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724 IEEE JOURNAL OF SOLID-STATE CIRCUITS, VOL. 48, NO.

3, MARCH 2013

A PushPull Class-C CMOS VCO


Andrea Mazzanti, Member, IEEE, and Pietro Andreani, Senior Member, IEEE

AbstractA CMOS oscillator employing differential transistor


pairs working in Class-C in pushpull configuration is presented.
The oscillator exhibits the same advantages enjoyed by comple-
mentary topologies on oscillators based on a single differential pair,
while yielding a substantial power consumption reduction thanks
to the Class-C operation. The phase-noise performance and the
fundamental conditions required to keep the transistors working in
Class-C are analyzed in detail. It is shown that, for an optimal per-
formance, both nMOS and pMOS transistors should not be pushed
into the deep triode region by the instantaneous resonator voltage,
and a simple circuit solution is proposed to accommodate a large
oscillation swing. A 0.18- m CMOS prototype of the (voltage-con-
trolled) oscillator displays an oscillation frequency from 6.09 to
7.50 GHz. The phase noise at 2-MHz offset is below 120 dBc/Hz
Fig. 1. (a) Original Class-C oscillator. (b) Pushpull Class-C oscillator.
with a power dissipation of 2.2 mW, for a state-of-the-art figure-of-
merit ranging from 189 to 191 dBc/Hz.
Index TermsClass-C, CMOS, phase noise, pushpull, voltage
controlled oscillator (VCO). the resonator (resulting from a small current conduction angle
of the transistors) leading to a high conversion efficiency of
the dc current into the fundamental harmonic current. For the
I. INTRODUCTION same dc current, the theoretical phase-noise improvement com-
pared with the standard differential-pair LC-tank oscillator is
3.9 dB; for the same power supply voltage, on the other hand,
T HE voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) is a key building
block in high performance wireless and wireline commu-
nication systems. VCO research is steadily attracting a great in-
the Class-C oscillator ideally allows a 36% current saving for
the same (minimum) phase-noise level. Since its first introduc-
tion, the Class-C oscillator has gained an increasing popularity,
terest, leading to a proliferation of different topologies aimed
and several applications and improvements have been proposed
at improving frequency tuning range and phase noise [1][13].
in the recent literature [16][23]. All of the realizations pre-
The latter in particular deserves attention, since it determines the
sented so far are nevertheless based on a single differential pair
power consumption requirements. It has been rigorously proved
configuration, similar to the original topology in Fig. 1(a).
that the contribution of the thermal noise of the core transistors
This paper introduces a push-pull Class-C oscillator, shown
to phase noise in a generic harmonic oscillator does not, to the
in Fig. 1(b). While still preserving the superior dc-to-RF cur-
first order, depend on the transconductance of the core transis-
rent conversion efficiency of transistors working in Class-C and
tors [14], [15]; thus, although technology scaling does reduce
the same maximum theoretical phase noise figure of merit of
losses in switched-capacitor frequency tuning (which is partic-
the original Class-C VCO, the circuit displays the same advan-
ularly important for applications with a large tuning range), it
tages that, in some cases, make a complementary LC-tank os-
does not otherwise improve significantly the VCO spectral pu-
cillator (employing both nMOS and pMOS switching transis-
rity. The VCO power consumption is therefore becoming more
tors) preferable to a single differential pair oscillator [24][27].
and more dominant, compared with other system blocks directly
These advantages can be summarized as follows: 1) twice the
benefiting from technology scaling, and techniques to improve
tank voltage swing and 6-dB improvement of phase noise for
the VCO power budget without deteriorating its phase noise are
the same current consumption and resonator, provided the oscil-
of the greatest interest. Among different solutions, the Class-C
lator is working in the current-limited regime1; 2) a larger loop
oscillator of Fig. 1(a) has been proposed [14]. In this harmonic
gain due to the contribution of both nMOS and pMOS transcon-
oscillator, active devices deliver short and tall current pulses to
ductance; and 3) a voltage swing always within the supply rail,
avoiding reliability issues.
Manuscript received July 27, 2012; revised October 01, 2012; accepted
A 0.18- m CMOS test chip has been realized. Drawing
November 05, 2012. Date of publication December 20, 2012; date of current
version February 20, 2013. This paper was approved by Associate Editor 1.2 mA from a 1.8-V supply, the pushpull Class-C VCO is
Woogeun Rhee. tunable from 6.09 to 7.50 GHz, with a phase noise at 2-MHz
A. Mazzanti is with the Universit di Pavia, Dipartimento di Ingegneria
Industriale e dellInformazione, 27100 Pavia, Italy (e-mail: andrea.maz- 1Complementary oscillators do not improve the phase noise figure of merit,
zanti@unipv.it). compared to single-differential-pair oscillators. In fact, the maximum allowed
P. Andreani is with Department of Electrical and Information Technology, voltage swing in complementary oscillators to operate in the current-limited re-
Lund University, SE-221 00 Lund, Sweden (e-mail: piero@eit.lth.se). gion is one half that in single-differential-pair oscillators, leading to the same
Color versions of one or more of the figures in this paper are available online optimal phase noise normalized to power dissipation. This result has been de-
at http://ieeexplore.ieee.org. rived in [27] and exploited in [26] for the traditional differential pair oscillator
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/JSSC.2012.2230542 topologies.

