# Spectra of Digital Clock Signals

Foundations

Clock waveforms can be represented as periodic trains of trapezoid-shaped pulses as shown in Figure 1. Figure 1: Trapezoidal clock signal

Each pulse is described by the key parameters: period T (and thus the fundamental frequency), amplitude A, rise time tr, fall time tf, and the on-time or pulse width τ. In this article, we investigate the effect of these pulse parameters on the spectrum of the clock waveform.

When the rise and fall times are equal, the one-sided Fourier spectrum of the trapezoidal clock signal can be represented as (1)

where the magnitudes of the (complex) Fourier coefficients are given by (2) (3)

Note that when the duty cycle of the signal is 50%, that is, , the first sine term in Equation 3 becomes (4)

which is zero for even n. Thus, there are no even harmonics when the duty cycle is 50% (which is a reasonable assumption for the clock signals).

The spectral coefficients in Equation (3) exist only at the discrete frequencies . The continuous envelope of these spectral components is obtained by replacing  in Equation (3): (5)

or in dB, (6)

The (envelope) bounds in dB are shown in Figure 2.

Before we investigate the effects of various parameters on the frequency content of the clock signals, an extremely important observation can be made from the bounds shown in Figure 2. Figure 2: Bounds on the one-sided magnitude spectrum of a trapezoidal clock signal

Note that above the frequency  the amplitudes of the spectral components are attenuated at a rate of 40 dB/decade. It seems reasonable, therefore, to postulate that somewhere beyond this frequency these amplitudes are negligible (as compared to the magnitudes of the components at lower frequencies) and can be neglected in the Fourier series expansion shown in Equation 1.

A reasonable choice for that frequency is (7)

This is the origin of one of the EMC rules which states that the bandwidth (BW) of a trapezoidal signal (the highest significant frequency) is (8)

Thus the pulses having short rise/fall times have larger high-frequency content that do pulses with long rise/fall times.

In the next section we will verify this statement, show the frequency content of a clock signal with 50% duty cycle (no even harmonics), and investigate the effect of various pulse parameters on the frequency spectrum.

Verification

The experimental setup for spectral measurements is shown in Figure 3. Figure 3: Experimental setup

Figure 4 shows the frequency spectrum of a 1V trapezoidal pulse, with a fundamental frequency of 10 MHz and 5 ns risetime and two different duty cycles. Figure 4: Frequency spectrum of a clock signal with 49% and 50 % duty cycle

Note that the 49% duty cycle signal contains both the odd and even harmonics while the 50% duty cycle signal contains the odd harmonics only.

Figure 5 shows that the pulses having short rise/fall times have larger high-frequency content that do pulses with long rise/fall times. Figure 5: Frequency spectrum of a clock signal with 20 ns vs. 5 ns risetime

The effect of the signal amplitude on the frequency content of a trapezoidal signal is shown in Figure 6. Figure 6: Effect of the signal amplitude

As can be seen, reducing the signal amplitude reduces the frequency content over the entire frequency range. This is verified by the measurement shown in Figure 7. Figure 7: Effect of the amplitude reduction

The effect of reducing the fundamental frequency while maintaining the same duty cycle on the frequency content of signal is shown in Figure 8. Figure 8: Effect of the fundamental frequency while maintaining the duty cycle

Reducing the fundamental frequency (while maintain the duty cycle) reduces the high-frequency spectral content of the waveform, but does not affect the low-frequency content. This is verified by the measurement shown in Figure 9. Figure 9: Effect of the fundamental frequency while maintaining the duty cycle

Finally, the effect of reducing the duty cycle while maintaining the fundamental frequency is shown in Figure 10. Figure 10: Effect of the duty cycle while maintaining the fundamental frequency

Reducing the duty cycle (the pulsewidth) reduces the low-frequency spectral content of the waveform, but does not affect the high-frequency content. This is verified by the measurement shown in Figure 11. Figure 11: Effect of the fundamental frequency while maintaining the duty cycle

References

1. Clayton R. Paul, Introduction to Electromagnetic Compatibility, Wiley, 2006.
2. Bogdan Adamczyk, Foundations of Electromagnetic Compatibility with Practical Applications, Wiley, 2017. Dr. Bogdan Adamczyk is a professor and the director of the EMC Center at Grand Valley State University (GVSU). He is also the founder and principal educator of EMC Educational Services LLC (www.emcspectrum.com) which specializes in EMC courses for the industry. Prof. Adamczyk is the author of the upcoming book “Foundations of Electromagnetic Compatibility with Practical Applications” (Wiley, 2017). He can be reached at profbogdan@emcspectrum.com

Dr. Bogdan Adamczyk is professor and director of the EMC Center at Grand Valley State University (http://www.gvsu.edu/emccenter/) where he regularly teaches EMC certificate courses for industry. He is an iNARTE certified EMC Master Design Engineer. Prof. Adamczyk is the author of the textbook “Foundations of Electromagnetic Compatibility with Practical Applications” (Wiley, 2017) and the upcoming textbook “Principles of Electromagnetic Compatibility with Laboratory Exercises” (Wiley 2022).

### One Response

1. oren hartal. EMC Consultant

Hi Bogdan, in equation 5, when tr is smaller than T the risetime expression is 1 , inserting n/T for f in the first expression , T cancelles out and you get a function decreasing with n, not related to the clock frequency: v=2A/(pi*n). doesn’t look right. what did I do wrong?

thanx

Oren