LVDS to LVPECL, CML, and Single-Ended Conversions

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: November 4, 2020
High speed PCB signaling standards

Many computer peripherals, SerDes channels, and telecom systems use LVDS, but there are times where you might need to interface with another signaling standard. Some examples include interfaces between components that use LVDS to LVPECL, CML, and HSTL. In other cases, you may want to convert between single-ended and differential signals, and some components have settings that will support this type of translation.

If you need to create this type of translation between signal standards, you’ll need to design the right impedance matching network. This is usually as simple as a series or parallel DC or AC coupling network, but Thevenin termination may be needed in other situations. You’ll need to use a specific translator IC or an amplifier with a high gain-bandwidth product for translations between single-ended and differential signals. Here’s how you can perform these signaling conversions in specialized applications.

Translating LVDS to LVPECL, CML, or Other Differential Standard

The goal in any translation between differential logic families is impedance matching throughout the signal bandwidth. This can be difficult if you need to compensate for dispersion, but dispersion tends to flatten out at high signal bandwidths. The image below shows a general high-speed differential interconnect between two differential components.

The driver has some output impedance (RS) for each trace in the pair. In some cases, you’ll need to add series resistors at the driver end to match the driver’s output to the traces’ characteristic impedance. The typical characteristic impedance of 50 Ohms is shown in the image, and the receiver’s parallel termination resistance (RD) is shown at the far end of the pair. RP and RN are pull-up and pull-down resistors in Thevenin configuration for each trace; these are used to convert active-HIGH and active-LOW signals as required (receiver end only) to step-up/step-down the differential voltage is seen at the receiver. DC blocking can be provided by series capacitors, which becomes important when interfacing to a CML receiver.

LVDS to LVPECL differential signalling translation
General network for converting between differential signals.

Before looking at some specific pairs of differential signaling translations, there is something important to realize about the above graphic; you can’t convert an upstream signal to a higher signal level unless there is a downstream power source that supplies higher voltage. You may need to add step-up or step-down resistors at the driver and receiver ends to make the signal levels compatible.

The image below shows a few examples involving LVDS to LVPECL translations. Another translation involving DC blocking capacitors is shown for LVPECL to CML. Note that, for the LVDS/LVPECL transitions, the termination resistor may be integrated into the driver’s input; be sure to check your component datasheets to see if a terminating resistor is required on the input. For the LVPECL/CML translation, the series capacitors should be sized like a high pass filter, although pay attention to the input capacitance on the receiver.

LVDS to LVPECL differential signalling translation networks
Some example matching networks for differential signal interfaces.

Other transitions involving steps between different levels (e.g., 3.3 V LVPECL to LVDS) may involve pull-up and pull-down resistors at the source. I don’t normally recommend application notes for design advice, but this application note from ON Semiconductor has plenty of useful examples showing how to calculate component values in these networks. You can then replicate the calculations in your designs for your signaling translations.

What About Differential to Single-ended Translations?

If you need to receive a differential signal as a single-ended signal at a receiver or transmit a single-ended output as a differential signal, you have a few options. For receiving differential signals and interpreting as single-ended, FPGAs have settings that will translate the input into the required level to be read as a single-ended signal. If you aren’t working with an FPGA and you simply need to transmit over some physical layer, you’re better off using an amplifier with unity gain and high bandwidth. In other words, find an amplifier IC that has a high gain-bandwidth product, and set the gain to the value that will produce the single-ended signal level you need, just as you would with an op-amp circuit.

If you’re translating between specific differential and single-ended logic families (e.g., LVDS to LVTTL/LVCMOS), you can use a translator IC. The MC100EPT21 (ON Semiconductor) is one example of such a component. If you need to go the other direction, you can use a single-ended to the differential translator that supports your desired logic family. The 85320I (Renesas) is one example of a single-ended to the differential translator.

This type of single-ended to differential conversion is useful if you want to transmit a single-ended signal over a physical connection as a differential signal. This is one option for board-to-board cable connections in noisy environments where you would normally need to route multiple ground lines across a cable. Increasing the wire count and transmitting differential signals may take up some extra space on the board for a pin header or pin-and-socket connector. Still, you’ll have a high common-mode rejection ratio at the receiver.

LVDS to LVPECL socket connector

If I needed to do this type of connection between boards with a single-ended output, I would look for a connector with consistently rated impedance up to the band edge for my signal. Some connectors designed for differential signaling are rated in terms of maximum data transfer rate, not as a frequency. Board-to-board edge connectors and pin-in-socket with standard form factor and high data rates (e.g., PCIe) are available on the market. No matter which route you choose to take in your layout, you’ll need the right schematic design tools and PCB CAD tools to make it possible.

The schematic design and simulation features in Altium Designer® are ideal for designing translations between high-speed interfaces, including LVDS to LVPECL, or other receivers. The Manufacturer Part Search gives you access to symbols and footprints for your components, and you can assign simulation models to your high-speed parts in the schematic. The integrated schematic capture tool in Altium Designer instantly imports components into a blank layout so that you can begin placement and routing.

Altium Designer on Altium 365 delivers an unprecedented amount of integration to the electronics industry until now relegated to the world of software development, allowing designers to work from home and reach unprecedented levels of efficiency.

We have only scratched the surface of what is possible to do with Altium Designer on Altium 365. You can check the product page for a more in-depth feature description or one of the On-Demand Webinars.

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About Author

About Author

Zachariah Peterson has an extensive technical background in academia and industry. He currently provides research, design, and marketing services to companies in the electronics industry. Prior to working in the PCB industry, he taught at Portland State University and conducted research on random laser theory, materials, and stability. His background in scientific research spans topics in nanoparticle lasers, electronic and optoelectronic semiconductor devices, environmental sensors, and stochastics. His work has been published in over a dozen peer-reviewed journals and conference proceedings, and he has written 1000+ technical blogs on PCB design for a number of companies. He is a member of IEEE Photonics Society, IEEE Electronics Packaging Society, and the American Physical Society, and he currently serves on the INCITS Quantum Computing Technical Advisory Committee.

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