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47uf decoupling caps?!

Discussion in 'Electronic Design' started by Mike Noone, Oct 8, 2006.

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  1. Mike Noone

    Mike Noone Guest

    Hi - I'm currently working on designing a board around the Acam TDC-GPX
    time to digital converter chip. I've run into something which I found
    to be incredibly odd. They reccomend 47uf caps on almost every single
    vdd line. 12 in all. See page 54 (second to last page) of the datasheet
    for the drawing I'm referring to:

    They reccomend use of Taiyo-Yuden LMK325BJ476MM, which is a 1210 47uf
    cap available at digikey at the price of $34.10/10 caps. Thus for a
    single board I would be using about $40 in just decoupling caps!!

    Typically, when I design a board, I put a .1uf 0603 ceramic on every
    single supply pin of every IC, and then a single 10uf tantalum/ic on
    the more sensitive ICs. My understanding was that this was more or less
    the standard way to deal with decoupling.

    So anyways - I'm starting to lay out this board - and these 12 1210s
    are really getting in my way. They are making my life very difficult.
    I'm trying to keep this as just a 2 layer board - but I'm not sure if I
    can do it with all these damn 1210s all over the place.

    My question is this: are such huge capacitors necessary? Are they even
    worth it? The sales engineer for the distributor we purchased these
    chips through didn't seem to have a good idea one way or the other. My
    personal understanding was that it was better to have small but very
    low esr caps on the supply pins, as opposed to really large capacity,
    higher esr caps like these 1210s.

    Thanks for any comments or suggestions,

  2. PeteS

    PeteS Guest

    Certainly seems overkill. Looking at the Icc specs, I would think you
    would be fine with your normal technique, but of course this advice is
    worth what you have paid for it :)

    I would note that smaller caps give better high frequency decoupling


  3. rickman

    rickman Guest

    I find this a very interesting post. A month or so ago I took a
    workshop in high speed digital circuit design and learned a lot about
    power supply decoupling. Basically everything you may think you know
    is wrong. This guy is a consultant with more years than I have and
    that is a lot. His experience has pretty much all been in doing high
    speed circuit board design and everything he said was supported by an
    explanation of the theory, simulation data and actual board test
    results. So it is hard to argue with him.

    He has data that shows that the rule of thumb of 0.1 uF cap per power
    pin is way far over kill. In fact, the real high speed decoupling is
    done by the power planes alone. The high speed noise can not be
    smoothed by the caps simply because of their intrinsic inductance.
    Further when they couple with the power plane capacitance, they really
    do create a parallel resonance which *increases* the impedance at
    certain frequencies.

    His approach is to use closely spaced power and ground planes to create
    a low impedance path at high frequencies. Then use a few 0.1 caps, a
    few more 0.01 caps and a few more 0.001 caps. Of course the smaller
    the package the better, but it is important to use parts that do not
    have *too low* a value of ESR. The ESR will not affect the performance
    of the caps, but it will minimize the peak of the parallel resonances
    between all the different parts.

    I think if you were to do a simulation of the effect of using 47 uF
    1210 caps you will find that they may work great below a couple of MHz,
    but have way too high inductance to be useful at anything over 50 MHz
    or so, perhaps much less. The point is that *all* capacitors have
    enough parasitic inductance to be inductive at the frequencies of
    interest. This in itself is not bad, but it means the impedance is
    going up with frequency and larger caps really won't work well at all
    for high frequency decoupling. They are only needed for low frequency
    work and because of that it does not matter where you put them.
  4. J.A. Legris

    J.A. Legris Guest

    Are you sure you need such a high-performance device? This thing will
    measure time durations with over 6 digits of precision at a resolution
    of 27 pico-seconds, but only by regulating the power supply to
    compensate the variable internal time delays, using a phase-locked loop
    synchronized to a crystal oscillator! It is definitely not a "standard"
    decoupling situation.

    If you really need the precision you should be ready to shell out for
    the caps, and for a multi-layer board too - the data sheet recommends a
    ground plane.

  5. Wow. It all depends on what frequency range and impedance you want
    the power supply to be able to supply.

    Usually 47uF capacitors are going to be good for providing very low
    impedances at relatively low frequencies. 47uF is going to be series
    resonant and therefore useless above 100KHz to 1MHz or so. So they'd
    be good in a say SMPS running at 50KHz and say 10 amps. But darn near
    useless in the megahertz region.

    Are you sure they didnt mean to write NANO-farads? But even 47nF is
    going to resonate in the tens of MHz, which is fine for medium-speed
    designs maybe, but not for anything exotic.

    For the best bypassing, you need a layered approach, with like 1nF as
    close as possible to the IC, then 10nF an inch away, then maybe 100nF
    per row.

    For sensitive designs yo have to ignore that very general rule-of-thumb
    and analyze the power busses as an electrical network.

