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ground plane reference switching

Discussion in 'Electronic Design' started by [email protected], Apr 16, 2007.

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  1. Guest

    I am working on an 8-layer board that has two stripline sections. Gnd-
    sig-gnd, gnd-sig-gnd type of structure. OK, so when a chip on top
    "launches" a differential signal into the lower stripline, I use two
    through-hole vias for the signals, but also two vias to connect the
    ground planes together, at that point. Then when the signals get to
    the connector to go off the board, I do the same thing again.
    We have a consultant that says I should put through hole vias
    everywhere to connect the two stripline structures together. I think
    this is not required, I gave an example of a differential pulse
    generator hooked up to a scope, you use two coaxes for this, grounded
    at the source end, and grounded at the destination end. You don't
    strip the jacket away to connect the two coax grounds together the
    whole way. So why should I add ground vias everywhere?
    Once the signal is launched into its stripline environment, what is
    happening in the other stripline is of no interest, and IMHO
    connecting them can cause more problems that it purports to solve.
    Who's right, who's wrong, and why?
  2. Joerg

    Joerg Guest

    I tend to agree with your consultant. Not because I am also a consultant
    but because we have to consider external fields getting in. Plus
    possibly something leaking out and creating a bad-hair day at the EMC
    lab. The outer sections of your respective gnd-sig-gnd structures might
    not be part of a larger plane. If not then they can become loop antennas
    with the loop length being the distance between vias. Loop length
    determines the efficiency of such unwanted antennas, or their capability
    to carry undesired RF energy in and out.

    It depends a bit on what's inside. If this is a DC summing node there
    isn't so much to worry. But if it's RF lines then I would spring for
    some vias.
  3. John  Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    Howard Johnson started this weird compulsion about return currents. It
    makes no sense. The capacitance between the huge ground planes
    essentially glues them together at high frequencies, as it does ground
    and power planes. Adding vias close to signal vias, in order to
    provide a return current path, is by no means necessary; there are
    most likely plenty of plane-plane vias all over the board already.

    Treat the ground planes, and any power planes for that matter, as
    solid, equipotential structures, which they will be if close and
    reasonably via'd or bypassed to one another. Again, plane-plane
    capacitance keeps them tight at high frequencies.

    You really don't need this consultant.

  4. Guest

    Thanks for your input. I agree for high frequencies. But a bit stream
    has frequency content down to almost DC, esp if we stress the
    I don't know what to do, this power supply/PCB stuff is rapidly
    turning into theology.
  5. Joerg

    Joerg Guest

    How wide are those planes? If they are all full ground planes, meaning
    over an inch or so wide, I'd agree with John. If they just cover the
    trace plus some margin I'd side with your consultant. Need some more
    info here, like a sketch or something.

    BTW you can usually also use power planes as "free" shield planes. As
    long as there are no rogue consumers tied into them.

    But heck, what's the cost of those extra vias?
  6. Joel Kolstad

    Joel Kolstad Guest

    I think it does make sense, with the caveat that the "return current" is
    generated simultaneously with the "signal current" as a signal propagates down
    a trace (some people seem to have the mistaken notion that there's no return
    current until the signal current makes it to a load or whatever).
    Howard's buddy Eric Bogatin has some convincing calculations that demonstrate
    the planes are only decent capacitors at *inconveniently* high frequencies,
    e.g., UHF and above (obviously it depends on the plane spacing).
    There is a danger that if you get all those vias too close to the stripline
    itself, you may have dropped the transmission line's impedance enough to
    matter since you're building "square coax" rather than a stripline. On the
    other hand, such construction is useful for improved isolation (hence the
    kissing cousin, coplanar waveguides).
    I doubt you'd second the recommendation, but I would suggest the OP should go
    take one of those week-long signal integrity (or similar) courses from
    Johnson, Bogatin, etc. with the money he's currently spending on a consultant.

  7. John Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    Far-away vias and bypass caps keep the planes equipotential at low
    frequencies, and the plane capacitance keeps them stiff at high
    frequencies, and there's tons of overlap.
    Right, and very little science. Fact is, so many people have so many
    bypassing and routing strategies precisely because, on a multilayer
    board, practically any scheme works. We break lots of "expert" rules
    and do picosecond stuff that works fine. The only things we have to be
    especially careful about are termination of edge-sensitive stuff and
    trace-trace crosstalk. Bypassing and "return currents" aren't big

  8. Joerg

    Joerg Guest

    Maybe this would be the perfect time again to start one of those
    lengthy, passionate split ground versus common ground threads...
  9. John Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    You go first.

  10. Joerg

    Joerg Guest

    Nah, there's enough fists flying in this NG right now.
  11. John  Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    As an edge propagates, it clearly charges successive patches, call
    them "squares" for convenience, of the trace. And as each square
    charges, current is clearly dumped into the ground plane. But that
    current doesn't know where the driver chip is... it's just a zot of
    current that spreads out in all directions and eventually finds its
    way home. The ground plane looks like, well, a big ground plane.

    TDRing a microstrip that runs over a ground-plane slit is not
    dramatic, as certain parties would have you believe. Nothing much
    I've done a fair amount of TDR testing of power planes on multilayer
    boards (I occasionally install an SMA footprint on the board layout so
    I can TDR bare boards and look at plane noise on working boards.) As
    far as I can tell, with a 30 ps TDR step, parallel planes look like a
    couple of nF of perfect capacitance. And as you start to solder in
    bypass caps *anywhere* on the board, it starts to look like a bigger
    perfect capacitance.