0018-9200/$31.00 2012 IEEE


MAZZANTI AND ANDREANI: PUSHPULL CLASS-C CMOS VCO 725

offset from the carrier better than 120 dBc/Hz. Despite


the moderate overall tank quality factor of approximately
10, the oscillator displays a remarkable peak phase noise
figure-of-merit (FoM) of 191 dBc/Hz.
The paper is organized as follows. Section II reviews the prin-
ciple of operation of the Class-C oscillator and introduces the
theoretical framework for the push-pull configuration. A large
signal analysis of the circuit is carried out, deriving the condi-
tions under which short current pulses and high DC-to-RF con-
version efficiency is preserved in the complementary topology.
Section III analyzes the phase noise of the push-pull oscillator
and discusses non-ideal effects that should be considered to
Fig. 2. Current and voltage waveforms in the pushpull Class-C oscillator. (a)
avoid unwanted phase noise degradation. Section IV presents a First half and (b) second half of the oscillation period.
modification of the push-pull Class-C oscillator, able to accom-
modate a large voltage swing without phase noise penalty, as
well as a comparison with the standard complementary CMOS where is the tank common-mode dc voltage and
oscillator. The design and experimental results of a circuit pro- , where is the angular frequency of oscillation. Assuming
totype are presented in Section V, while Conclusions follow. a moderately large resonator quality factor, the differential tank
voltage can be approximated as a sinusoid with amplitude2
II. LARGE SIGNAL ANALYSIS
as
The large-signal operation of the pushpull Class-C oscillator
is presented in this section, deriving the conditions required to
preserve a highly efficient pulsed tank current. The fundamental (2)
difference between the standard differential-pair LC-tank oscil-
lator and the Class-C LC-tank oscillator in Fig. 1(a) is the rela- We assume that the transistors do not leave the saturation region,
tively large capacitance ( ) connected between the common i.e., a suitably low is selected for the nMOS transistors,
source node of the nMOS transistor pair and ground. keeps while the following condition holds for the pMOS transistors:
the voltage of the common source node (almost) constant.
As a result, the nMOS devices are active (i.e., they conduct cur- (3)
rent) only when (where are the gate
voltages of the two transistors of the differential pair and where is the pMOS threshold voltage. Looking at
is the nMOS threshold voltage), a condition occurring over a Fig. 2(a), in the first half of the oscillation cycle when and
small fraction of the oscillation period. The tank current is then are conducting, the drain currents are
made of short and tall current pulses with a fundamental com-
ponent roughly equal to , i.e., 3.9 dB larger than in the case
without , where transistors are active for half the oscilla-
tion period and the tank current resembles very closely a square (4a)
wave with a fundamental component of . As discussed
thoroughly in [14], to preserve the pulsed current shape, it is (4b)
very important that the nMOS transistors do not enter the triode
region. Therefore, to maximize the allowed tank voltage swing, where and (where
an RC network is introduced to provide a bias voltage to the is the electron/hole mobility, is the gate-oxide ca-
gates ( ) lower than the tank common-mode voltage. pacitance per unit area, and and are the transistor width
Turning to the complementary topology in Fig. 1(b), the and length, respectively), while and
nMOS transistors deliver current pulses to the differential tank, (where is the gatesource
and the same pulses flow through the cross-coupled pMOS pair. voltage of the n/pMOS transistor) are the average overdrive
Under steady-state conditions, the voltage waveform across the voltages in steady state for the nMOS and pMOS transistors,
tank settles so that opposite nMOS and pMOS transistors have respectively.
exactly the same conduction angle and current shape. The tank From (1) and (2), . Re-
voltages, transistor conduction angle, and current shape are placing the latter in (4b) and solving leads to
then determined by the aspect ratios of both nMOS and pMOS
transistors. To gain insight, Fig. 2 highlights the transistors
conducting current in the two half-cycles of one oscillation
(5)
period. The single-ended tank voltages can be written as
2The adopted notation here is different from [14]. The pushpull Class-C os-

