RE: [SI-LIST] : Upper limit of interplane capacitance

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From: Larry Miller (
Date: Thu Jun 08 2000 - 11:23:25 PDT

Dr Howie Johnson did an article on this sometime back.

Here is an excerpt. See what you think:

Begin Excerpt


James Mears writes:

   Thank you for the interesting article on power
   plane resonance in EDN, 9/1/98.
   My interest was attracted because of the extensive
   research and theorizing that I have done together
   with Richard Ellison (recently retired from
   Raytheon/E-Systems) on this very topic. Our
   investigations began a couple of years ago with the
   necessity of bypassing an extremely power hungry
   ECL ASIC mounted on a VME-3U-sized card. At 13
   Watts and 44, 350ps ECL output pairs, a formidable
   First, we built a special 4-layer circuit board for
   our study of power planes and bypassing. Try
   science first, we reasoned, then use the results to
   aid our simulation efforts...ya, sure, ya betcha!
   The board has two equal sized power/ground plane
   sandwiches and bypassing capacitor arrays with
   equal number of components. One plane is 4 x 6
   inches the other about 5-9/16ths inches in
   diameter. Both plane sandwiches are 24 square
   inches in extent. The power/ground sandwich is a 4
   mil 1-over-1 oz. Getek core. Equal thicknesses of
   Getek prepreg were used on both sides to build the
   stackup to nominal thickness of 60 mils. One ounce
   Cu. was electroplated on the outer surfaces for the
   component mountings and to form the thru-hole
   plating. Board material was Getek because its
   characteristics are similar to Polyimid but cheaper
   to fabricate. (Remember, the project cost was on
   Both planes have 77 positions for 0805-sized bypass
   capacitors. A 200pF (design value) test capacitor
   was also built in the board as well as calibration
   load positions for a network analyzer (an open, a
   short, a 50-Ohm resistor and a sample capacitor on
   the same pattern as used on the planes).
   Capacitance of the rectangular plane is 6690pF and
   the circular plane is 6550pF. Measurements on the
   HP 8753D network analyzer to 6GHz indicated no
   resonances below about 1.25GHz. The planes look
   like very good capacitances, with reactances below
   2 Ohms. The resonances we measured appear to be
   partially the result of the connectors used (SMB)
   and their attachments. We plan to retest with SMA
   connectors soon and think this will confirm our
   suspicions plus providing evidence of the
   connector's performance, a bonus. We have also
   learned quite a bit about bypass component mounting
   and connection methods to the planes. One via per
   end is not enough!
   Our biggest difficulty in measurement is the
   extremely low impedance of the planes. We have
   found this a significant impediment to making
   measurements with anything like good resolution.
   This would take an instrument with a characteristic
   impedance of say 2 X Zo. Every piece of test
   equipment we have used for measurement has a 50-Ohm
   characteristic impedance. They are operating into
   what is, to them, a virtual short-circuit, We had
   hoped to be able to excite the planes at there
   center with a pulse of variable risetime and
   observe it as it propagated out to the edge. We,
   too, hoped to see that elusive and largely
   hypothetical reflection! The method in our madness
   in making the 2 planes in the shapes we did was to
   actually observe the propagation delay difference
   of the phantom reflections returning from the
   plane's edges. So far we have found the planes
   vault-like in their refusal to give back that
   pulse...anywhere! They are a most effective energy
   sink! The tiny outbound signals we could observe
   near the feedpoint had very (!) slow risetimes. Our
   TDR's risetime is under 25ps but it simply vanished
   within 1cm from the feedpoint. The TDR indicated a
   very good short indeed. Its risetime (yes, we could
   see a little rising signal level, but precious
   little) at the feed point was extremely slow...too
   long to measure. (We even tried a pulse-risetime
   measurement to determine the capacitance to little
   Next, we are devising a tester to jolt the planes
   with 10V to 12V sub-nanosecond pulses, sort of a
   monster TDR with characteristic Z of 1 to 10-Ohms,
   whatever we can perfect. Shades of Tesla, but more
   later on this saga...
   We have hopes of simulating the planes to correlate
   with our measurements, if we can get some measured
   data... It has proved to us that all of the
   theorizing in the world comes a cropper against
   reality in situations like this. We know that the
