The Fundamentals of High Speed PCB Design

High speed PCB design

High speed PCB design involves creating printed circuit boards for high-speed data transmission. This includes accounting for elements such as signal trace length, controlled impedance, ground planes, and so on. For that reason, a lot more is taken into consideration than when designing basic PCBs, as this article will help you learn.

What is High Speed PCB Design?

High speed PCB design means the process of creating, using PCB design software, circuit boards for high-speed data transmission. These are boards that start to show greater susceptibility to signal integrity issues due to the significant amount of high frequencies involved. To better understand what this means, let’s first see what a high-speed PCB is.

High Speed PCB

A high-speed PCB is a printed circuit board that’s designed to handle the rapid transfer of data. To do so, it’s usually designed with stricter engineering principles than normal PCBs. This includes ensuring the signals are routed properly, eliminating crosstalk, and managing the impedance of the trace lengths.

  • A PCB designer will normally begin by creating a schematic of the board. This drawing shows all the components and their connections. Once this is done, they will create a layout for the board.
  • High speed PCB layout involves placing the components and routing all the traces between them. Various tools inside the design software allow for all these elements to be simulated and tested.
  • During the entire process, various high speed PCB design rules also apply, or the board design will not function properly. Some of these rules include managing the return loops, using proper via structures, keeping components away from sensitive areas, and ensuring all trace lengths are equal.

High Speed PCB Material

The material selection for high-speed board design is critical, as it affects how the signals travel on the board. And while FR-4 has always remained the go-to material for most PCBs, it’s not always the best choice for high-speed boards.

This is because FR-4 has a less consistent dielectric constant (among other things), and which can affect signal velocity and integrity. For that reason, other high speed PCB materials such as Teflon and ceramic are often being used today. These offer better characteristics, but are much more expensive than FR-4.

Using Teflon for high speed PCB offers these benefits: more consistent dielectric constant, and low coefficient of thermal expansion. As compared to FR-4, ceramic’s dielectric constant is also much more consistent across the entire frequency range.

High speed digital PCB design
High speed digital PCB design

High Speed PCB Design Guidelines

When it comes to designing high-speed boards, certain design guidelines must be followed. These are rules that ensure the board not only meets data rate requirements, but that it also remain protected from issues that would affect the integrity of the signals. Here are some of the key high-speed PCB design rules:

High Speed PCB Routing Vias

In high speed design, PCB vias can impact signal integrity. This is why it’s important to use the correct type and number of vias. As a general rule, micro-vias are used for higher frequency signals due to their small sizes.

Small vias offer less resistance and capacitance, which reduces signal degradation. Too many of them, on the other hand, can cause crosstalk or excessive return losses. High speed PCB design rules for vias include the following:

The size of the annular ring should be small where vias and signal route meets. This helps ensure a low impedance connection. Use back drilling to reduce the stub length of vias. This can help reduce signal reflections and crosstalk.

Use staggered vias when possible to spread out the capacitance and prevent crosstalk in high speed PCB designs. Minimize the number of vias used for a given signal trace wherever possible to reduce impedance discontinuities. Finally, consider stitching vias next to to manage signal crosstalk.

High Speed PCB Routing

During high seed PCB routing, certain parameters must be taken into account. These include routing length, spacing, and other elements. This is because even small differences in these numbers can significantly affect signal integrity.

Routing should be kept to the absolute minimum, and any unnecessary length between components should be eliminated. Spacing requirements must be handled with care, as too little spacing can cause cross-talk between the lines and reduce signal integrity.

When routing, minimize the number of vias. This is because vias create additional attenuation and increase signal loss. It’s also important to ensure that signals are properly matched in length, as mismatched lengths can lead to timing skews which degrade signal integrity.

High speed PCB routing also involves taking into account the ground plane, which is a continuous layer of copper that runs underneath all signals. Ensure ground planes next to signal layers to control impedance. Avoid routing traces over split planes, too, as that can cause interference.

High Speed PCB Routing Traces

Routing of the traces has to be done with great care and precision. The trace width, spacing, clearance and routing path all have an impact on signal integrity. To ensure proper performance, high speed PCB routing traces must match the impedance requirement for each layer.

The design software will usually provide a set of rules that should be followed when routing high speed traces. These include rules for trace width and spacing, edge-coupling, and so on.

Additional care must be taken to ensure proper signal integrity by placing guard traces, creating proper power distribution s and using stitching techniques where necessary.

High Speed PCB Layout

High-speed PCB layout involves paying special attention to the design, making sure all traces are correctly routed and all components efficiently placed. Special care should be taken to avoid crosstalk and keep controlled impedance in mind.

Using advanced design software will provide you with greater control over the board layout. Features such as auto-routing, differential pair routing and impedance matching can help you get the most out of your high speed PCB design.

It’s also important to simulate your design for signal integrity. This helps you identify any potential issues and make sure your board will work as intended. When done correctly, the design should meet all requirements and be ready for fabrication.

These are just some of the basics when it comes to high-speed PCB design. With careful planning and design, your high-speed PCBs should perform as expected.


High-speed PCB design demands more precision than that of other boards. Designers must pay close attention to the material selection, routing, and layout of the board. Following design guidelines and simulating signals before manufacturing can help ensure that your high-speed PCB meets data rate requirements and delivers optimal performance.


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