RE: [SI-LIST] : Thin Power Plane Dielectrics

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From: Larry Smith ([email protected])
Date: Thu Oct 21 1999 - 10:37:57 PDT

> From: "Ingraham, Andrew" <[email protected]>
> An interesting question is what happens if you have a power/ground sandwich
> around a high-Er material and another around a low-Er material, with the two
> sets of planes stitched together regularly, which is what I think Tom
> Woodward was asking. Can that let your noise source get access to more
> "points" on the high-Er sandwich?
> Andy

Andy - You bring up an interesting question that I considered some time
ago. Suppose we have the stackup below with two parallel power planes
referenced to a center ground plane. The relative permitivity of one
dielectric is 4 and the other is 16:

        ======================== Vdd plane ======================
                eR=4 Vel = 0.5 * light

        ======================== Gnd plane ======================
                eR=16 Vel = 0.25 * light
        ======================== Vdd plane ======================
If we started a plane wave on the edge of the PCB by stimulating each
Vdd plane wrt the Gnd plane, a disturbance would propagate on the top
layer wrt Gnd at half the speed of light (velocity is proportional to
1/sqrt(eR) ) and at 1/4 the speed of light on the bottom plane. At the
frequencies that we are concerned about in signal integrity, skin
effect will keep the current on the top surface of the ground plane
away from the bottom surface of the ground plane, and the top and
bottom disturbances just move down the PCB without interfering with
each other, one twice as fast as the other. The velocity is 1/sqrt(LC)
where L is the inductance per inch and C is the capacitance per inch
(easily calculated). If the dielectric thicknesses are the same, the
capacitance of the bottom plane is 4x the capacitance of the top

Now suppose we stitch vias from the top Vdd plane to the bottom Vdd
plane at regular intervals along the way. Neglecting the inductance of
the vias, the top and bottom plane must be at the same potential wrt
the Gnd plane. The wavefront on the top and bottom plane must now move
at the same velocity, or at least re-adjust themselves at every via
along the way.

A good way to look at the stitched-together power planes is capacitors
in parallel and inductors in parallel. It turns out that the
inductance per inch of the connected power planes is half of the two
independent power planes. The capacitance per inch is C + 4C = 5C,
where C is the capacitance per inch of the top power plane and L is the
inductance per inch of either power plane. So the velocity of the
combined planes is 1/sqrt(0.5L*5C) = 1/sqrt(LC) * 1/sqrt(2.5). It ends
up being 0.316 times the speed of light, which is somewhere between the
velocity of each individual dielectric.

In a real PCB, an ASIC or uP that draws power from the power plane is
likely to located in the center of the board. In this case, a radial
disturbance will emanate out from the noise source at a velocity that
is consistent with the combined dielectrics.

Hans Mellberg brought up the possibility of these same power planes
providing return current for signal traces. This is certainly possible
and commonly done. If there are signal traces adjacent to the Vdd
planes (top and bottom in the above stackup), signals on those traces
propagate at the velocity of light reduced by 1/sqrt(eR) where eR is
the relative permitivity of whatever dielectric is between the trace
and the Vdd plane. Once again, with copper power planes of normal
thickness (1 or 1/2 oz copper), skin effect prevents any coupling
between power plane currents and signal return currents at the
frequencies that we are concerned about in signal integrity (greater
than 10 MHz).

Larry Smith
Sun Microsystems

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