Re: [SI-LIST] : ESR and bypass caps

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From: Larry Smith ([email protected])
Date: Fri Feb 04 2000 - 11:06:37 PST

Doug - Please allow me to address your comments below.

> X-Sender: [email protected]
> Date: Thu, 03 Feb 2000 15:38:06 -0800
> 1. As ESR goes down, the troughs get deeper and the peaks get higher!

Very true!

> 2. The minimum impedance value is NOT NECESSARILY ESR (or ESR/n); it can
> and is lower than that!

I am not sure I understand this one. If we have a series RLC circuit,
the minimum impedance will be when the positive and negative reactance
(jwL and -1/jwC) cancel each other and you are left with R. I don't
see how the minimum impedance can be any less than that. Are you
considering a more complex circuit?

> 3. The minimum impedance points are not necessarily at the capacitor
> self-resonant points.

With typical RLC values found in the industry today, we have always
found the minimums to be at frequency 1/(2pi*sqrt(LC)), both in the
lab and in simulation. Again, we have assumed a simple series RLC
model for the capacitor. This model checks out very well with all of our
lab measurements.

> 4. For a given number of capacitors, better results can be obtained from
> more capacitor values, with moderate ESRs, spread over a range than with a
> smaller set of capacitor VALUES, with very low ESRs, even at well chosen
> specific self resonant frequencies.

I mostly agree with this. We (Ray and I) took a quick look at your
article. We would like to see you narrow in on inductance and ESR
values that are typical in the industry today for surface mount
chip size capacitors mounted on pcb's with vias down to power planes.

A few years ago, it was common to find capacitor mounting pads that had
5 nH of inductance. With careful design and manufacturing techniques,
it is possible (and easy) to make mounting pads below 1 nH. Just this
week in the lab, we measured the inductance of 0603 size capacitors
mounted on pads appropriate for IR reflow soldering and connected to
power planes that were on layers 2 and 3 below the surface. The total
inductance for the capacitor, pads and power plane spreading inductance
is between 0.8 and 0.9 nH. If the capacitor is mounted on the other
side of the pcb so that the via current loop is larger, the inductance
is 1.4 nH. This information is crucial if you want to target a
particular frequency for a low ESR capacitor. One nH of inductance
should be the industry bench mark for mounted decoupling capacitors.

Let me make this statement in bold letters: YOU MUST HAVE LOW INDUCTANCE
Low ESR capacitors with high inductance pads are dangerous. They
produce the strong anti-resonances (high impedance peaks) that you have
shown in your article. Products will experience SI and/or EMI
problems if you use low ESR capacitors on highly inductive pads.

We have spent a great deal of time characterizing the ESR of Y5V, X7R,
and NPO dielectric capacitors, please see Tanmoy's work published at:
Capacitors that resonate (low impedance) above 100 MHz on 1 nH pads
typically have ESR between 100 and 500 mOhms. Some vendors are
definitely lower than others. ESR is a very important specification
for ceramic capacitors that is basically uncontrolled by our industry.
You can obtain low ESR capacitors but you pay big bucks for them. When
the price of Palladium goes up, so does the ESR. We are typically
trying to hit target impedances near 10mOhms, so it takes 10 good
capacitors in parallel to achieve the desired impedance at the desired
frequency. It takes 50 of the bad ones!

> In order to verify the theory, we had to write a program that could, for
> any arbitrary set of capacitor (and inductance and ESR) values, find the
> minimum and maximum frequencies and impedance values. We have done that.
> The calculator is available for license.
> The article can be obtained from our web site:

We completely agree that you need software tools to help you choose the
menu of capacitors to use on products that require low impedance power
distribution. The 'shotgun approach' and sprinkling in of typical
decoupling capacitor values does not cut it when you have dangerous
high impedance resonances running around from low ESR capacitors mounted
on inductive pads. Careful selection of capacitor values is required.
For capacitors that resonate at frequencies near the pcb resonances
(100MHz to 1GHz), position on the pcb is critical. Software tools
involving distributed power plane analysis are required to optimize

Here at Sun we have been using homegrown software tools to do just
this for several years. We have good model to hardware correlation at
the system level. We have produced many successful products using
these techniques and have diagnosed and corrected problems in current
products (this week's fire drill...).

We feel very strongly that low ESR capacitors (100mOhms or less) are
required in our industry at reasonable prices. This is one of our
motivations for publishing our results and methodology. This week at
Design Con, Sun Microsystems and Cadence Design systems announced a
joint development relationship to provide for analysis of power
delivery issues. See announcement at:
You can read all the high level language but in plain engineering
speak, the Sun homegrown tools are becoming available to the
industry under the Cadence SpecctraQuest environment. (Yes, this
is an unabashed product endorsement.) Our capacitor ESR data
base is included. We hope that this will develop a market for controlled
ESR capacitors and initiate competition among the capacitor vendors
for providing the best ESR capacitors for decoupling purposes.

Larry Smith
Sun Microsystems

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