   actual system built using this plane sandwich
   worked beautifully. Those sub-350ps edges from 44
   pairs of differential ECL outputs were phantom reflections from the
   edges...even on the clock. (This little board
   consumed over 13 Watts and had only one IC on it)!
   We may be cowed but we are not defeated. We are
   marshalling our forces for another frontal attack
   on these fortress planes. And this time we shall
   breach their walls and lay their secrets bare! Or
   we may give the board the smoke-test...
*--------------(REPLY FROM DR. JOHNSON)--------------*
   Thanks for your interest in High-Speed Digital
   Design, and for the interesting report on your
   measurement experiences. Its always nice to hear
   from people who are making real measurements.
   When you say you are using a TDR instrument, I
   assume you mean you are doing a single-point
   measurement, where you inject a signal at point A,
   and then measure the reflections generated by the
   load at A as seen at the source end of the TDR step
   generator. At the source end, you must subtract the
   outgoing source waveform in order to compute the
   returning reflection. The precision of this
   measurement is affected by the accuracy with which
   you can subtract the outgoing source waveform. That
   accuracy forms a lower bound on the size of the
   smallest signal you will be able to observe. If the
   impedance of the planes is really low, you wont
   see anything.
   Regarding your monster-TDR, even if you achieve an
   output impedance of 1 ohm, the plane impedance will
   be still much lower than that. Your TDR will act
   like a current source (which is pretty much what
   the logic gates will do). That's also how the 50-
   ohm source works. It looks like a current source,
   and you will have the same measurement problems
   with a TDR setup (i.e.), that the power/ground
   impedance is not sufficiently different from a true
   short to ground to give you a meaningful result
   within the noise measurement limits of your TDR
   Rather than using a TDR measurement, I'd like to
   suggest that you do something more like a network
   analyzer setup (but in the time domain, not the
   frequency domain).
   Apply your fast current step (from the 50-ohm
   source) to the board, and then monitor the voltage
   across Vcc and Gnd.
   I'd put the source cable on one side of the board,
   and the pickup cable on the other side. Keep them
   on opposite sides so the direct coupling from one
   cable to the other wont corrupt your measurements.
   The ratio of voltage out to current in is the
   impedance number you seek. The advantage of this
   method is that now you can just turn up the gain on
   the pickup until you see a measurable result. The
   Fourier transform of the step response should
   correspond exactly with (1/S) times the network
   analyzer plot you got from your HP 8753D network
   Another suggestion is that you inject a short
   pulse, as opposed to a step. The step waveform will
   show you a long, R-C buildup corresponding to the
   overall capacitance of your planes, in addition to
   the small, high-frequency signals you wish to
   observe. If you use a short pulse, most of the long
   R-C buildup will disappear, leaving only the signal
   you seek.
   Let us know how this experiment turns out.
Best regards,
Dr. Howard Johnson
End of exerpt

Larry Miller

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Barry Ma []
> Sent: Thursday, June 08, 2000 11:16 AM
> To: Miller, Larry [SC7:322:EXCH]
> Cc:
> Subject: RE: [SI-LIST] : Upper limit of interplane capacitance
> On Thu, 08 June 2000, "Larry Miller" wrote:
> > I think you are right.
> > For garden-variety boards we see buried capacitance and ground planes
> start to give out (i.e., impedance starts to increase) at about 600-ish
> MHz when you measure them on a network analyzer. The measurement referred
> to is driving one point on a board, say near where the DC supplies
> connect, and measuring on another point some distance away. This is not to
> say the board does not work above this range. At somewhere in the 2 to 4
> GHz range the dielectric losses for FR-4 start to get very bad as well.
> > Somewhere in this range you have to start treating things like what they
> are-- microwave structures.
> > Larry Miller
> ------------
> Larry,
> Thanks for the input. The measurement you described is interesting.
> The usual way to measure the impedance through pwr/gnd planes is to
> directly solder a low inductance probe cable to two very closed bonding
> pads on the PCB. If two points are located separately on the PCB, some
> extra inductance might be involved. ...
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