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PDN design essentials for wideband low

Chang Fei Yee - November 06, 2014

The power distribution network (PDN) is a system that transfers low noise and stable power to the
loads (e.g., ICs) on a PCB. It also provides a low impedance return path for signals current flow. The
four major elements of a PDN include the voltage regulator module (VRM), bypass capacitors, power
plane capacitance, and interconnection inductance. Read on to discover how to design, optimize, and
characterize a PDN.

A typical PDN topology that lumps all the four major elements and other parasitics is shown in
Figure 1 [1]. Resonant frequency profile of each PDN element is illustrated in Figure 2 [1], which is
represented by Equation (1) [1], where the frequency is inversely proportional to square root of
inductance and capacitance. All these PDN elements lump together and form the PDN impedance.

Fig. 1. PDN topology

Fig. 2. Resonant frequency of PDN elements

f = resonant frequency

L = parasitic inductance

C = capacitance

When VRM supplies power to the load, the transient current at the load interacts with the PDN
impedance and generates noise ripple that flows back to the PDN. In order to minimize the noise
ripple, PDN impedance shall be kept below targeted impedance, which is governed by Equation (2)
[2]. Best practices to design PDN with low impedance are discussed in subsequent section of this

Vripplemax = maximum ripple at power rail

Imax = maximum current loaded by ICs

PDN design with low impedance

In order to design a PDN with low impedance, elements like bypass capacitors, power plane
capacitance, and interconnection inductance must be monitored closely.

With reference to Figure 2, bypass capacitors help keep the PDN impedance low at frequency range
between hundreds of kHz and hundreds of MHz. Capacitor's behavior is non-ideal, which is
represented by lumped circuit model shown in Figure 3, where the actual capacitance is in series
with parasitic inductance (ESL) and resistance (ESR) [3]. Observing impedance profile of the
capacitor in Figure 4 [2], the impedance curve can be leveled downward by decreasing the ESL and
ESR. Ceramic capacitors with material COG, X7R or X5R have very low ESR. Meanwhile, a lower
parasitic inductance can be achieved by using capacitors with smaller package dimension [2].

Fig. 3. Circuit model of bypass capacitor

Fig. 4. Relation between impedance and C, L and ESR

On the other hand, different active load ICs have different requirement for bypass capacitors. Table
that summarizes the required quantity of bypass capacitors for different power rails of Xilinx's
Spartan-6 FPGA is shown in Figure 5 [4]. For example, device LX4 with package TQG144 requires
the placement of two 4.7F and one 0.47F bypass capacitors at VCCINT rail. To maximize the effect of
noise suppression for the power rail, bulk capacitors (i.e., capacitance larger than 1F) shall be
placed closer to the VRM to filter low frequency noise, while small bypass capacitors (i.e.,
capacitance in sub-F range) shall be placed closer to the load to filter high frequency noise.

Fig. 5. Required quantity of bypass capacitors for Spartan-6 FPGA

The PDN impedance can also be minimized by increasing the power plane capacitance. Referring to
the simplified model of plane capacitance illustrated in Figure 6 and Equation (3), capacitance is
increased by enlarging the area of parallel planes between power and its reference plane,
decreasing the thickness between the parallel planes and using substrate with higher dielectric

Fig. 6. Model of plane capacitance

r = dielectric constant of substrate

o = permittivity of vacuum

w = copper width

l = copper length

d = substrate thickness
Another key step is to minimize the interconnection or loop inductance, illustrated in Figure 7 [2].
The loop inductance is mainly contributed by the parasitic inductance of the via and the trace
connecting the capacitor's mounting pad and the via. Parasitic inductance due to via is represented
by cross section image in Figure 8 and Equation (4) [5]. Meanwhile, strip inductance of the trace
between mounting pad and via is represented by Equation (5) [6]. In order to minimize the
interconnection inductance, via height shall be reduced by decreasing the substrate thickness
between the power and its reference planes. The via-in-pad shall be applied to nullify the effect of
strip inductance.

Fig. 7. Interconnection or loop inductance

Fig. 8. Structure of via

L = parasitic inductance of via

h = via height
d = via hole diameter

L = strip inductance

l = trace length

w = trace width

t = trace thickness

Simulation of PDN impedance

Simulation of PDN impedance

Once the PCB is laid out, post-layout power integrity simulation is done to compute the PDN
impedance profile using Mentor Graphic Hyperlynx. Proper configuration shall be performed in
Hyperlynx prior to the simulation for higher accuracy.