(1a) cillator has a single differential tank while the resonator of the single-differential
pair Class-C oscillator in [14] is made of two single-ended tanks. The amplitude
(1b) calculated in [14] is for one of the two tanks.
726 IEEE JOURNAL OF SOLID-STATE CIRCUITS, VOL. 48, NO. 3, MARCH 2013

Fig. 4. Simulated current conversion efficiency when the pMOS transistors


enter the triode region, for different transistors gains.

transistor is lower (in magnitude) than the voltage driving


the pMOS transistor. In the second half of the period, the situa-
Fig. 3. Voltage and current waveforms in the pushpull Class-C oscillator with tion is reversed.
transistors working always in saturation (solid curves) and with pMOS transis- The device conduction angle ( ) and the fundamental com-
tors entering deeply into the triode region (dotted curves). ponent of the drain current ( ) can be derived from (4)(6)
following the same approach presented in [28] for the analysis
of the CMOS Colpitts oscillator, leading to

(6a)
(8)

(6b)
(9)

Interestingly, if nMOS and pMOS transistors have different An analysis of the circuit if the pMOS transistors enter the triode
gains (i.e., ), the peak values of the tank voltages region is much more involved, and does not lead to simple
expressed by (6) are different. For symmetry, the analysis of closed-form equations. The intuitive view discussed above is
the circuit in the second half of the oscillation period, i.e., for nevertheless still useful to explain the behavior in this case. The
, when and are active, as depicted in results of a simulation with 0.25 V are shown with
Fig. 2(b), leads to tank voltages with opposite magnitude as the dotted lines in Fig. 3. The gain of the pMOS transistors is
now much lower, since they operate in triode for most of the
time, but the drain current shape must still match the drain cur-
rent of the opposite nMOS transistors. As a result, the ampli-
tude of the tank voltage driving the nMOS transistors (i.e.,
and in the first and second half of the period respectively)
(7)
drops significantly. As shown by the bottom plots in Fig. 3,
the conduction angle of the devices increases and the drain cur-
rent pulses are widened, losing the high dc-to-RF conversion
The above analysis has been checked by means of circuit sim-
efficiency of the narrow pulses. To gain further insight, Fig. 4
ulations reported in Fig. 3. The continuous lines represent the
plots the simulated magnitude of the fundamental component of
tank voltages (top plot) and the MOS currents (bottom plot) for a
the drain current normalized to the bias current (i.e., )
design where 0.9 V, 1.2 mA, and .
versus for different gain factors of the transistors. For
The supply voltage is adjusted for a steady-state common-mode
, the pMOS transistors do not leave the saturation
tank voltage 1 V, and the threshold of the pMOS tran-
region, while for they enter gradually into the
sistors has been artificially increased to 1 V by means of a dc
triode region; the lower , the larger the fraction of the
voltage source in series with the pMOS gates to avoid triode
oscillation period with pMOS transistors in triode. The current
operation. The simulated tank voltages are in very good agree-
conduction angle increases with decreasing , gradu-
ment with (6) and (7) and the difference between positive and
ally losing the high dc-to-RF conversion efficiency. In the limit
negative peaks, due to the different gains of pMOS and nMOS
case of , the conduction angle is approximately
transistors, is clearly evident. The origin of this asymmetry finds
and , which is the same as in the standard
also a very intuitive explanation. Since the circuit forces the
complementary CMOS oscillator.
same current in opposite nMOS and pMOS transistors, different
voltage amplitudes are required to compensate for the different
transistor gains. Focusing for example on the first half of the os- III. PHASE NOISE
cillation period, since the nMOS has more gain than the pMOS Following the linear time-variant (LTV) analysis approach
transistor ( ), the voltage driving the nMOS proposed by Hajimiry and Lee, the phase noise of a generic
MAZZANTI AND ANDREANI: PUSHPULL CLASS-C CMOS VCO 727

