# Transmission Line Terminations It s The End That Counts!

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1 In previous articles 1 I have pointed out that signals propagating down a trace reflect off the far end and travel back toward the source. These reflections can cause noise, and therefore signal integrity problems. These reflections can be controlled if we design our traces to look like transmission lines. Then, for long traces (those longer than the critical length) we can control reflections using transmission line termination techniques. This paper describes the five most common types of termination techniques used on printed circuit boards. As suggested in the first of the referenced papers, the ideal model of a transmission line is one that is infinitely long. If we take just a portion of that line, and terminate it in its characteristic impedance, it still looks infinitely long when viewed from the front (Figure 1). And, there is no reflection from the far end. If we terminate a transmission line in anything other than its characteristic impedance, a reflection will occur. The magnitude of that reflection can be determined from a parameter known as a reflection coefficient, ρ. Zo Figure 1 If we terminate a portion of a transmission line in its characteristic impedance, it still looks infinitely long. The reflection coefficient, ρ, is calculated as: where R L, the load resistor, and Zo, the characteristic impedance of the transmission line, are as shown in Figure 2. It can be observed that the reflection coefficient has a value between 1 and +1. If the trace is left open circuited, the reflection coefficient is +1 and there will be a 100% reflection back toward the Z o RZo L Figure 2 The magnitude of the reflection is determined by the relationship between RL and Zo Copyright 2002 by UltraCAD Design, Inc. and Mentor Graphics Corporation 1

2 driver. If the trace is shorted, the reflection coefficient is 1 and there will be a 100% reflection of the opposite sign back toward the driver. If the line is terminated with a resistor whose value is the same as the characteristic impedance of the trace (Zo), the reflection coefficient is zero and there will be no reflection at all. It should be noted that if a reflection does occur, and propagates back to the driver (source), it can reflect again off the source. The driver has an output impedance. If that output impedance is exactly equal to Zo, then there will be no further reflection from the source. But if the output impedance of the driver is different than Zo, an additional reflection will occur. The magnitude of that reflection is again determined by a reflection coefficient. Simply substitute Rs, the output impedance of the driver, for R L in the reflection coefficient formula. UltraCAD has created a simple Transmission Line Simulator that can illustrate these reflections under different conditions (Figure 3). It is described in the Appendix and is freely available for download from UltraCAD s web site. Although when we talk about terminations and reflections we usually talk about a single resistor at the end of the trace, there are actually five common termination techniques seen in typical circuits. 2 These are summarized in Figure 4. Figure 3 UltraCAD s Transmission Line Simulator 2

3 R Vcc Vcc R2 R1 Transmission Line Terminations Pros: Cons: Parallel Terminate to either Gnd or Vcc R easy to determine Only one additional component Performs well with distributed loads Power dissipated in R L at all times Power requirement high R L Pros: Thevenin Properly chosen, pull up/down resisters can improve noise margins Performs well with distributed loads R 1 Cons: Results in steady flow of current through R s Optimum selection of R 1 and R 2 can be complicated Complicated if used with tri-state devices R 2 Pros: Cons: AC Performs as well as parallel without the dc power drain C is difficult to optimize Requires 2 components Can lead to timing problems R L C Pros: Cons: Series One component No dc load Can be difficult to optimize R S There IS a reverse reflection. R S Pros: Cons: Diode Does not depend on Zo Little increase in power Can be placed anywhere on line Reflections still exist Requires 2 devices Diodes must be FAST with low foreword voltage Figure 4 The five most common termination strategies. 3

