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Understanding Signal Integrity in PCBs

Posted:10:27 AM October 28, 2022 writer: NextPCB

What Is Signal Integrity?

If not addressed appropriately, the strange signal integrity challenges with high-speed systems might cause designers a headache. Engineers are always focusing to consider a few top PCB design services to reduce signal integrity problems in the early design cycle and avoid costly design iterations.

signal integrity (SI) explains Signal propagation without distortion. Furthermore travelling of the signals over the transmission line explains the Signal Integrity. There, the amount of deterioration as a result of the signal's journey from the source to the receiver is measured. This issue is less of a problem at lower frequencies. Still, it is something to consider when a PCB works at a more incredible speed, and a high-frequency (> 50MHz) and both the digital and analogue parts of the signal must be considered in the high-frequency domain.

signal integrity

Where do Signal Integrity Issues Come From?

There will be varying levels of distortions with receiving information other than the initially sent information. The main reason behind it is the signals move from the source to the receiver. Impedance mismatch, reflections, ringing, crosstalk, jitter, and ground bounce are a few sources of this signal distortion. Such circumstances cause a circuit to become unstable, unreliable, and occasionally dysfunctional. The prime objective of a designer should be to reduce these elements as much as possible. So that the original signal may reach its destination with the least amount of distortion. Maintaining quality and limiting its unfavorable impacts on electrical circuits also require special attention.

Factors that Contribute to Signal Integrity Issues in PCBs

Transmission line effects, impedance mismatch, high-speed switching characteristics, board material loss, and crosstalk are the most significant factors that influence the effectiveness of transmission in a PCB.

  1. Transmission line effects

Transmission lines are conductive channels or links that may transport a signal between a transmitter and a receiver. Even the smallest passive printed circuit board (PCB) tracks are subject to transmission line effects during high-speed digital signal transmission. A transmission line's impedance is only resistive at low frequencies. Consequently, the following represents the transmission line's characteristic impedance at low frequencies.

Transmission line effects

There, the Z represents the impedance of the line, which is the combination of ohmic resistance and reactance. Hence, this impedance measuring unit is ohms.

The inclusion of capacitive and inductive reactance causes the AC circuit characteristics to emerge at high frequencies in the transmission line. The complex component of the impedance is reactance. Accordingly, the following equations represent the transmission line impedances at higher frequencies:

Transmission line effects

Here, the inductive reactance, denoted by the symbol and capacitive reactance, represented by. Are, directly and indirectly, proportional to frequency, respectively.

        2. Impedance mismatching effect

The impedance matching circumstance is equivalent to the transmission line effects. The load impedance of the output port must match the characteristic impedance or the internal impedance of the circuit to maximize signal coupling between the two ports. However, not all signal power will be subject to coupling when there is a mismatch between these impedances; instead, some signals will reflect into the transmission line. This results in a standing wave in the transmission line, which generates ringing, overshoot, undershoot, and stair-step waveforms. These factors significantly impact signal integrity.

Impedance mismatching effect

        3. Board material effects

The PCB selection of materials impacts the transmission of signals. Attenuation causes signal losses to happen. The dielectric material is a crucial component of PCB. The molecules in the dielectric medium are stimulated at high frequencies. Some of the signal energy is absorbed by exciting molecules, which results in signal loss. This scenario is known as dielectric absorption. By carefully choosing the PCB's dielectric material, this may be decreased.

The skin effect is an additional problem with signal transmission over conducting wires. The signal power often only travels on the conductor's surface at very high frequencies. The result is a reduction in the effective conductive area. Signal attenuation results from any surface imperfections on the conductor. Thus, Inductive reactance increases due to self-inductance caused by signals moving over the conductor's surface.  widening the conducting surface will reduce the skin effect.

        4. Effects of crosstalk

Mutual inductance and mutual capacitance cause crosstalk in a PCB. A magnetic field forms around a transmission wire, conveying a signal power. The signal energy is coupled when parallel lines are employed in a PCB close to one another due to magnetic coupling between the two lines. Mutual inductance occurs when a magnetic field in one line links to another line adjacent to it, and the inductance changes as the original line's current changes. The coupling of the electrical fields among the adjacent lines causes the mutual capacitance, which is proportional to the rate of change in voltage at the signal driver end. Plus, crosstalk lowers the quality as well.

         5. Effect of high-frequency switching

High-speed simultaneous switching may influence the signal's integrity. The charges built up in the load capacitors are linked to the device when a large number of outputs on a PCB go from logic high to low. As a result, the load capacitors discharge, causing a sizeable transient current to flow into the device. Due to the coupling of this current to the ground, a low-voltage signal is established between the device board and the ground. This is referred to as a "ground bounce." The output terminals will get incorrect data due to this ground bounce (consistently high).

How to Solve the Signal Integrity Problem

Here we have to be concerned about the factor or the sources that cause the generation of signal integrity. The remedies for this cause are as follows.

  • Maintaining the transmission line's characteristic impedance constant over its whole length is the designer's optimal alternative for avoiding transmission line impacts. In the case of any discontinuities, such as an open or closed circuit, the signal tends to lose in the form of radiation or reflection. Line thickness, the board's dielectric constant, and the separation between the line and the ground plane are the variables affecting the resistance and reactance of the transmission lines in PCBs. Therefore, the designer must maintain the same impedance over the whole length of the transmission line while experimenting with any of those factors.
  • Careful material selection and termination strategies can solve impedance mismatching issues. To determine the termination technique that has to use, we have to consider on the application and the requirements. It is possible to employ a low pass filter to filter out low-frequency noise and let high-frequency signals through, such as a simple parallel resistor connected in series with the ground (simple parallel termination) or a more complicated RC termination. Stub matching is a method that helps to match the impedances correctly.

solve the signal integrity

  • Reversing attenuation loss can also be accomplished using pre-emphasis and receiver equalization methods. High-frequency signal components are amplified and sent during pre-emphasis to tolerate signal attenuation, while low-frequency signals are particularly attenuated at the receiver end during receiver equalization to account for line losses.


A PCB's signal integrity affects its dependability. The demand for low power consumption and small device sizes are two of the most crucial specifications in today's PCB designs. As this essay has highlighted, planning signal integrity during the early phases of planning will be far more effective than planning its later physical design.

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