harmonic oscillator at an offset frequency from the carrier that is twice the amplitude that would be available with a single
can be expressed as [8], [29], [30] differential pair, yielding .
The effective noise contributed by each active pair is there-
fore
(10) (14)

The contribution to phase noise of the tail current source is quite


where is the oscillation amplitude across the resonator, al-
negligible, since its white noise is almost totally filtered out by
ready introduced in (2), is the tank capacitance, and, for white
the large tail capacitance required for Class-C operation. This
noise sources, (simply referred to as effective noise here-
is a further significant advantage of the Class-C oscillator com-
after) is given by
pared to the traditional differential pair topology, where the con-
tribution of the biasing transistor to phase noise is in general
(11)
non-negligible [12], [28].
Finally, the oscillation amplitude is given by the product
where is the oscillation period, is the white current of the tank resistance and the fundamental current component,
noise power spectral density (either stationary or cyclo-sta- , which is the sum of the nMOS and pMOS currents, i.e.,
tionary) produced by the th device, and is the corre- twice the current given by (9),
sponding impulse sensitivity function (ISF), encoding the
time-dependent sensitivity of the phase of the oscillation to (15)
. It has been shown that the ISF of the noise current
Substituting (12), (14), and (15) into (10), the closed-form
source associated with the tank loss resistance is, with very
phase-noise expression for the pushpull Class-C oscillator is
good approximation, a sinusoid in quadrature with the tank
voltage and with a magnitude inversely proportional to the
number of resonators in the oscillator [31]. Since we have
assumed a sinusoidal tank voltage with zero initial phase [see (16)
(2)] and the oscillator in Fig. 1(b) comprises a single resonator, The results of the phase-noise analysis have been compared
the tank ISF is . The stationary current against Spectre-RF simulations for a design example where we
noise power spectral density of the tank loss resistance ( ) have assumed a tank inductance of 1 nH with a quality factor
is (where and are the Boltzmans , 600 fF, 1.2 mA. The oscillation fre-
constant and the absolute temperature, respectively) and the quency is 6.5 GHz. The bias voltage for the nMOS transis-
tank effective noise follows immediately by calculating tors has been selected to avoid their entering the triode region.
the integral of (11) to yield The simulated oscillation amplitude, effective noise contribu-
tions and phase noise at 2 MHz offset from the carrier are re-
(12) ported in Table I for different values of . The effective
noise contributions predicted by (12) and (14) are
10 A Hz and, assuming , we obtain
To calculate the effective noise produced by the thermal noise
of nMOS and pMOS pairs, we can exploit the powerful general
property of phase noise in harmonic oscillators presented in [14]
A
and [32]. In particular, it has been proved that, if the core tran-
Hz
sistors do not leave the active (saturation) region, their effective
noise is independent of transistor type, size, and shape of the The calculated phase noise by (16) is 125.3 dBc/Hz. These re-
drain current, but depends only on the oscillator topology and sults are in very good agreement with simulations, reported in
can be related to the tank effective noise by means of the fol- the first row of Table I, for , i.e., with pMOS tran-
lowing equation: sistors not leaving the saturation region. The small discrepancy
( 1 dB) between calculated and simulated phase noise is due
(13) to the approximation in (9), which leads to a slight
overestimation of the oscillation amplitude in (15). In particular,
where is the proportionality constant linking the transistors the calculated is 990 mV, which is 1 dB higher than the
thermal noise to their transconductance, is the ratio between simulated value of 890 mV.
the voltage swing at the output of the active pair to the oscilla- More interestingly, these simulations point out a gradual de-
tion amplitude across the tank, and is the ratio between the terioration of phase noise if the pMOS transistors are allowed
voltage swing driving each active pair to the tank voltage. In to enter the triode region, rising up to 7 dB in the limit case of
the pushpull oscillator of Fig. 1(b), there are two distinct dif- . The reason is twofold: 1) the reduction of the os-
ferential pairs driving the resonator. Obviously, because cillation amplitude, reported in Table I, which is due to the much
the differential output of each pair is directly connected to the lower DC-to-RF current conversion efficiency, as discussed in
tank. On the other hand, the use of two complementary active the previous section, and 2) a significant increase, of more than
pairs leads to a feedback oscillation amplitude across each pair four times, of the effective noise generated by the transistors. It
728 IEEE JOURNAL OF SOLID-STATE CIRCUITS, VOL. 48, NO. 3, MARCH 2013

