Measuring Jitter in Digital Systems

The topic of jitter is becoming increasingly critical to the proper design of digital subsystems. In the past, digital designers were largely concerned with functional issues. Now, in addition to debugging the functionality of a design, digital designers are also called upon to investigate parametric issues. These parametric issues have a significant impact on the design, operation, and proof of operation of a digital product.

At bit transfer rates exceeding a gigabit per second, the analog nature of signals can become frustratingly apparent. Designers can no longer remain in the ideal binary realm of 1s and 0s, verifying that their logic performs its functions. They must also move into the parametric realm, dealing with ambiguity and measuring how well their designs work.

As new data transfer standards (InfiniBand, PCI Express, 10-Gigabit Ethernet, FibreChannel, HyperTransport, and RapidIO, to name just a few) with ever faster bit transfer rates are proposed and implemented, designers must concern themselves with the ultimate analog nature of electronic signals: There may be digital circuits that transfer binary data, but there really is no such thing as a digital waveform.

This application note is for engineers who design data transfer systems and components operating at over a gigabit per second, and so must be concerned with the effects of jitter on their system's bit error ratio (BER).

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