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Via Stub Termination -Brought to You by “The Stubinator”

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Thick backplanes with long via stubs will cause unwanted resonances in the channel insertion loss compared to vias with little or no stub length as shown by the red and green traces in the plot of Figure 1. If these resonances occur at or near the Nyquist frequency of the bit rate, there will be little or no eye-opening left at the receiver.


Figure 1 Topology circuit model of 2 differential vias with 30 inches of PCB etch. Insertion loss plot of Long via-no stub (green); short via-long stub (red); stub terminated (blue).  Received eye diagrams after optimized FFE receive equalization at 10GB/s. Modeled and simulated using Agilent ADS.

In a typical backplane application, the signal entering the via structure from the top will travel along the through portion until it reaches the junction of the internal track and stub. At that point, the signal splits with some of the signal continuing along the trace, and the rest continuing along the stub. If the signal was Arnold Schwarzenegger, he would say, “I’ll be back!”. Having done this gig before, he knows that when he reaches the end of the stub it’s like hitting a brick wall; there’s no where to go but back up the stub. Like Arnold, when the signal reaches the end of the stub, it reflects back up the stub. When it arrives at the same junction, a portion combines with the original signal and the rest continues back toward the source. If the round trip delay is half a cycle, the two waves are completely 180 degrees out of phase and there is cancellation of the original signal. The frequency where maximum cancellation occurs is called the ¼ wave resonant frequency, fo. Resonance nulls due to stubs in an insertion loss plot, like the one shown in Figure 1, occurs at the fundamental frequency fo and at every odd harmonic.

If you know the length of the stub (in inches) and the effective dielectric constant Dkeff, the resonant frequency can be predicted with the following formula:





It is common practice to reduce stub lengths in high-speed backplane designs by back-drilling the stubs as close as possible to the active internal signal layer. This is a complex and costly process involving setting individual drill depths on a per board basis. Special design features must be designed into the artwork to set correct back-drill depth. Furthermore, it is difficult to verify ALL back-drilled holes were drilled correctly. I know of a case where a backplane came back and one via (that they knew of) had a significantly longer stub than was specified. The problem showed up by accident when they were characterizing the channel using a VNA and saw an unexpected resonant null in the SDD21 insertion loss plot. When all was said and done, it turned out there was a glitch in the fabricator’s software controlling the back-drilling process. There is no practical way to find these faults; short of doing VNA measurements on 100% of the back-drilled holes. With hundreds of them in a typical high-speed backplane, the cost would be prohibitive. Thus we have to trust the fabrication process of the vendor(s).

If only there was a way to terminate the stub and get rid of all this back-drilling. Well there just might be a solution. After returning from last year’s DesignCon2010, I was intrigued by a paper presented by Dr. Nicholas Biunno on a new matched terminated stub technology  developed by Sanmina-SCI Corporation. They call this technology MTSviaTM and it allows the embedding of metal thin-film or polymer thick film resistors within a PCB stack-up during its fabrication. I like to call it “The Stubinator”. They developed this technology as an alternative to back-drilling. The beauty of this is you can terminate all the high-speed via stubs on just one resistive layer at the bottom of the PCB.

Of course, for this to work, we need to terminate the vias with a resistance equal to the differential via impedance to be most effective. But how do we determine the via differential impedance without going through a bunch of trial and error builds?  In a DesignCon2009 paper titled, “Practical Analysis of Backplane Vias” I coauthored with Eric Bogatin from Bogatin Enterprises L.L.C., Sanjeev Gupta and Mike Resso from Agilent Technologies, we showed how you can model and simulate differential vias as simple twin-rod transmission line structures using simple transmission line circuit models as shown in Figure 1. You can download a copy of this award-winning paper from my web site at: .

After determining  fo (either by measurement of a real structure or through 3D modeling) and solving for Dkeff by rearranging equation (1), the differential via impedance calculated using the following equation:







s = the center to center spacing of the vias

D = Drill diameter.


The differential vias used in the model of Figure 1 has the following parameters:

s = 0.059 in.

D = 0.028 in.

stub_length = 0.269 in.

Dkeff = 6.14 by Equation (1) and fo=4.4GHz ;

Zdiff = 66 Ohms by Equation (2).