    Trace-trace isolation is worth attention. We've had trouble
    configuring Xilinx FPGAs because their CCLK pin is so fast and tender,
    tiny amounts of ringing and crosstalk can make configuration
    unreliable. I understand they may be adding slow Schmitts to the
    config pins in the future.
    Gaaaaaccckk! Johnson's book is half good stuff and half nonsense. If
    you can tell which is which, you don't need the book.

  12. Joel Kolstad

    Joel Kolstad Guest

    Hi John,

    Sure, but it certainly doesn't spread out *indiscriminantly* in all
    directions -- something like 90% of the total current that "returns" from a
    microstrip is concentrated within something like +/-3W under the microstrip
    trace itself. Hence the start of the perennial argument that you usually
    don't need to put cuts in ground planes -- in most situations the layout can
    be arranged to "contain" its own ground (return) currents.

    This behavior can be inferred based on modeling the ground plane as a big
    grid of L's and C's -- no need to appeal directly to Maxwell's equations,
    How big is the slit? I haven't done the experiment, but I'd be surprised if
    there wasn't a significant "bump" once the length and width of the slit are
    some tens of degrees of electrical length.

    Thinking about it, I suspect you're correct that it's not as big a deal as
    it's often made to be in many "typical" systems, as least as far as signal
    integrity is concerned. (EMI is another matter... ) The picture often
    shown with the return currents going around the slit probably is misleading,
    since only the the low frequencies will take that route instead of just
    viewing the slit as a small capacitor and "jumping the gap."
    But it's a *distributed* capacitor, so the problem is that some fast edge
    can't utilize any capactiance beyond that contained within, say, a patch
    whose radius is something in the ballpark of the distance a signal can
    propagate given the rise time of edge to do so.

    I've read some of the papers from folks like Istvan Novak and Larry Smith at
    Sun, where they discuss being able to fix weird, inexplicable CPU failures
    and bus misbehavior simply by judiciously choosing the quantity, value, and
    placement of bypass capacitors (where the smallest value is well under a few
    nF). What most people seem to do -- myself included -- is to take the
    "carpet bomb" approach to bypassing, and it does seem to work just fine, but
    I've always figured that someone like Joerg or other good consultants have
    probably seen cases where some system has such random lockups and end up
    being able to trace them to, e.g., a harmonic of some system clock that
    happens to have a high power supply impedance (where the plane and the
    bypass capacitors are taken as part of the "power supply").
    I think his book is better than nothing for most people. :) What book
    would you recommend?

    The old school favorite was something like the Motorola MECL design manual,

  13. John  Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    And most auto accidents happen within a mile of home. Of *course* the
    current is highest near the point it's injected into the plane.

    Right. All that epoxy, not to mention other planes, essentially
    bypasses the slit.
    OK, think of a pair of parallel pcb planes as a super-low-impedance,
    low-Q transmission line stretching away in all directions. The first
    thing a very fast point load sees is this line impedance, a fraction
    of an ohm. Additional bypass caps are seen after appropriate
    round-trip prop delays. That whole mess looks like a pretty good
    wideband short. TDRing a typical eurocard power plane, without and
    then with caps, I've seen no signs of edge reflections or capacitor
    resonances. I think the Q is just too low, lots of dielectric and
    copper skin losses for such an absurdly low equivalent transmission
    line impedance.
    A CPU may jump tens of amps in Icc in nanoseconds, and its timings may
    be lunched if Vcc changes a couple of tenths of a volt. That's
    extreme, and has to be handled carefully. Planes don't store that sort
    of low-frequency energy.

    I frankly don't know of one.
    That was pretty good, but didn't talk about planes a lot, and the
    trace impedance equations were naiive... just try increasing trace
    widths and the calculated impedances go negative!

  14. DaveC

    DaveC Guest

    I frankly don't know of one.

    So, John, when are you writing yours? Shucks, I should just collect
    everything I can find of your se* posts and publish it myself (c:
  15. Joel Kolstad

    Joel Kolstad Guest

    The folks in publishing figured this out long ago -- if you can make money
    printing books, why go to all the effort to learn what's printed when you
    can just pay an author some pittance to do so? :)

    John -- thanks for the additional insights.

  16. mg

    mg Guest

    For functionality, the best and easiest scenario is to following the
    chip maker's application note when designing the circuit board. For
    EMC design, the easiest scenario is to following the advice from your
    in-house EMC guru. He's the one that has to test the board and obtain
    the certifications. It's really his responsibility.

    I have seen circuit boards made by some of the large manufacturers,
    like HP and Intel, for instance, that almost seem to be magic--It's
    like they have an EMI sponge built into them. I once asked an EMC guy
    from one of these companies how they did it. His answer was, "We
    follow Maxwell's equations". Yah right!

    Good EMC design is mostly determined by trial and error, over the
    years, and then the theory is developed afterwards to explain why it
    works. If you're company is new at this and you don't have the
    expertise and you have to obtain certifications, you might have a lot
    of troubles ahead of you.

    In regard to your question, though, my experience has been that it
    helps to have as many ground planes as possible and it doesn't help to
    be creative by making things like ground-plane islands or limit the
    number of ground-plane connections, etc.
  17. John  Larkin

    John Larkin Guest

    The problem here is that every chip designer thinks his part is the
    center of the universe. So they say that it should have a string of
    various value bypass caps on every power pin, or that the two board
    ground planes should be connected only once, directly under their

    We always use one ground plane, and bolt it to the chassis in as many
    places as practical. We've passed every EMI test first try.

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