TABLE I
SIMULATED OSCILLATION AMPLITUDE, NOISE CONTRIBUTIONS, AND PHASE
NOISE OF THE PUSHPULL CLASS-C OSCILLATOR FOR DIFFERENT VALUES
OF

is worth noticing the proportional increase of both nMOS and Fig. 5. Pushpull Class-C oscillator modified to accommodate a large voltage
pMOS contributions, even if the former never leave the satura- swing.
tion region. The primary mechanism behind the increased con-
tribution of transistors effective noise is the larger current con-
duction angle, when pMOS transistors enter the triode region, as waveforms depicted in Fig. 5. During the first half of the os-
previously shown in Fig. 3. As a result, both nMOS and pMOS cillation cycle, transistors and are pushed toward the
transistors inject thermal noise into the tank over a wider frac- triode region. The boundary condition for saturation of ,
tion of the oscillation period, leading to a larger integral noise , can be written as
expressed by (11). , where and are the peak voltage
We have focused our attention on the transistors of the pMOS magnitudes at the two tank nodes in the first half of the oscilla-
pair, but the same discussion, with similar qualitative results, is tion cycle, as shown in Fig. 5. Given the differential oscillation
also valid for the transistors of the nMOS pair. For an optimal amplitude , the minimum required to
phase-noise performance, it is therefore very important to avoid keep in saturation is
any transistors entering the deep triode region.
(17)
IV. PUSHPULL CLASS-C OSCILLATOR FOR
Looking now at , the saturation condition
LARGE VOLTAGE SWING
requires . Assuming the
To avoid excessive phase noise penalty, the zero-peak differ- external bias voltage for the nMOS pair is selected at the min-
ential voltage swing across the resonator must be comparable imum possible value, i.e., ,
or lower than a pMOS threshold voltage. While this limitation where is the minimum voltage to keep the tail current
can be acceptable in ultrascaled technologies having a supply source in saturation), the upper bound for the tank voltage swing
voltage of 1 V with 0.50.6-V high- transistor options, it is:
represents a significant penalty for realizations in less scaled
technology nodes. A modified pushpull Class-C oscillator ac- (18)
commodating a larger voltage swing is presented in Fig. 5. An
additional RC network is introduced to provide a dc bias voltage The tank steady-state dc common-mode voltage is set by the
for the gates of the pMOS pair ( ) higher than the tank pMOS pair and the level shifter
common-mode voltage, allowing a larger resonator swing be-
(19)
fore the pMOS pair is pushed into the triode region. This is the
same technique adopted to bias the nMOS pair, with the differ- Assuming is selected at the optimal value given by (17),
ence that is not applied externally, but is generated by and replacing (19) in (18), the constraint on the maximum tank
offsetting upward the tank common-mode voltage, , by voltage swing to ensure transistors do not enter the triode region
, with transistor working as level shifter. This is nec- is
essary to preserve a low common-mode tank impedance and a
well-defined common-mode voltage. The power required to bias
the level shifter is negligible, compared with the overall dissi-
pation in the oscillator. (20)
By selecting a moderately high time constant for the RC bi-
asing networks, the noise impressed on and the noise The absolute value of and is introduced in the last
generated by the level shifter providing are low-pass fil- expression to highlight that the steady-state overdrive voltage of
tered and do not deteriorate the oscillator phase noise. nMOS (pMOS) transistors working in Class-C is negative (pos-
itive). For practical transistor sizes, the magnitude of the over-
A. Maximum Oscillation Amplitude drives is in the range of 50100 mV. The tail current source
To estimate the optimal design value for and the max- transistor in the Class-C oscillator can be sized very large, since
imum allowed oscillation amplitude, we refer to the voltage its drain parasitic capacitance is absorbed in . The required
MAZZANTI AND ANDREANI: PUSHPULL CLASS-C CMOS VCO 729