5 But there are some subtle and some not-so-subtle problems with AC termination. If a large capacitor value is used, there can be considerable power dissipation and the strategy is little different from normal parallel termination. If a very small capacitor is used, it will cause overshoot and may interfere with the rise and fall times of the signal. There are some subtle interactions that take place with AC termination using a small capacitor. As the voltage across the terminating resistor changes, the current through the capacitor changes. This causes the capacitor to charge or discharge with an RC time constant related to the component values. If the time constant is too short, the capacitor charges during the half-cycle and the voltage at the receiver changes accordingly. Figure 5 illustrates this effect. Figure 5(a) shows the waveforms associated with a relatively large capacitor. The scope is a HyperLynx simulation of a 50 Ohm transmission line, 5 ns long, terminated with a 50 Ohm resistor in series with a.002 uf capacitor. The green line is the driver voltage. The red line, trailing 5 ns later, is the voltage at the receiver (and at the resistor). The blue line is the voltage across the.002 uf capacitor. As can be seen, the waveforms look very clean. Figure 5(b) illustrates the same simulation with a 200 pf capacitor (.0002 uf). Note that there is overshoot and undershoot in the receiver waveform. Each transition of the driver signal is followed 5 ns later with the same (magnitude) transition at the receiver. But then the receiver voltage continues to rise (or fall, as the case may be) as the capacitor charges and discharges. If this over/undershoot is severe enough, logic errors may result. Note that this is not a reflection. This is not an impedance matching issue. It is a changing reference voltage that shifts the value of the waveform at the receiver. As is seen, the driver signal is still relatively clean. In extreme cases the voltage at the driver may also start to change. But again this is better classified as a shifting reference rather than an actual reflection. Line length: An interesting thing happens as we increase the line length. The line has an intrinsic capacitance (Co) and an intrinsic inductance (Lo) that is expressed in units per unit length. In absolute terms, the values increase with increasing line length. At some point the values become large enough that ringing occurs as the average value across the capacitor changes. Figure 6 illustrates this. Figure 6(a) is a 5 ns long line with a.002 uf capacitor. The voltage across the capacitor (black line in figure 6(a)) rises in a controlled manner to 50% of the voltage at the receiver (red line). The sample time of the image on the scope is 1000 ns. Figure 5(a) is taken from a central part of this simulation waveform. Figure 6(b) is the same 5 ns line with a smaller, 200 pf capacitor. Note that there is a short stabilization time, but then the system settles down. Figure 5(b) is taken from this simulation. Figure 6(c ) is the 200 pf capacitor but with a much longer (30 ns) line. The value of the capacitor interacts with the parameters of the transmission line to cause oscillations that take a finite time to die out. 5

6 (a) (b) Figure 5 HyperLynx simulation of a 50 Ohm transmission line, 5 ns long, with AC termination with 50 Ohm resistor. Figure (a) is with 2000 pf (.002 uf) cap, (b) is with 200 pf cap. The driver signal (green) is clean in both cases. Each transition of driver signal is accompanied by the same transition at the receiver, but then an additional overshoot or undershoot as the smaller capacitor (blue) charges or discharges. 6

7 (a) (b) (c) Figure 6 Simulations showing how the voltage across the capacitor stabilizes with time. Figure 6(a) is a 5 ns long line with.002 uf capacitor. Figure 6(b) is the same line with a 200 pf capacitor. Figure 6(c ) is a 200 pf capacitor with a much longer (30 ns) line. Note the oscillations before the voltage at the receiver stabilizes. Red Line: Black Line: Voltage at the receiver. Voltage across the capacitor. 7

8 (a) (b) Figure 7 Same simulation as Figure 5(a) and 6(a) but with an 85% duty cycle. 8

