A Plethora of Ports: Making Sense of the Different Types of Ports in EM Planar Simulators

Electromagnetic (EM) simulation technology software has come a long way since it first became popular for microwave and RF circuit design back in the 1980s. With the sophistication of today's EM tools, it is sometimes difficult to remember how limited those early simulators were. The author is old enough to remember when a challenging problem for a 3D planar simulator consisted of a coupled-line filter with 1000 unknowns and 3D finite element simulators were stressed by a simple multi-layer via transition in a package. As with all software, the increased capacity of today's simulators, and the features they support, has been accompanied by an increased sophistication in their use. This paper will examine, in particular, how the use of ports in these simulators has evolved and matured over the years to make real-world design simulations practical. The goal here is to provide a foundational understanding of ports leading to an intuitive skill in their proper selection and use in conjunction with circuit simulation.

Port types and their selection criterion, as a topic, is an important one for a designer using a circuit simulator, because the correct use of ports is the most important determining factor, other than drawing the structure itself, in obtaining successful, meaningful simulation results. The choice of the correct port type is not trivial, especially with the bewildering array of port choices available. This article presents useful information that will help designers make the correct decision regarding their selection of port types so that they can obtain valuable results. The article will focus in particular on ports common to planar EM simulators, sometimes called 2D, 2½D, or 3D planar EM simulators. This type of simulator is the most commonly used simulator for microwave and RF problems at the board, package, and chip level. Although popular for problems that do not fit well into planar process technologies (for example waveguides and non-planar antennas), the full 3D simulator is therefore not specifically covered in this paper although generally speaking, strong similarities hold true across all of these simulation technology domains.

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