minimum drain voltage for saturation ( ) is therefore of the robustness against single-ended tank capacitance, lead to
the order of 100 mV or even less, leading to a maximum tank a significant improvement of the spectral purity for a given
voltage swing, from (20), which is roughly half of the supply power dissipation in favor of the Class-C oscillator. This will
voltage.3 This is nevertheless quite a pessimistic estimate. In be also evident from the comparison of experimental results
fact, in deep-submicron technologies, the velocity saturation of against the performances of recently reported complementary
the charge carriers prevails on the channel pinch-off to deter- LC-tank oscillators, presented in Section V.
mine saturation of the drain current, and a magnitude of
lower than what has been assumed in the above derivation is
therefore sufficient to keep the transistors in the active region. V. EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS
A VCO based on the large-swing Class-C topology of Fig. 5
B. Comparison With the Standard Complementary has been designed in 0.18- m CMOS. To keep a low VCO
Differential-Pairs CMOS Oscillator gain, the tank capacitance is made of a small varactor for fine
The maximum theoretical oscillation amplitude for the stan- tuning and a bank of four digitally switched and binary-sized
dard LC-tank oscillator with complementary differential pairs metal-fringe capacitors for coarse tuning. The 1-nH inductor is
is - [27]. Thus, this oscillator theoretically allows a two-turn coil, and the estimated tank is 10. From (20), the
a larger maximum amplitude than the pushpull Class-C os- optimal oscillation amplitude is approximately half of the
cillator of Fig. 5. However, it should be noticed that, unlike supply voltage. Given a nominal supply of 1.8 V, the biasing
in the Class-C oscillator, cannot be selected below current is set to 1.2 mA, leading to a simulated of
a few hundred millivolts, because the tail-current-source tran- 900 mV. The aspect ratio of the nMOS ( - ) and pMOS
sistor must be designed with a relatively small aspect ratio and a ( - ) core transistors is, respectively, 42 m/0.18 m and
correspondingly large overdrive voltage to yield a low transcon- 60 m/0.18 m. Transistor is 15 m/0.2 m and is biased
ductance, since its high-frequency thermal noise (proportional close to the threshold voltage with a 10- A current, providing
to its transconductance) is not filtered out, impacting the os- a voltage shift of 470 mV. The VCO drives directly a pair
cillator phase noise [28]. Furthermore, the noise from the of open-drain buffers, supplied off-chip with bias-tees, to drive
tail-current-source transistor is an issue as well [12]. the 50- impedance of the measurement setup.
The phase noise of the standard complementary oscillator is The tail current source is realized with a transistor
also severely impaired by capacitors connected single-ended having an aspect ratio of 500 m/0.8 m. A nonminimum
to the resonator, i.e., capacitors connected between the differ- channel length is selected to limit the generation of
ential outputs and ground [15], [27]. Assuming a tail-biased noise, which would be (at least partially) translated into
standard complementary oscillator topology, at large oscilla- phase noise. At the same time, the very large width leads
tion amplitude the on-resistance of the pMOS transistors, en- to a minimum drain voltage for saturation, of only
tering the triode region, appears in parallel to the single ended 80 mV. The total tail capacitance , comprising the parasitic
tank capacitors, thus degrading the loaded tank and there- drain junction capacitance of the tail transistor and an explicit
fore phase noise. In a typical design, this mechanism leads to a metal-fringe capacitance, is 1.1 pF. This value is sufficiently
significant phase noise penalty if the single-ended capacitance large to keep an almost constant steady-state tail voltage, the
is a non-negligible fraction of the total tank capacitance [27] fundamental condition for Class-C operation of the core tran-
(and up to 10-dB penalty in the case of 100% single-ended sistors. On the other hand, similar to the single-differential-pair
tank capacitance [15]). This issue leads to a severe tradeoff be- Class-C oscillator, too large a tail capacitance would lead to an
tween frequency tuning range and phase noise, since the com- instability of the oscillation amplitude, a phenomenon referred
ponents mostly responsible for introducing single-ended tank to as squegging [14]. Simulations indicate that squegging
capacitances are the varactors in the case of continuous fre- appears for 1.7 pF, indicating a sufficiently safe sta-
quency tuning, and, if a switched-capacitor bank is used for dis- bility margin with 1.1 pF. No squegging is observed
crete tuning, the parasitic capacitances of the switches [7]. How- in measurements.
ever, since the core transistors of a correctly designed pushpull Fig. 6 shows the chip photograph. The die area, including
Class-C oscillator never leave the saturation region, its pMOS pads, is 650 m 430 m. Fig. 7 shows the tuning curves. The
transistors cannot discharge the single-ended parasitic capaci- VCO is tunable from 6.09 to 7.50 GHz in 16 widely overlapping
tances, allowing a large frequency tuning range without a sig- bands. The maximum gain, at the center of the tuning curves,
nificant phase-noise penalty. ranges from 110 to 164 MHz/V.
In summary, even if the maximum oscillation amplitude Phase-noise measurements are carried out with 1.8 V
for the standard complementary differential-pair oscillator is and a current consumption of 1.2 mA, corresponding to a power
theoretically larger than for the Class-C oscillator, the higher dissipation of 2.16 mW. Fig. 8 shows a typical phase-noise plot.
dc-to-RF current conversion efficiency, the use of a large The bias voltage for the nMOS pair , provided off-chip,
explicit capacitance at the common-source node, allowing a is set to a nominal value of 0.65 V. This value, which is slightly
very low and filtering-out the bias current noise, and higher than the optimal minimum value calculated in the pre-
vious section, sets a small-signal device transconductance suffi-
3The maximum tank voltage swing of the pushpull Class-C oscillator is half
ciently large to ensure a robust oscillator start-up. On the other
that of the originally reported Class-C oscillator based on a single differential
pair [14]. Following the same analysis reported in [27], the two oscillators have hand, as it has been discussed in [14] for the single-differential-
the same maximum phase noise FoM. pair Class-C oscillator, the sensitivity of phase noise to
730 IEEE JOURNAL OF SOLID-STATE CIRCUITS, VOL. 48, NO. 3, MARCH 2013

