[hsdd] High-Speed Digital Design Newsletter - [better format] Reason for Ground Splits

  • From: "Dr. Howard Johnson" <howie03@xxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <hsdd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 27 Mar 2006 08:55:51 -0800



HIGH-SPEED DIGITAL DESIGN     -  online newsletter  -
Vol. 9  Issue 04

  Does your PCB power plane look like a map of the
  Balkans? Power is becoming an increasing problem,
  especially given the proliferation of different
  power supply voltages.
  To help me better understand how power systems
  function, I have recently undertaken some
  measurements on working FPGA designs, and would like
  to share with you the results of that work.
  Please join my web-based seminar hosted by me, Dr.
  Howard Johnson, along with Mark Alexander from
  Xilinx, and Michael Brenneman from Ansoft.
  I will lead a discussion encompassing the structure
  and purpose of a pcb power system, power system
  measurement and simulation techniques, and analysis
  of the results.
  Register for this event at:


Elya  Joffe writes with a question about grounding:

  I am in the midst of writing a book on Grounding.
  The book is entitled "The Grounds for Grounding" and
  it will be published by IEEE Press and Wiley.
   One of the central chapters in this book is that
  related to grounding practices on PCBs. Of course,
  we know that there is no "real" ground on PCBs, but
  the issue of discussion is that of return and
  reference planes, chassis planes, etc.
  One of the key issues I intend to discuss there is
  the issue of ADC/DAC grounding. That is not a simple
  issue. [I thought] the consensus was that when mixed
  A and D circuits are used on the same PCB, the best
  approach for grounding practices on the PCB is to
  use one SOLID and COMMON ground plane on the PCB,
  and only make sure that the routing of the traces
  does not lead to any conflict or crosstalk between
  In your article "Multiple ADC Grounding ", I was
  surprised to see that actually you recommend to use
  common planes when LOW RESOLUTION ADCs are used, but
  to split the planes (and to stitch to chassis) when
  high-resolution devices are used.
   From many discussions I have held, I found out that
  in most cases, a common plane is used and
   How can this be settled? If splitting the planes is
  recommended, are there any common recommendations or
  "common practices" as to the grounding approach,
  like tying the D ground pin of the device to the
  DGND plane and A ground pin to the AGND, and whether
  to bridge these grounds, not bridge them, etc....
  I would appreciate your insight into this,
  particularly settling the dilemma I have regarding
  your previous article.
All the very best,


Dr. Johnson replies:

  If you are not familiar with them already, check out
  these three background articles before proceeding:
     ADC Grounding   (predecessor to the article you
     Multiple ADC Grounding   (which you already
     Common-mode Ground Currents  (presents a terrific
     visualization of the problem)
  Regarding your specific question let me suggest to
  you an application that would require separation of
  the ground plane. Suppose you receive an audio
  signal from Eric Clapton's guitar. The signal
  amplitude is 100-mV p-p. Your job is to build a 24-
  bit studio-quality A/D converter. One bit of
  quantization noise in this converter equals 5.9 nV
  (referenced to the front end). On the same card you
  have a large processor that draws 10 amps.
   When the processor starts and stops, DC current
  from the processor surges through the ground system.
  The DC resistance required to limit a current of 10
  amps to a stray voltage less than 5.9 nV would be
  0.59 nano-ohms. The common DC resistance shared
  between the processor and analog area must be less
  than this value. If you figure out how to make this
  work on one card with a shared ground plane
  (perfectly square, no cuts or jumps), please write
  to me and tell me how.
   Even with only 16 bits (considered inadequate for
  high-fidelity audio) you would need a common
  impedance coupling of less than 0.152 micro-ohms, a
  level I claim may still be unattainable.
   At 8 bits, you can get by with 39 micro-ohms. The
  end-to-end resistance of a 10x10 inch hunk of
  copper, 0.0013 in. thick, is .0005 ohms, at least in
  the right ballpark, although 10x too high. You might
  separate the input signal amplifier from the
  processor and arrange the power connections so that
  all the DC current doesn't plow straight through the
  analog area. Ground the input stage with a screw to
  the chassis right near the point where the signal
  comes in. Now your circuit is susceptible only to
  the small voltage developed across the ground plane
  between the screw and the reference terminal of your
  input amplifier. You can get this to work.
   Henry Ott's book, "Noise Reduction Techniques in
  Electronic Systems", goes into a lot of detail about
  these sorts of common-impedance coupling problems.
  It is a fast read, and it will kick-start your
  understanding of noise-coupling effects. If you do
  not have his book, get it.
   I fully appreciate the pressures of book
  publication, and hope that you are able to complete
  your project successfully.
Best Regards,
Dr. Howard Johnson


  I am on sabbatical this season, meaning that I will
  teach no more seminars in the U.S. until fall of
  2006. After that time I will resume my regular
  schedule, which is posted at: www.sigcon.com
  In the mean time, if you want to attend one of my
  classes, tell your manager my only public appearance
  during the next six months will be June 27-30 at
  Oxford University in the U.K. See if he or she will
  spring for the travel budget. The weather in June is
  delightful, and the academic environment very
  stimulating. These classes are open to all
  registrants. See www.sigcon.com .

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