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05-02-2017

Simple, Fast Pulse Source Outpaces Expensive Lab Equipment

Linear Technology » LTC3803

Mitchell Lee

LT Journal of Analog Innovation

A source of fast pulse edges, simulating a step function, is often useful in making lab measurements of one kind or another. For example, it is possible to evaluate the rise time of RG-58/U or other coaxial cables using lengths of only 10 to 20 feet if an edge rate on the order of 1 ns–2 ns is available. The ubiquitous HP8012B pulse generator, a workhorse in many labs, falls short at 5 ns, and is not quite fast enough for the task at hand. The gate drive output rise and fall times of certain switching regulator controllers are faster than 2 ns, making such devices potentially ideal pulse sources.

Figure 1 shows a simple implementation using an LTC3803 constant frequency flyback controller. The controller self-clocks at 200 kHz; applying a sample of the output to the SENSE pin causes the device to operate at its minimum duty cycle, producing a 300 ns output pulse width. Supply bypassing is important, as the output delivers upwards of 180 mA into a 50 Ω load. The 10 μF bypass and 200 Ω decoupling components minimize pulse top aberration without compromising droop.

Simple, Fast Pulse Source Outpaces Expensive Lab Equipment
Figure 1. Switching regulator controller produces 1.5 ns edges into 50 Ω.

The output directly drives a 50 Ω termination to nearly 9 V. If pulse fidelity is of prime importance, back termination (as shown) is recommended to suppress triple transit echos by absorbing reflections from cabling and the far-end termination. Back termination is also useful when driving passive filters and other attenuators, which expect to see a specific generator impedance. The LTC3803 output impedance is about 1.5 Ω, which should be borne in mind when choosing a back termination resistor. Back termination works well up to impedances of at least 2k, beyond which it is difficult to support the necessary bandwidth in the resistor and circuit connections, degrading pulse fidelity.

In a back-terminated 50 Ω system the output characteristics are as follows: pulse amplitude 4.5 V, symmetric rise and fall times of 1.5 ns, pulse top aberration less than 10% and droop well under 5%. The rise and fall times are not degraded when directly driving 50 Ω. For best pulse fidelity, connect the 10 μF supply bypass capacitor as close as possible to the VCC and GND pins of the LTC3803, and route the output directly to the back termination resistor and/or connector using stripline techniques. A 100-mil trace width on 1/16-inch, double-sided board approximates a 50 Ω surge impedance.

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