is flowing into,and returning from, the microstrip structure itself.It’s not unlike using your hosepipe: prior toanything squirting out of the end, water flowssteadily for a short time to fill the capacity of theempty pipe.Whilst the signal (in this case the step voltagefrom the meter) travels down the trace, the driver sources current as the instantaneous impedance isovercome and the trace is, in essence, chargedup. If this impedance is constant then it is
of this line, and is denoted as ‘Zo’.If we design a line to have a specificcharacteristic impedance throughout its length,then it is referred to as a
line.Consider Figure 2. In this diagram a signal istravelling along a trace with a return current paththrough the reference plane directly beneath it (atransmission line). As the signal propagates,current only flows through the dielectric at thesignal’s wavefront, where the voltage ischanging. Ahead of this wavefront the trace hasno part to play in the circuit; it is blissfullyunaware of the approaching signal. In its wakethe wavefront leaves a length of trace charged upto the new signal voltage, with no current (other than leakage) flowing through the dielectric. The(ideal) transmission line can be modelled as thelong LC ladder shown, in which each elementrepresents the L and C of the structure per-unit-length.The unit-length inductance (L) of a printedcircuit board trace is a function of the physicalgeometry of the conductors and dielectrics thatmake up the transmission line. In addition togeometry, the capacitance (C) is also a functionof the relative permitivity (
r, DK, Er)
of thedielectric material. Therefore, to control theimpedance we must construct a trace of uniformcross-sectional geometry and consistent
alongits length for a given routing layer.
DielectricCurrentCurrent TracePlaneWavefrontEdge LengthReturn CurrentReturn CurrentLC
Figure 2. Transmission line propagation on PCBmicrostrip and equivalent ideal model
Who cares about characteristic impedance?
In general, it is an important issue for anyonedesigning systems in which the physical length of a switching edge is short in comparison to thelength of the transmission line along which it is propagating. With today’s fast rise-time outputs,this situation applies to almost all designs that wesee from our clients.Fast rise-times mean we are not dealing with a
system, we are dealing with a
system, in which the voltage seen on a particular trace may vary significantly along the tracelength. In this mode an impedance discontinuitywill cause a reflection whereby some of thesignal’s energy will reflect back down the linewhilst the remaining signal will continueonwards, distorted. Examples of impedancediscontinuities are variations in trace width, andthe presence of vias, connectors, or the receivingdevice itself.
What impedance value should be used?
Within reason, the absolute impedance valuechosen is not normally important, providing it iscontrolled along the entire length of the line.Other constraints in a design often dictate theimpedance for us; it may be chosen based on adesign specification (e.g. 65 Ohms for PCI) or chosen to reduce current (a high impedance). Itwill generally be between 45 and 80 Ohms due totypical material geometries, and if the signalchanges layer then the trace geometry should beadjusted as necessary to maintain a consistent Zo.
Does Zo calculation have to be accurate?
Yes. There is generally a large tolerance onfinished trace impedance (+10% is common), the purpose of which is to allow manufactures toachieve an acceptable yield. This tolerance is notthere so that designers can approximate the
value. If a finished trace is to be 50Ohms +10% then, although a nominal 54 Ohmgeometry will keep the layout tools happy, itdoes not give the fabricator much room to move(and one way or another, you’ll pay for thatlower yield).