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PEM Thermal Resistance

PEM thermal resistance is usually high and only suitable for low power applications. This is true for over-molded parts as well. In such a case, the thickness of the molding compound from the die to the ambient might be 1mm. With a thermal conductivity of roughly 0.005 watt/cm°C, the thermal resistance of the junction to case might be 20°C/watt. The coupling to the air might be 60°C/watt, making the total thermal resistance 80°C/watt. In these packages, typically, as much heat could flow out the leads of the package as through the case, lowering the effective thermal resistance to about 40°C/watt. With a thermal drop of 50°C, this means such a package would not be suitable for microcircuits of higher power than about 1.2 watts. PEMs thermal resistance can be improved by using thermally enhanced plastic packages. There are four methods used to cut the thermal resistance down in plastic packages. All of them use a cavity-down orientation with the die cavity facing the circuit board, with the back of the die facing up and available for heatsink attach.  In a cavity-up orientation, the die faces upward and the package is soldered to the board.

The four methods are:

a. Filler in the plastic to increase the thermal conductivity of the molding compound is the first thermal-enhancement method. Typical fillers are silica and aluminum nitride powder. They can increase performance by 30% - 40%.

b. Inserting a high thermal conductivity plate of either aluminum or copper is the second method. This acts as a heat spreader, while reducing the path through the higher thermal resistance molding material. A cross-section and top view of a plastic package with an insert is shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Thermally Enhanced PQFP with Embedded Heat Spreader


c. Using a metal substrate from which the package is fabricated, is the third method. Two examples are the MQUAD and MBGA packages. An example of the MQUAD is shown in Figure 2. In each case, the base of the substrate is made up of an aluminum platebase. The leads of the MQUAD are stamped leadframes, adhesively attached to the aluminum plate. After the die-attach, a cover plate is attached. The aluminum base is exposed to facilitate heatsink attach. The junction to case thermal resistance can be kept to less than 1.8°C/watt.

Figure 2. Cavity Down MQUADâ Package

d. Reducing junction-to-case thermal resistance of a package that uses a PCB substrate, such as a PPGA or PBGA, is the fourth method. The chip cavity is punched out and the substrate is laminated to a metal base. The chip is attached directly to the metal base, with a very low junction-to-case thermal resistance. High performance PPGA and PBGA packages can have a junction-to-case thermal resistance of less than 1°C/watt, primarily limited to the die attach conditions.


Figure 3. Power Dissipation of Various Packages in Still Air


Maximum Junction Temperature

Maximum junction temperature. Try to design for a maximum junction temperature of 90°C and an ambient temperature of 40°C. The temperature drop between the junction-to-case and case-to-ambient should be distributed in a way not to harm the chip or its performance. The maximum temperature drop from junction to ambient should be 50°C. The total temperature allowed should be 50°C. Of this, typically 70% is allocated to the case-to-ambient differential, and 30% allocated to the junction-to-case differential, or 35°C for the case-to-ambient and 15°C for the junction-to-case. With this criterion, the maximum power a package can handle for a given thermal resistance is shown in Figure 3. For example, if the package has a thermal resistance of 25°C/watt, it can handle at most 50°C/25°C/watt or 2 watts.


Thermal Resistance

Thermal resistance. heat must be removed from the chip’s layers, each of which has some level of thermal resistance. Table 1 shows examples of thermal resistance associated with the junction-to-case path. For a chip 1cm on a side, an example of the partitioning of the thermal resistance and the resulting temperature drops for a power of 20 watts is shown in Table 2. Decreasing thermal resistance of the junction-to-case path is critical when the power densities approach the 30W/cm2 range. Two approaches used to minimize junction-to-case thermal resistance are: (1) decreasing the number and thickness of the layers between the chip and the heat spreader and (2) using a more effective heat spreader substrate materials with high thermal conductivity, such as copper, silicon carbide, and aluminum nitride.






Thermal Resistance (°C/W)






Die Attach

Silver-Filled Epoxy












Ceramic Package


Copper Tungsten












FR4 Board








Heat Spreader









Table 1. Selected Junction-to-Case Thermal Resistances



Thermal Resistance (°C/W)

Temperature Drop (°C)

Silicon Die

Silver-filled Epoxy

Ceramic Base







Total Junction-to-Case



Table 2. Layer Contributions to Thermal Resistance and Temperature Drop for 20 Watts


Extracting Heat

Thermal resistance from case to ambient depends on:  (1) how efficiently the fluid (typically air) extracts the heat, (2) the heat carrying capacity of the fluid, and (3) the surface area in contact with the fluid. A heatsink, using vertical fins, horizontal discs, pins, or convoluted channels can be used to increase the surface area through which the heat flows. Ultimately, it is a change in temperature of an air or liquid stream, or a phase change that carries the heat out. The efficiency of a heatsink is related to how much it is able to raise the temperature of the fluid with which it is in contact. The closer the out-flowing fluid temperature is to the case temperature, the more efficient the heatsink is. The surface area and the design of the heatsink will clearly play a role in influencing the efficiency. How much heat can be extracted per unit area from a surface, in W/cm2, by a heatsink depends on its efficiency, the surface area of contact, the thermal properties of the fluid, and the volumetric flow rate. These interact in a very complex manner. Heatsinks are usually designed with a surface area much larger than the heat generating surface area, typically by a factor of two to five. The most efficient heat exchanger cannot extract any more heat than can be carried by the heat capacity of the fluid. The volumetric flow rate and specific heat of the cooling medium set the ultimate-power extraction capability for the most efficient heatsinks. If the heatsink were 100% efficient in heating the air up to the case temperature, the effective thermal resistance would be at best 50°C/W for 1in 3 /sec of airflow. If the airflow were to double, the thermal resistance would halve. This assumes perfect efficiency of raising the air up to the case temperature. In practice, heatsinks are not much more than 50% efficient and the thermal resistance for air-cooled systems is never less than 100°C/W for 1in3 /sec of airflow.

