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The landscape of specialty materials changes so quickly that it can be hard for product developers to keep up. As a result, PCB designers are inundated with data about microwave PCB materials. But very often, it’s difficult to find useful information regarding these specialty substrates. So, this month, we present some of the most frequently asked questions about microwave materials encountered at Rogers.
Q: At what frequency is it necessary to transition from FR-4 types of materials to high-frequency circuit materials?
A: This is a challenging question to answer because different technologies can tolerate more or less performance from a laminate. I’ll give a few examples and basic guidelines.
Semiconductor technology has developed enhanced signal processing to the point where a FR-4 material could be used at higher speeds and frequencies than was once thought possible. In most cases where high-speed digital applications reach 10 Gbps or more, you will need to use a high-frequency laminate. There are exceptions, and in some cases a lower data rate PCB will also demand a high-frequency laminate.
High-frequency RF circuits, which are less concerned with insertion loss, could use FR-4 in some of these applications. However, high-frequency laminates offer more than just low loss; they provide very well-controlled dielectric constant. In many RF applications, the control of dielectric constant for the material can be as critical as substrate thickness control. As a general statement, FR-4 materials are typically not used above 3 GHz in RF applications due to insertion loss concerns. However, when dielectric constant control is a critical concern, high-frequency materials should be used instead of FR-4 materials.
Read the full column here.
Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the February 2014 issue of The PCB Design Magazine.