PCB Track Impedance

- Jul 04, 2017-

PCB Track Impedance

Clocked busses often need impedance controlled tracking to avoid the posibility of false clock signals caused by an impedance mismatch.  As semiconductor devices have become faster and faster they have become much more susceptible to issues caused by signal noise. The problem relates to any type of clocked interface where a device you will transfer data to or from automatically moves on to the next data bit, byte or word every time it see’s a new clock edge.

The Cause

Until relatively recent times digital PCB design (and especially when prototyping) could be viewed as simply a means to electrically interconnect components and unless you designed RF circuits there was little else to worry about. However the PCB itself, or the means of connecting the components used (i.e. prototyping), is now is a very common cause of a loss of signal integrity. The reason is mainly due to the rise and fall times of output signals having decreased as devices are designed to operate faster and faster and to use smaller and smaller silicon manufacturing processes. This problem is not actually due to the operating frequency of a device or the frequency at which a signal is changing, it is due to the speed at which a signal output changes state from high to low and low to high. A signal doesn’t instantaneously change from high to low or low to high, it takes a certain amount of time which will be specified as the rise and fall time in a devices data sheet. Previous signal rise and fall times of many 10’s of nano seconds have now become times measured in just a few nano seconds or for many devices they are measured in pico seconds.

So you may be thinking, this can’t possibly be an issue for me, my board is only operating at a few MHz and I’ve even slowed my data bus down to a few KHz. Well unfortunately that doesn’t matter. If you work with a DC signal the only thing you really care about in a wire or PCB track is its resistance, which for short lengths will be close to zero. However, when using that wire or PCB track with a fast AC signal it starts to behave like a capacitor and inductor. Capacitors and inductors exhibit resistance to alternating current called reactance. The impedance of the wire or track is the vector sum of resistance and reactance, essentially the total resistance seen at a particular frequency. What happens when you send a signal with a fast rising and falling edge down a wire or PCB track, if the impedance of the gate driving the wire or track isn’t exactly the same as the one receiving the it, is it that some of the pulse bounces (literally) back to the driving gate. As there is still an impedance mismatch, the signal continues to bounce between the two until it finally dampens out. This bouncing becomes worse as the speed of signal rise and fall times increases. Basically, the faster rise and fall times of signals from modern semiconductors combined with wire or PCB trace inductance and capacitance causes noise signals of a greater magnitude than before. Greater magnitude means the bouncing signals can reach the threshold voltage required for the receiving device to ‘see’ another clock pulse, or an incorrect data level at the moment it is sampling the data line.  The solution is to design your PCB to use impedance controlled tracks on these clocked connections.


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