    I'd look very carefully at the di/dt rates around the IC and outfit it
    with capacitors capable of supplying those rates at the noise margins
    you need. Just throwing big caps at it is not going to give you
    optimum results.

    For really fussy designs you even have to consider adding a smidgen of
    series resistance with the caps, so the spike and noise energy gets
    dissipated instead of ringing the parasitic LC networks.
  6. Mike Noone

    Mike Noone Guest

    Hi Joe - the precision of the TDC-GPX is necessary.

    My question is whether or not they will improve things at all - if they
    really are necessary. From what I know of decoupling, they will
    decrease performance, not improve it. But like you said - it's not a
    typical decoupling situation.


  7. OH, I should have looked at the datasheet first before typing.

    This is no typical IC!

    It's quite possible this IC needs those funny capacitors, as the Vcc
    line isnt being used in a normal way-- they're modulating Vcc with the
    voltage regulator! And they mention you better use the LM117, as
    they're probably depending on some quirk of its characteristics..

    And they may be specing those funny 47uF caps because that's what
    worked for them. They're likely depending on some undocumented amount
    of ESR of those caps to just so happen act as nice R-C dampers for
    their modulated Vcc bus.

    In a perfect world, they would have done a full-bore AC analysis and
    shown it in the datasheet or app notes. Maybe they did or maybe they
    didnt, or maybe the datasheet writer tossed out all the analysis and
    detailed design info. Or maybe they just kept adding capacitors of
    various sizes and types until the thing didnt oscillate any more.

    When I see a spec sheet like this one, I usually think, very
    interesting, but way too hairy for me.

    BTW Are you up to speed on designing PC traces that can carry xx
    picosecond risetimes without smearing and ringing? The chip is only
    going to be able to do its job if you can deliver clean edges. This
    means impedance compatible striplines or maybe micro-coax.

    I'd ask those folks if they have a reference design PC board--
    designing picosecond circuits is mighty hairy. Anything under 5 nsec
    and I start to tremble.
  8. John Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    See fig 9. This chip looks to be fairly sensitive to Vcc, which means
    that jitter will be high if it's not bypassed pretty hard. And if it's
    typical of this sort of chip, Icc will vary a lot with activity.

    Things like this really deserve to be on multilayer boards. With
    ps-resolution logic inputs and cmos outputs, it's not hard to add
    enough noise, ground bounce, and power supply noise to wreck the time

    I'd suggest a 4 or 6-layer board with ground and power planes, and use
    the big caps at first, until you can evaluate whether they're really
    necessary in your application.

    What are you making?

  9. nospam

    nospam Guest

    Well the TDC-GPX is far from a 'standard' chip. Acam also strongly
    recommend against using switchmode power supplies for it.

    Unless you are prepared to do the development work to determine how
    different decoupling schemes affect the chip performance I would take their
    recommendations seriously. You could of course ask Acam for more
    I presume this isn't a cheap chip, the capacitors are not cheap, I don't
    think I would trying to skimp on PCB layers to save a few bucks.

    I also presume this is not your design and you are just doing PCB layout,
    doesn't the designer have something to say about it?
  10. Boris Mohar

    Boris Mohar Guest

    Those caps are ceramic X7R ESR will be quite low.
  11. John Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    Why? ESL depends on case size, not capacitance.

  12. Mike Noone

    Mike Noone Guest

    Problem with multilayer boards is two fold:
    1. the software I use can only do two layers, unless I want to buy the
    full version (currently using free version of Cadsoft's Eagle)
    2. multilayer boards are quite expensive. I currently get my boards
    through advanced pcb with their student $33 each special program - $33
    + shipping for a 2 layer board with 5 day turn around. I expect cost
    for a 4 or 6 layer board would be at least a couple hundred dollars.

    Oddly enough - I'm making two different things, both will use this
    1. A device that can measure the time between pulses on a single line.
    The pulses come in on this line every couple nanoseconds to
    microseconds. The pulses are about 20-50ns long as I recall. By
    measuring the time between them this device will be generating,
    apparently, pure random data. It will be an integral part of a ultra
    high speed random number generator for use in quantum cryptography. I
    don't understand any of the quantum stuff - I'm just an EE guy.
    2. scanning laser rangefinder. We'll be using it to do time of flight
    measurements on pulses being sent by a laser that is on a rotating
    gimbal so that it can do 3D scans of an area.

    So I'm wondering - I was told that the only really sensitive lines are
    the VDDC lines. Maybe it would be OK if I just used these caps on those
    lines, and then used normal .1uf on the rest? I think I could fit that
    into two layers pretty easily.