Fig. 8. Measured phase-noise plot.

Fig. 6. Chip photograph.

Fig. 9. Simulated (continuous line) and measured (dots) phase noise at


200-kHz, 2-MHz, and 20-MHz offset from the carrier in each subband of the
pushpull Class-C VCO.

Fig. 7. Tuning curves of the pushpull Class-C VCO. , cal-


culated at 2 MHz or 20 MHz, ranges from 189 to
191 dBc/Hz across the tuning range.
is very low and no appreciable phase noise variations are ob- Finally, measurement results are summarized and compared
served for ranging from 0.6 to 0.7 V. Eventually, a ded- with recently reported complementary oscillators (i.e., oscil-
icated start-up circuit, as proposed recently for the single-dif- lators employing both nMOS and pMOS transistor pairs) fea-
ferential-pair Class-C oscillator, may be adopted to further op- turing a tuning range of more than 10% in Table II. The designs
timize the design [19][23]. in [26] and [33] are standard complementary oscillators with a
The measured phase noise at different offset frequen- pMOS top biasing current source. In [34], a filtering technique
cies, in each subband of the VCO, is compared with sim- for the bias noise employing an additional inductor is used. In
ulations in Fig. 9. The measured phase noise at 200-kHz, [35] the tail transistor is removed, while in [36] it is replaced by
2-MHz, and 20-MHz offsets ranges, respectively, from 97.5 a pair of parallel LC resonators. The best peak phase-noise FoM,
to 101 dBc/Hz, 120 to 123 dBc/Hz, and 140.3 to among all realizations, is 187 dBc/Hz. On average, the FoM of
143.4 dBc/Hz. The phase noise corner is slightly the Class-C complementary topology is more than 3 dB higher,
larger than expected, as visible in Fig. 9 by the larger dis- meaning that, for the same oscillation frequency and phase noise
crepancy between measurements and simulations at 200-kHz target, the proposed solution saves more than half of the power.
offset, where noise is dominant. Possibly, this is caused Yet another popular (albeit somewhat arbitrary) figure-of-
by wanting device noise models. The smaller discrep- merit takes into account the tuning range TR as well, and is
ancy between measurements and simulations in the defined as , where is ex-
region, at 2-MHz and 20-MHz offsets, is likely due to a pressed in percent. Also in this case the push-pull Class-C VCO
slight overestimation of the tank quality factor. The FoM compares well with the state-of-the-art (see Table II again),
normalizing oscillation frequency ( ), power dissipa- especially if we consider the high frequency of operation and
tion ( ), and phase noise at the offset frequency , the rather old technology used.
MAZZANTI AND ANDREANI: PUSHPULL CLASS-C CMOS VCO 731