After the PCB layout is imported to Hyperlynx, complete stackup info must be keyed in.
Subsequently, simulation models of the bypass capacitors (i.e., SPICE or Touchstone) are imported
to the CAD tool. These behavioral models are available on the capacitor manufacturers' websites.

This is followed by starting the AC Decoupling simulation. The power net of interest and its
reference net (current return path) are selected for analysis. Next, lumped analysis mode is chosen
to compute the impedance profile that covers the power net throughout the entire PCB and the
bypass capacitors connected to it.

The simulated plot of PDN impedance (i.e., impedance in ohm versus frequency in Hz) is shown in
Figure 9. The impedance reaches its peak at the frequency range ~200MHz, with magnitude of 2
Fig. 9. Simulated PDN impedance

Once the simulated PDN impedance meets the targeted impedance, the prototype PCB is fabricated
and assembled with components.

Measurement of PDN impedance

The PDN impedance of the prototype PCB is characterized by performing 2-port S-parameter
measurement using vector network analyzer (VNA) E5071C from Keysight. Test setup of the 2-port
S-parameter measurement is illustrated in Figure 10. Firstly, two female SMA connectors are
mounted on the copper fill of the power net, as shown in Figure 11. Before the RF cables with the
VNA ports are plugged to the female SMA on the PCB, calibration is performed using ECal N4431B
from Keysight to compensate the loss and skew due to the RF cables.
Fig. 10. Test setup of the 2-port measurement

Fig. 11. Mounting of SMA for test probing

Measurement of the s-parameter in 2x2 matrices (i.e., S11, S12, S21 and S22) is saved in
Touchstone format. Subsequently, parameter S21 is extracted for mathematical conversion to
impedance in frequency domain, which is conducted using Advanced Design System (ADS) from

With reference to the simulated plot of PDN impedance shown in Figure 9, the magnitude of
wideband impedance is much lower than 50ohm. Therefore, Equation (6) [8] is used for the
conversion of S21 to impedance. After the conversion, the measured PDN impedance is plotted (i.e.,
impedance in ohm versus frequency in Hz), as shown in Figure 12.

Fig. 12. Measured PDN impedance

The measured impedance reaches its peaks of about 2 ohm at ~160MHz and ~320MHz respectively,
which is quite correlated with the simulated plot shown in Figure 9.

The simulated impedance differs from the measurement at low frequency range (i.e., below 20MHz),
which could be due to the behavior of the simulation models of the bypass capacitors imported for
analysis. Besides that, beyond 400MHz, the measured PDN impedance maintains an uptrend in
magnitude, due to the residual inductance of the SMA connectors mounted on the PCB and the
parasitic inductance of the via. By eliminating the discrepancy, correlation is achieved between
simulation and measurement.

This paper studied the strategies for good PDN design, and analysis of PDN impedance, in both
simulation and measurement. These procedures are essential to ensure that the electronic device
works as specified and meets the requirement of EMC/EMI standards.


[1] "Power Distribution Network Planning", by Barry Olney, In-Circuit Design Pty Ltd Australia

[2] "Basic Concepts of Power Distribution Network Design for High Speed Transmission", by
F.Carrio, V.Gonzalez and E.Sanchis

[3] AN574: Printed Circuit Board (PCB) Power Delivery Network (PDN) Design Methodology, Altera

[4] UG393: Spartan-6 FPGA PCB Design and Pin Planning Guide, Xilinx

[5] Section 5: High Speed PCB Layout Techniques, High Speed Analog Design and Application
Seminar, Texas Instruments

[6] A Practical Guide to High-Speed Printed-Circuit-Board Layout, By John Ardizzoni

[7] Application Note: Evaluating DC-DC Converters and PDN with the E5061B LF-RF Network
Analyzer, Keysight Technologies

[8] Application Note: Ultra-low Impedance Measurements Using 2-Port Measurements, Keysight

Also see:

Simple trick to measure plane impedance with a VNA

Sheet inductance of a cavity: Rule of Thumb #16
Sheet resistance of copper foil: Rule of Thumb #13