RE: [SI-LIST] : Why CML for high-speed interfaces?

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From: Zabinski, Patrick J. ([email protected])
Date: Fri Aug 18 2000 - 04:49:57 PDT


I'll take a stab at this, but first, when you say "PECL", I'm
assuming differential, not single-ended.

I might be taking the subtleties too far, but I consider
CML to be 'truly differential' where PECL is 'complementary'.
If you look at a CML driver, the two open collector transistors
are tied to a common, constant current source. As a result,
the total current being sourced by these two transistors is
a constant DC level. If one transistor sources more current, the
other transistor is forced to source less. In this manner, the
two outputs are forced to complement one another.

In PECL, the two drive transistors are controlled separately,
so their total current is not always a constant level, particularly
during bit transitions. As such, you can have situations where
both signals are high, or both are low, or the track states
okay but their swings and/or transitions do not match.

This difference in what I like to term "differential vs complementary"
is subtle for good PECL designs with very good matching between
the + and - signals, but in reality, PECL drivers will
produce some dI/dt noise due to imbalances between the signals
(much more than CML, but much less than single ended full-swing).

Also, because the + and - signals of CML are tied-at-the-hip
(okay, at the emitter), the action of one transistor helps
the other to react, so the end result is that you'll have
equal fall and rise times even if the transistors
and loads are not equal (not generally the case in PECL),
and the edge rates will be faster due to the push-pull
reaction between them.

CML and PECL are both power hungry (compared to several
other interfaces), but CML is generally less. PECL drivers
consume approximately 1.4V^2 / 50 = 39 mW per side (1.4V = average
of 0.8 and 1.8 V drop of Vhi and Vlo). In CML, you must
look at the constant current source (generally 3 to 4
mA) times the supply voltage (3.3V), which equates to
~10 mW per both sides.

On the receiver end, the designs in practice are generally
about equal in performance. I think the real difference
is in the driver.

One additional subtlety: you mentioned "PECL" vs "ECL". In
PECL, the return currents go through the positive VCC supply
and the termination VTT supply, not the ground VEE supply.
In most designs I've seen (and you'll see it a lot in this
reflector) Ground is considered King amongst all other concerns
while VCC and VTT are considered less important. If you're
trying to push and optimize a PECL-based design, GND should be
considered second-fiddle to VCC and VTT. This is difficult
for some to understand and believe, so most often PECL is
misused. On the other hand, CML's return current is through
GND, which makes it more suitable to the casual user. CML
also only relies on one return supply (GND), not two like
PECL (VCC and VTT), makes board stackup easier. Note, "ECL"
is a bit better than "PECL" in that at least one of its
return paths is GND.


> I have noticed that many new high-speed interfaces are using
> current-mode logic (CML).
> Are there any particular advantages for high-speed signaling
> with CML as
> compared to, say, PECL? Driver design? receiver noise
> immunity? Lower
> power dissipation? Etc.
> -Eric

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