By adding a 66 Ohm resistor across the bottom of each via stub in the model, the blue trace in the plot shows the stub resonance has completely disappeared at the expense of an additional flat loss of about -10dB. The eye has opened up nicely.

This “Stubinator” technology looks like it could be a promising alternative to back-drilling. It resolves many of the issues and limitations highlighted above. Combined with silicon that can accommodate the additional signal loading, it may extend the life of traditional copper interconnections for next generation of Ethernet standards beyond 10GB/s.

Written by Bert Simonovich

January 27, 2011 at 11:39 pm

Fiber Weave Effect Timing Skew

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imageFiber weave effect timing skew is becoming more of an issue as bit rates continue to soar upwards. For signaling rates of 5GB/s and beyond, it can actually ruin your day. For example, the figure on the left shows a 5GB/s received eye is totally closed due to 12.7 inches of fiber weave effect. It was modeled and simulated using Agilent ADS software.

So what is fiber weave effect anyways and why should we be concerned about it? Well, it’s the term commonly used when we want to describe the situation where a fiberglass reinforced dielectric substrate causes timing skew between two or more transmission lines of the same length. Since the dielectric material used in the PCB fabrication process is made up of fiberglass yarns woven into cloth and impregnated with epoxy resin, it becomes non-homogeneous.

imageThe speed at which a signal propagates along a transmission line depends on the surrounding material’s relative permittivity (er), or dielectric constant (Dk). The higher the Dk, the slower the signal propagates along the transmission line. When one trace happens to line up over a bundle of glass yarns for a portion of its length, as illustrated by the top trace in the figure on the left, the propagation delay is different compared to another trace of the same length which lines up over mostly resin. This is known as timing or phase skew and is due to the delta Dk surrounding the respective traces.

Fiber weave effect is a statistical problem. It is not uncommon for PCB designs to have long parallel lengths of track routing without any bends or jogs. This is particularly true in large passive backplane designs. Because the fiber weave pattern tends to run parallel to the x-y axis, any traces running the same way will eventually encounter a situation of worst case timing skew if you build enough boards. This was demonstrated by Intel after compiling more than 58,000 TDR and TDT measurements over two years. In 2007, Jeff Loyer et al presented a DesignCon paper “Fiber Weave Effect: Practical Impact Analysis and Mitigation Strategies” where they published the data and proposed techniques to mitigate the effect of fiber weave skew. They showed statistically it is possible to have a worst case timing skew of approximately 16ps per inch representing a delta Dk of approximately 0.8.

In high speed differential signalling this is an issue because any timing skew between the positive (D+) and negative (D-) data converts some of the differential signal into a common signal component. Ultimately this results in eye closure at the receiver and contributes to EMI radiation.

You can calculate the timing skew using the following equation:



tskew = total timing skew due to fiber weave effect length (sec)

Dkmax= dielectric constant of material predominated by fiberglass.

Dkmin= dielectric constant of material predominated by resin.

c = speed of light = 2.998E+8 m/s (1.18E+10 in/s)

imageA practical methodology you can use to estimate the minimum and maximum values of Dk is by studying the material properties available from PCB laminate suppliers. Consider two extreme styles of fiberglass cloths used in modern PCB laminate construction as illustrated by the figure on the left. The loose weave pattern of 106 has the highest resin content of all the most popular weaves, while the tight weave pattern of 7628 has the lowest. Therefore, you could use the specified values of Dk for cloth styles 106 and 7628 to get Dkmin and Dkmax respectively. Once you have these and apply a tolerance, you can estimate the tskew .


Assume Fr4 material; one inch of fiber weave effect; Dk106= 3.34(+/-0.05) and Dk7628= 3.97(+/-0.05), then timing skew is calculated as follows:


Modern serial link interfaces use differential signalling on a pair of transmission lines of equal length for interconnect between two points. In a DesignCon 2007 paper, “Losses Induced by Asymmetry in Differential Transmission Lines” by Gustavo Blando et al, they showed how intra-pair timing skew between the positive (D+) and negative (D-) data caused an increase in the differential insertion loss profile due to timing induced resonances. These resonances appear as dips in the differential insertion loss profiles of the channel as shown in the following figure:


This figure presents the results from an ADS simulation I did recently of a PCIe Gen2 channel running at 5GT/s. The eye diagrams are at the receiver after approximately 30” of track length chip to chip. The channel model was parameterized to allow for adjusting the fiber weave effect length as required.

