Computing stuff tied to the physical world

What’s a measly 2 cm?

In Hardware on Mar 12, 2013 at 00:01

As promised, one last post about decoupling capacitors. Unlike yesterday, this one is about that 0.1 µF ceramic capacitor again – the kind which gets used all over the place in through-hole designs such as the JeeNode:

Screen Shot 2013-03-10 at 19.49.17

Let’s compare the 200 kHz .. 20 MHz sweep signal absorption when connected far away from the cap (white), i.e. with long leads, vs. connected right next to the cap (yellow):


Whoa! – a substantial effect at higher frequencies if we include the long leads!

If you try to think about this in a simple “DC electricity” way, then 2 cm of extra wire is nothing: let’s for the argument’s sake assume that electricity travels at the speed of light. Then 30 cm = 1 ns, i.e. 2 cm is less than 70 picoseconds. A 16 MHz frequency has a 62.5 ns period, i.e. 19 meter wavelength, which completely dwarfs those measly 2 cm wires.

But propagation is not what’s messing things up here, not with those “low-end” 16 MHz ATmega’s I’m experimenting with anyway. The effect shown above comes from any wire adding some parasitic impedance (and capacitance) to the circuit. Plus some transmission line effects, probably. As you can see, those little extra 2 cm cause a noticeable degradation of the 0.1 µF cap’s decoupling capability.

This also applies to traces on a PCB, by the way. The guideline to add de-coupling caps as close as possible to the source of the switching disturbances is a serious matter!

With thanks to Martyn, for helping me understand the issues presented in these posts.

PS. Part of the impedance increase in all the screen shots made in the last few posts has been identified as a bad cable from my signal generator to the test setup. Doh! – with a much better cable (90% coax with clips at the end), the extra rise towards 20 MHz is gone. Still, this does not significantly affect the general shape or outcome of these experiments.