A LOW JITTER VCO AND FREQUENCY DIVIDER FOR FREQUENCY SYNTHESIZER APPLICATIONS Syed K. Islam, Hafijur Rahman & Venkatesh Srinivasan Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering, University Of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-2100 Introduction Timing information in the form of clock or oscillator signals play a critical role in most modern applications. The timing jitter or uncertainty in the timing information presents a serious limitation in the achievable system performance. For instance, timing errors can degrade the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of an A/D converter, limit the speed of a digital I/O interface or the bit error rate of a communications link. And these are just a few of the many examples. Furthermore, Phase Locked Loops (PLL’s) are used in most of the applications to generate the necessary timing signals. With the need for high integration implementations, there has been a growing demand for fully monolithic, on-chip PLLs. However, minimizing the timing jitter in PLLs is non–trivial and requires careful attention to a number of factors. Our research focuses on fully integrated PLLs with low phase noise and timing jitter used in frequency synthesizer applications. Amongst all the PLL components, the VCO is the noisiest. Reducing the VCO noise can lead to significant gains in the PLL performance. Towards this end, a ring oscillator with symmetric loads is designed and optimized for low phase noise and jitter. A theoretical analysis of the noise processes in the ring oscillator provides an insight into the design parameters. Though the frequency divider contributes negligible noise compared to the VCO, it is a challenge to design high frequency, low noise programmable dividers. The research focuses on current mode differential structures, as they lend themselves to high speed operations and possess low phase noise Project Description The block diagram for the proposed chip is shown in Figure 1. The Bias and Control unit houses the biasing and control circuitry needed for the VCO. The VCO operating frequency is controlled using the ‘Vcon’ pin. In order to validate theoretical analysis, it is important that each block be tested individually as well. To achieve this, the divider can be decoupled from the VCO through an external pin (‘Select’) as shown in Figure 1. This way, the phase noise performance of the VCO can be measured independently and also, the frequency divider can be characterized for its performance from an external signal generator. Bias + Vcon fout1 Control VCO fin Select Frequency Divider fout2 Select Figure 1. Chip Block Diagram Voltage Controlled Oscillator One of the most popular approaches for realizing a VCO is by implementing it using a ring oscillator. Ring oscillators are attractive from an integration and cost point of view, but are very noisy and hence introduce a lot of jitter in the generated clock. Ring oscillators with symmetric loads offer very high supply noise rejection and also lend themselves to a self-biasing scheme as in . For this reason, this project comprises of a 3-stage ring oscillator with symmetric loads and its associated biasing and control circuitry. Using a differential delay stage further improves performance on account of its ability to reject common-mode noise. A single stage of the ring oscillator is shown in Figure 2. The VCO jitter is on account of the internal devices noise such as thermal and flicker. However, thermal noise is the most important factor as the low frequency flicker noise is rejected by the PLL loop bandwidth. Also, the supply and substrate noise degra de the VCO performance with regards to jitter. Based on the work in  & , a theoretical approach for predicting the jitter generated by this symmetric load ring oscillator is being developed both in the time domain and frequency domain. The chip fabrication and testing will help validate the theory. Figure 2. Delay Cell used in Ring Oscillator Frequency Divider The dividers with current mode control and differential structure are preferred over their conventional counterparts for high speed and low noise applications . The current mode structure gives better control over the circuit and is capable of providing higher speed operation. A series of D Flip-Flops (DFF) are pipelined to form the divider architecture. Current mode logic combined with differential configuration has better electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) properties because of constant supply current and differential voltage switching operation . The dividers in the frequency synthesizers can have fixed dividing ratios and programmable diving ratios. The conventional way to design the programmable dividers is to use a modular approach, which is used for digital design as shown in Figure 3 (a). Now days, programmable dividers with phase-switching architecture as shown in Figure 3 are (b) becoming popular. This is because, phase-switching architecture provides consecutive ratios starting from any number and offer higher speed, but however are more complex to design. We design both types of dividers and compare their various performance parameters. (a) (b) Figure 3 Programmable divider (a) without phase-switching circuits (b) with phase-switching circuits The chip will be designed for the AMI 0.5 micron process and is targeted for the February 25, 2002 run. Also, the design is expected to conform to the tiny chip size of 2.25 sq mm. Design and Simulation The initial design and simulation will be performed using HSPICE. Using the FFT analysis capability of HSPICE, the output spectrum of the ring oscillator can be observed. Once satisfactory results are obtained, the design will be ported to the Cadence design environment. The frequency domain equivalent of jitter, namely phase noise, can be measured using Spectre and from this, the timing jitter number can be obtained. It is hoped that this will be a first step towards validation of the theory. A similar approach is planned for the frequency divider. Next, using the layout tool Virtuoso, the designs will be laid out. In the cadence design environment, a Design Rules Check (DRC) and a Layout Versus Schematics (LVS) check will be performed to ensure that everything is in order. Finally, a post – layout simulation will be carried out for both the ring oscillator and the frequency divider. Test & Characterization The characterization will be performed using the HP4145B semiconductor parameter analyzer. Because, the expected timing jitter is in the picoseconds range, a direct time domain measurement will be both complicated and cumbersome. Frequency domain measurements of Phase Noise on the other hand are easy and elegant and can give a quick estimate of the amount of jitter present. The phase noise will be measured using the HP8560EC spectrum analyzer and using this information, the timing jitter will be back calculated. The frequency divider will be tested both standalone and also using the output of the VCO. References  John G. Maneatis, “Low-Jitter Process-Independent DLL and PLL Based on Self-Biased Techniques”, IEEE JSSC, Vol. 31, No.11, pp. 1723 – 1732, Nov. 1996  Todd C. Weigandt, B. Kim and P. R. Gray, “Analysis of Timing Jitter in CMOS Ring Oscillators,” IEEE JSSC, Vol. 4, pp. 27 – 30, Nov. 1994.  Behzad Razavi, “A Study of Phase Noise in CMOS Oscillators,” IEEE JSSC, Vol.31, No.3, pp. 331 – 343, March 1996  S. Mehta, “ Design of High Frequency Dividers for Frequency Synthesis”, Research 1994-1995, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley (http://kabuki.eecs.berkeley.edu/~mehta).  F. Piazza and Q. Huang, " A low power CMOS dual modulus prescaler for frequency synthesizers," IEICE Trans. Electron., vol. E80-C, pp. 314-319, Feb 1997.