9 Admittedly this 30 ns line length might be an extreme example from a PCB standpoint. But it may not be extreme if we are talking about transmission lines that connect two pieces of equipment separated by some distance. Duty cycle: If we have a uniform bit-stream (50% duty cycle) traveling down a trace, the capacitor will charge to the average value between a logical zero and a logical one (Figure 6(a)). If the duty cycle changes, that voltage level will adjust to a new average value. One question is how fast that adjustment takes place. Another question is whether the change in duty cycle has an effect on the waveforms. Figure 6(a) shows a 50% duty cycle. Figure 7(a) shows the same simulation with an 85% duty cycle. The voltage across the capacitor rises to a higher level, but the waveforms themselves (Figure 7(b)) are still clean and undistorted. Conclusion: AC termination can be effective if the capacitor is large enough. But if the capacitor is too large, the benefits (of blocking the DC component of the signal) may be reduced. Long lines may introduce unexpected oscillations when the average DC voltage component of the signal changes. Series Termination: Series termination is becoming more and more common in today s high-speed designs. It has the two desirable attributes of a single component and no DC current draw at all. But the series termination resistor is placed at the front of the trace, not the end; the end is left open-circuited. Therefore, there is a 100% positive reflection from the far end of the trace that reflects back towards the front. The value for the series termination resistor is set so that the SUM of it and the output impedance of the driver totals to the impedance of the trace. That way, there is no secondary reflection from the driver. The voltage pattern we expect to see is a single, positive reflection from the far end of the trace which travels to the front of the trace and is completely absorbed in the source resistor and driver. That means that we have to know the output impedance of the driver. That isn t too serious a problem, since the output impedance should be specified by the manufacturer. But an additional complication is that the output impedance is often different depending on the output state. Figure 8(c ) illustrates a Signal Vision series termination simulation. The tech-als IBIS model supplied with Signal Vision has a logical high output impedance of approximately 19 Ohms and a logical low output impedance of about 5 Ohms. Simulation results (a) and (b) are for termination resistor values of 31 Ohms and 45 Ohms, respectively. Note how the rising waveform in (a) and the falling waveform in (b) appear to be terminated correctly. But both the rising and falling edges cannot be terminated correctly at the same time! Diode Termination: This termination strategy is really just a reflection limiting strategy. No attempt is made to absorb reflections or to prevent them. The intent is to let them occur and simply limit them to (a) one diode drop above Vcc and (b) one diode drop below Gnd. This approach is not very common. UltraCAD has never designed a board with diode terminations! 9

10 (a) (b) (c) Figure 8 Series termination model and simulation Summary: Termination strategies can be effective in eliminating, or at least minimizing, transmission line reflections. But no individual strategy is perfect. Each one has a tradeoff of some type. Fortunately, perhaps, for PCB designers, the selection of a termination strategy is not the responsibility of the board designer. It is the responsibility of the circuit design engineer. But board designers need to know what various termination strategies look like and have some feeling for how the are supposed to work. And they do have the responsibility of raising the question to their engineers if it appears that a termination strategy might have been overlooked or improperly implemented during the circuit design process. Footnotes: 1 Basic Transmission Lines, Why Use Em At All? and Propagation Times and Critical Length; How They Interrelate, both available from Mentor s web site at 2 For a good discussion of trace terminating techniques see Ethirajan and Nemec, Termination Techniques for High Speed Buses, EDN, 2/16/98, p

11 About the author: Douglas Brooks has a B.S and an M.S in Electrical Engineering from Stanford University and a PhD from the University of Washington. During his career he has held positions in engineering, marketing, and general management with such companies as Hughes Aircraft, Texas Instruments and ELDEC. Brooks has owned his own manufacturing company, and he formed UltraCAD Design Inc. in UltraCAD is a service bureau in Bellevue, WA, that specializes in large, complex, high density, high-speed designs, primarily in the video and data processing industries. Brooks has written numerous articles through the years, including articles and a column for Printed Circuit Design magazine, and has been a frequent seminar leader at PCB Design Conferences. His primary objective in his speaking and writing has been to make complex issues easily understandable to those individuals without a technical background. You can visit his web page at and him at 11

12 APPENDIX UltraCAD s Transmission Line Simulator This simulator can be downloaded from (108K). Unzip the file to obtain tlinesim.exe and execute the file. The program shown above will start. The main screen represents a transmission line. The pattern represents the signal at every point along the line in real time. The screen at the upper right represents the instantaneous signal level at the very beginning of the trace, and the screen at the lower right represents the same thing at the far end of the trace. In this way, you can visualize what is happening at every point along the line. The Input Waveform selection enables you to select a single step-function change in voltage, a single pulse, or a repetitive square wave (much like a clock signal) as the driving signal. The three text boxes allow to specify the characteristic impedance of the transmission line, and the resistive loading at each end. Having set these, the right arrow then starts the selected waveform down the trace. The waveform will reflect back and forth for at least 5 cycles, illustrating what happens to the waveform under various termination conditions. The speed at which the waveform travels is controlled by the speed selector slider. The other two selection buttons allow you to pause or reset the simulation. 12

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