Substrate Heat

For circuit boards that have only a few high power components, a significant amount of heat can flow into the substrate, with the circuit board acting as a giant heat spreader and fin. The better the thermal transfer through the leads into the board, the more effective the motherboard will be in cooling. For example, a 119 pin BGA, with the balls under the chip, can sink over 85% of the total power into the substrate. For this BGA, the decrease in thermal resistance will be about halved. A thicker board with more power and ground layers can better function as a heatsink. The substrate is only going to be effective when there is good thermal contact between the package and board, when the board has thick power and ground planes and when there are not many other high power devices nearby. When these conditions are met, the thermal resistance between the junction and ambient can be reduced by 50%.

Electrical Power Dissipation

Two sources of power dissipation important among all microcircuit families, is DC or quiescent power dissipation, and AC or switching power dissipation that increases with switching frequency. The DC power dissipation is high for ECL but nearly zero for CMOS. The AC power dissipation can be comparable in both technologies. They are described below:

a.  DC Power and Speed Tradeoffs in ECL electrical power is dissipated only when current flows through a resistive element. This occurs in steady state, as with pull-up, pull-down, or terminating resistors, and when current flows through a buffer transistor during the transient charging and discharging of a capacitor. A capacitor can be an input gate, on-chip metallization, or output load capacitance. Modern ECL gates are biased on a steady current value using a current source. The bias current value is chosen based on a balance between the DC power dissipation and switching speed. In ECL circuits, the bias current is what charges or discharges an inter-connect to change its voltage level. To switch faster, a higher DC current level is required. This higher current also means more DC power dissipated. In many ECL gate array families, the designer can select the bias current level to trade off speed and power as appropriate.

b.  CMOS output drivers are never both on simultaneously in the DC mode. When the microcircuit is set to output high, the p gate is on, and the output is effectively switched to the VDD rail. When the microcircuit is set for output low, the output is effectively switched to the VSS rail, which is typically ground. In typical high speed CMOS circuits, the output load is capacitive. There may be a series resistor acting as a source termination or damping resistor, but the DC resistance of the load is typically very high. At steady state, there is no current flow out of the driver, either through the n or p transistors. In DC, when the microcircuit is not switching, there is very little power dissipation in a CMOS microcircuit.

Because of the nature of RC circuits, all the stored energy will be converted Into heat energy each time the capacitance is either charged or discharged.  This power dissipation depends on the switching voltage, the gate capacitance, and the switching or clock frequency. Because of the voltage squared dependence, decreasing the switching voltage can have a large impact on decreasing the power consumption. For example, at 1-micron channel length, the typical power consumption of a 5V CMOS gate is approximately 6µW/MHz/gate for internal gates. If the voltage were dropped to 3V, the power consumption would drop to 2.2µW/MHz/gate.  In addition, the area of the gate contributes to the gate capacitance. Reducing the feature size also reduces the gate capacitance. However, the gate oxide thickness is also reduced, which acts to increase the gate capacitance. The net result of decreased feature size is still a reduction of power dissipation. For 0.5 micron CMOS, operating on 3V supplies, the gate power dissipation is roughly 1.5µW/MHz/gate.   At 100MHz, the power dissipation per internal gate for 1 micron CMOS would be 0.6mW/gate. Because of the larger size of output drivers, power consumption would be roughly 2.4mW/gate. This is comparable to ECL DC power dissipation. However in CMOS, it is only those gates actually switching that contribute to the power dissipation. For example, a 50,000-gate array, with 20 percent of the internal gates switching per cycle and 50 output drivers switching per cycle, would dissipate:

PAC = (6µW x 10,000) + (24µW x 50) = 61.2mW/MHz.


If each of the output gates drives a 25pF load, the dissipation would be an additional 30mW/MHz. The total power dissipation at 100MHz, for example, would be nine watts for a CMOS microcircuit.  An advantage of CMOS technology is the absence of DC power dissipation.  However, AC power-dissipation increases with frequency.

Minimizing Power Consumption

Four ways to minimize power consumption are: (1) Design for low power consumption. (2) Reduce the supply voltage. Lowering the supply voltage has the benefit of reducing power but also slows the switching speed. (3) Use smart power management. Smart power management uses specialized chips that monitor the CPU activity level. As the activity level drops, the clock frequency is slowed down. In effect, smart power management puts the system to sleep between keystrokes or other activities. (4) Adjust the clock frequency to slowdown when the application is not in use.

GaAs Integration

To keep power dissipation under control, the microcircuit speed has to be limited at high integration levels or the microcircuit gets too hot.  There is a trade-off between speed and integration with GaAs microcircuits. If the integration levels are high, speed must be contained; if the speed is high, integration levels must be contained.