What is the difference between high speed digital circuits and the others? The high speed ones aren't digital!
The higher the clock rates and the shorter the rise and fall times in
digital circuits become the more these circuits escape the rules of the
digital domain and enter the analog domain. Not just
This article wants to introduce the newcomer to the very basics of high speed designs (not necessarily only digital ones, but mostly them). It is definitely not intended to substitute any good textbook or training.
When designing with clock rates above app. 100MHz or with slew rates less than 5ns there are some pitfalls to avoid. Because at these high frequencies a normal wire or trace on a board behaves differently as usual. First, high speed devices need a closer specified timing. The relevant data can be found in the data books and is not subject of this article. Neither is the calculation of the loads of a driver and the associated slowdown of the signal it sources. These are all easy to understand and should pose no problem to an experienced designer. But there are some other aspects one can easily overlook:
Without going into much detail you can view a transmission line as a infinite chain of infinitely small links, each of them consiting of a resistor and an inductor in series to each other and in series to the flow of the signal and a capacitor from the signal line to ground. These tiny elements (links) are evenly (hopefully) distributed across the whole wire/trace. Let us make a gedankenexperiment and let us connect an ideal impedance analyzer via cables of zero length to one of the links. What we will observe is a funny behaviour (or not funny at all): The impedance of this construction varies greatly over the frequency. But when we connect the links to form a transmission line it shows a different behaviour: Without the terminating resistor at the end the impedance varies periodically between zero and infinity. But with a resistor of a specific value at both ends the impedance remains stable from DC to the highest frequency.
But that is not all. When we apply a step impulse to the input, it "ripples" through all the links towards the output. When our terminating resistor is not there we will observe one effect, called reflection. The reflected impuls travels back to the other side where it interferes construtively with the original step impulse. Therefore we measure twice the originally supplied voltage here. So, normally transmission lines are terminated by their characteristic impedance to avoid these reflections. But sometimes this is rather cumbersome, and the reflections are tolerated, even necessary for the proper working of the circuit; as an example take the method of reflective wave switching as compared to incident wave switching (i.e. terminated line).
So, we learned that it is normally advisable to dampen the reflections. How do we do that? With the magic resistor at the output that made the impedance so neatly stable. The same resitor will completely dampen the reflection without disturbing the original signal. It's value is determined by the characteristics of the transmission line, namely the values of the inductors and capacitors in the links. For the calculation we can use a single link or the whole transmission line - the result is always the same: The ideal value of this resistor is pure ohmic (real) and can be calculated by this formula: R = SQRT ( L / C ), where SQRT is the square root operator. The resulting value is the so called "characteristic impedance" of the transmission line. It is independent of the frequency (when we neglect secondary effects).
For an antenna to be able to radiate significant energy into free space it's impedance must be in the order of magnitude of the impedance of free space. The more both impedances differ the less energy is radiated or picked up. This is strictly valid only in the "far field" of the antanna, i.e. at a significant distance from it. For distances smaller than a wavelength different rules apply, see below. So, then let us make our lines on the board in a way that they differ by some magnitudes from the impedance of free space and we are done. Sorry, but this solution is not viable. Simply because we cannot make our lines to have an impedance with less than some tens of ohms or more than a couple of hundreds of ohms. The impedance of free space is 374 Ohm, just not high enough to stay well below with a low impdance line, nor low enough that we could use a high impedance line.
We need to attack that problem from another side. A second factor that
determines the amount of energy radiated or picked up is the effective
area of the antenna. The attribute
How do we deterine the effective area of an antenna formed by traces on a PCB? Theoretically we could use a simulator to do the job, but this is a pretty complicated task and usually does not give the results in a time frame that we could live with. So let us make some educated guesses? No, let us use the middle way.
First, let us observe one fundamental fact: Even when there is an antenna it won't radiate into free space if all of it's radiation is absorbed by some medium. Second, almost all antennas are not unidirectional, but radiate most of their energy into small sectors of space. Third, if two antennas are located very close to each other and radiate the same signal, but with opposite phase their radiation is cancelled in the far field.
These three facts, together with the effective area give us valuable measures to remedy any radiation (or interference) problem. Let us look at the world with real eyes now:
Low voltage swings on signal lines improves the situation with the radiated energy and allows for longer trace runs. But lower levels mean more susceptability to incident radiation. You must exercise great care to prevent interferences from higher power sources. These can come from the power section or from the outside. Good grounding and shielding is a paramount here.