Properties Panel Tuning

Zachariah Peterson
|  Created: July 25, 2022  |  Updated: July 26, 2022

High-speed PCBs often require tuning groups of tracks, both single and differential. Altium Designer includes powerful tools that allow you to solve such tasks quickly and with high quality. Study this document and achieve the desired result even faster.

What is tuning used for?

Most high-speed interfaces contain parallel buses that operate at high frequencies: data buses, address buses, and other.

There are some examples of such interfaces: USB3.0, PCIE, DDR3/DDR4 memory interfaces and other.

For such interfaces to work properly it is necessary that the signals from the transmitter to the receiver come within some limited time mismatch. This problem is solved by aligning the lengths of group of tracks with some accuracy. This is done by adding a delay to the shorter tracks in the form of accordions, trombones or saw teeth. In addition, alignment is used to match the phases of signals within a differential pair.

Tuning tools

Altium Designer has two tools for alignment:

Interactive Length Tuning    Interactive Length Tuning – for single tracks;

Interactive Diff Pair Length Tuning    Interactive Diff Pair Length Tuning – for differential pairs.

After you run the tool, there are three length adjustment patterns to choose from in the Properties panel.

Accordion pattern

Accordion is the most commonly used net length tuning pattern. The Properties panel is used to adjust shape, amplitude and pitch of the accordion segments. You can change all these parameters dynamically with the hotkeys during creating.

Additional features when working with the placed accordion:

MOVE/RESIZE

Select the accordion, and then left-click inside the framework for moving along the track. Move sides or frame corners to resize.

ROTATION

Press R while rotating to turn on a multiple of 45 degrees.

Practical guidelines for Accordion pattern application:

  • Preferred for high-speed signals and differential pairs;
  • The optimum segment clearance must be >3H, for differential pairs >5H. The maximum length of segments is no more than 15H. This will reduce the interaction of electromagnetic fields of neighboring segments.
  • It is preferable to use the Mitered Arcs or Rounded rotation styles.

H is the track lift height above the nearest reference plane.

Trombone pattern

Trombone uses the concept of tuning sleeve and can be positioned on track bends even in tight places to fill the space efficiently. In the Properties panel you can configure shape, pitch and position of trombone segments. You can also dynamically change a number of parameters using hotkeys directly during construction.

Additional options when working with the placed trombone:

MOVE/RESIZE

Different modes of moving and shape changing are available by using the Ctrl and Shift keys.

Practical guidelines for Trombone pattern application:

  • Useful in tight places, in case of obstacles;
  • The optimum segment clearance must be >3H, for differential pairs >5H. The maximum length of segments is no more than 15H. This will reduce the interaction of electromagnetic fields for neighboring segments
  • It is preferable to use Mitered Arcs or Rounded styles.
  • Not recommended for tuning track phase and differential pairs.

H is the track lift height above the nearest reference plane.

Sawtooth pattern

Sawtooth uses the tuning sleeve concept and can be placed on the track bends. It helps to tune the length more precisely. In the Properties panel you can configure angle, width, height and start of the «sawtooth». You can also dynamically change the height by using the «hotkeys» directly during construction.