As you can see, when the length of the fiber weave effect induced skew increases from 0 to 12.7 inches, the fundamental frequency nulls in the differential insertion loss plots decrease. These nulls occur at the fundamental frequency (fo) and every odd harmonic.

Also, the eye shows some degradation at 5.6 inches of fiber weave effect and starts to distort significantly after 7.8 inches. At 12.7 inches, fo equals the Nyquist frequency of the data rate (in this case 2.5GHz) and the eye is totally closed.

You can predict the resonant frequency ahead of time and use it to gain some intuition before you simulate and validate the results. If you know the total intra-pair timing skew, fo is calculated using the following equation:



fo = resonant frequency

tskew = total intra-pair timing skew


Using tskew = 16 ps/in we calculated above and using 12.7 inches from the last simulation results in the figure above, the fundamental resonant frequency null is:


You can find more details of this phenomena plus a novel way to model and simulate it from a recent  White Paper I published titled, “Practical Fiber Weave Effect Modeling”. It, along with other papers, is found on my website at

Written by Bert Simonovich

January 8, 2011 at 3:03 pm

PCB Laminate Construction

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Present day FR4-style laminates used for PCB fabrication rely on woven glass fiber yarns to maintain the structural integrity of the finished product. These yarns are made up of electronic or E-Glass material. Because it is the same glass used in everything from Corvette bodies to boat hulls, it is a very inexpensive reinforcement material. NE-Glass has improved electrical and mechanical performance over E-Glass. It is used for higher performance laminate products such as Park Nelco 4000-13SI.

imageThe table on the left shows five of the most common fiberglass styles used for laminate construction today. When glass fiber yarns are woven into fabric, the “Warp” yarns run the length of the roll, while the “Fill or Weft” yarns run the width. Yarn count refers to the number of warp threads per inch by the number of fill threads per inch.

Prepreg is the term we commonly use for a weave of glass fiber yarns pre-impregnated with resin which is only partially cured. The glass to resin thickness ratio defines the overall thickness of a prepreg mat. You can see from the table above, the typical resin content is a function of the thread count and yarn diameter. imageFor example, the figure on the far left illustrates styles like 106 and 1080 having smaller diameter yarns and  higher resin content. The right hand figure is indicative of yarns with larger diameter and lower resin content like style like 2116 or 7628.

When copper foil is attached to one or both sides of fully cured prepreg mats, the finished laminated panel is called a core. Both cores and prepreg mats are available in various panel sizes and thicknesses.

There are several different kinds of resin systems in use today to form prepreg and cores. The general specification FR4 is the most common. It refers to a specific fire-retardant level rather than specific resin chemistry. Since you have a choice of many laminates that meets the FR4 fire specification, there is no such thing as “standard FR4”. That being said, most of us consider “standard FR4” to mean a laminate having a typical dielectric constant (Dk) of about 4.3 and dissipation factor (Df) of 0.020 – 0.025 at 1MHZ and 50% resin content.

Each family of resin systems have their unique electrical and mechanical characteristics depending on the fiberglass style and resin chemistry. For example, Nelco 4000-6 at 50% resin content has a typical Dk of 4.0 and Df of 0.023 at 2.5GHz. A higher performance resin system like Nelco N4000-13 on the other hand, has a Dk of 3.7 and Df of 0.009 for the same resin content and frequency.  This tells us two things:

  1. A lower Dk means we can ultimately achieve an overall thinner board for the same characteristic impedance.
  2. A lower DF means less high frequency attenuation allowing us to run at a higher bit rate or have longer traces.

When designing your board stack-up, it is best to refer the manufactures data sheet for exact values. The Park Electrochemical Corp. (Nelco) website is an excellent resource to explore when trying to decide on the best dielectric material to use for your next high-speed design.

Written by Bert Simonovich

December 14, 2010 at 9:13 pm

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