  13. Mike Noone

    Mike Noone Guest

    I asked the sales engineer for the US Acam distributor - and he didn't
    seem to have a strong opinion on the matter. This was his response when
    I asked him about the caps:

    "The capacitors on Page 15 of the datasheet indicate that all the power
    supply capacitors are 47 uF. This is quite a lot of capacitors, and
    I'm sure it takes up a lot of space. Here are a couple of options.
    First, if you have the space, you can layout the board so as to have
    all the capacitors placed. Once you have a GPX prototype board
    working, you can experiment by adding or subtracting capacitors to see
    what effect it has. Also, you can experiment with different values or
    different vendors as well. Second, if you don't have the space, you
    can place as many capacitors as possible around the GPX. If the 1210
    package size is too big, you could substitute 1206, 0805, or even 0603
    Nearly $200 in single quantities. I'm sure glad I'm not paying the
    bill! :)
    It is my design, actually.


  14. J.A. Legris

    J.A. Legris Guest

    Hi Mike,

    Look at Fig. 9. The timing of the device is almost directly inversely
    proportional to the power supply voltage - a power supply rejection
    ratio of 1:1. If you want to maintain the timing precision to one part
    in a million, you'll need a power supply with comparable precision. The
    phase-locked loop and the LM317 can maintain this precision over the
    long term, but over the very short term (where your measurements are
    occurring), the control-loop is just coasting and the caps are doing
    all the regulation.
  15. Unless these chips draw huge and long current spikes, this
    has to be over kill. For ordinary digital design, the
    inductance of the caps and their connections is a lot more
    important than the value of the capacitors.

    If you can get one end of the capacitor right against the
    chip pin, and use a pair of vias, one on each side of the
    ground end of the capacitor, you should be able to get away
    with much smaller caps. Oh, and avoid Z5U and Y5V
    dielectrics. These pack so much capacitance into such small
    metal area, that the resistance of the metal, itself can get
    high enough to lower the effectiveness of the bypass.

    You can get a Panasonic 0805 10 uF, 10 V X5R dielectric cap
    for $0.79 each, from Digikey, and it is advertised to have
    an ESR of .003 ohms. I doubt there is any advantage going
    any larger than that, and considerably smaller would
    probably be okay, also. If you can make a layout that takes
    that, you can populate the first board with .1 uF or 1 uF
    caps and if trouble shows up, increase the size up to 10 uF.
  16. Guest

    The only way to find out is to built the board and experiment.

    Very high speed boards do demand rather more than the 0.1uF per device
    and 10uF tantalum that you find on most boards.

    Keep in mind that the 10uF tantalum probably works as damping resistors
    rather than a capacitor - they tend to have pretty vile ESR's.

    The Taiyo-Yuden parts seems to be a bit better than that.

    If the data sheet calls for twelve 47uF parts from a specific supplier,
    you are well advised to start off with that.

    Keep in mind that application engineers aren't infallible - I once
    slavishly copied an Analog Devices application circuit intended to
    produce very stable reference voltage outputs, only to find that the
    reference outputs oscillated - easy enough to fix with a couple of
    extra components, but distinctly irritating. Happily, we needed a
    second go-around on the layout for several other reasons ...
  17. Mark

    Mark Guest

    What does this chip do anyway...what is a time to digital converter?

  18. nospam

    nospam Guest

    I didn't look in detail at how the chip works but I'm sure it doesn't work
    like that.

    It has a 40MHz clock and I guess a chain of something like 300 81ps silicon
    delay lines. On the 40MHz clock edge it can look at how many delay lines a
    signal transition got through and so determine where within that 40MHz
    clock cycle the signal transition occurred. That part of the precision
    depends on the silicon delay and associated power supply sensitivity and is
    about 1 part in 300, the rest of the precision comes from the 40MHz clock.

    Also 47u capacitors are recommended on all the supply pins while only 2
    supply pins carry the controlled delay line supply.

    When you are trying to measure with 10's of ps resolution signals which
    probably have 1000ps rise and fall times switching thresholds changing with
    supply line noise would likely result in significant measurement jitter. I
    suspect that is why they want to keep all the supplies as quiet as

    Noise on the measured signals would be even worse which is why the OP
    should be worried about everything else the measured signals touch on the
    way to the chip not about skimping on capacitors and PCB layers (assuming
    he really would like to get the precision the chip is theoretically capable
  19. DJ Delorie

    DJ Delorie Guest

    gEDA's PCB is free, and can do as many layers as you need, as big a
    board as you need.
    pcbpool can do single 4-layer boards for around a hundred bucks,
    depending on size and turnaround time. You can omit the silkscreen to
    save even more. A minimum-price 4 layer board (16 in2, no silk, 8
    days) is $75.50 plus $10 S&H. They allow panels, too.

    If you need more than one, pcbex can do five for around $160, again
    depending on size and turnaround time.
  20. J.A. Legris

    J.A. Legris Guest

    Good points, but I think the PLL's controlled oscillator is used for
    the time-base and it depends on a delay line too.
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