TABLE II
PERFORMANCE SUMMARY AND COMPARISON WITH RECENTLY REPORTED CMOS VCOS EMPLOYING COMPLEMENTARY DIFFERENTIAL PAIRS

VI. CONCLUSION [13] K. Kwok and H. C. Luong, Ultra-low-voltage high-performance


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[32] J. Bank, A Harmonic-Oscillator Design Methodology based on De- over 50 technical papers. His main research interests cover device modeling
scribing Functions, Ph.D. dissertation, Dept. Signals and Syst., Sch. and IC design for high-speed communications and millimeter-wave systems.
Electr. Eng., Chalmers Univ. Technol., Gteborg, Sweden, 2006. Dr. Mazzanti has been a member of the Technical Program Committee of the
[33] T. Tokairin, M. Okada, M. Kitsunezuka, T. Maedaand, and M. IEEE Custom Integrated Circuit Conference (CICC) and the IEEE International
Fukaishi, A 2.1-to-2.8-GHz low-phase-noise all-digital frequency Conference on IC Design and Technology (ICICDT) since 2008. He is currently
synthesizer with a time-windowed time-to-digital converter, IEEE J. serving as an associate editor for the IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON CIRCUITS AND
Solid State Circuits, vol. 45, no. 12, pp. 25822590, Dec. 2010. SYSTEMSI: REGULAR PAPERS.
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thesizer with fast auto-calibration of loop bandwidth and VCO fre-
quency, IEEE J. Solid State Circuits, vol. 47, no. 3, pp. 665675, Mar.
2012. Pietro Andreani (SM07) received the M.S.E.E. de-
[35] S. Levantino, M. Zanuso, C. Samori, and A. Lacaita, Suppression of gree from the University of Pisa, Pisa, Italy, in 1988,
flicker noise upconversion in a 65 nm CMOS VCO in the 3.0-to-3.6 and the Ph.D. degree from Lund University, Lund,
GHz band, in IEEE Int. Solid State Circuits Conf. Dig. of Tech. Papers, Sweden, in 1999.
Feb. 2010, pp. 5051. Between 2001 and 2007, he was Chair Professor
[36] D. Ponton, G. Knoblinger, A. Roithmeierl, M. Tiebout, M. Fulde, and with the Center for Physical Electronics, Tech-
P. Palestri, Assessment of the impact of technology scaling on the nical University of Denmark. Since 2007, he has
performance of LC-VCOs, in Proc. Eur. Solid State Circuits Conf., been an Associate Professor with the Department
Sep. 2009, pp. 364367. of Electrical and Information Technology, Lund
University, Lund, Sweden, where he is involved
Andrea Mazzanti (M09) received the Laurea and with analog/mixed-mode/RF IC design. He is also a
Ph.D. degrees in electrical engineering from the Uni- part-time IC Designer with ST-Ericsson, Lund.
versit di Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena, Italy, Prof. Andreani has been a TPC member of ISSCC (20072012) and is a TPC
in 2001 and 2005, respectively. member of ESSCIRC.
During the summer of 2003, he was with Agere
Systems, Allentown, PA as an Intern. From 2006
to 2009, he was an Assistant Professor with the
Universit di Modena and Reggio Emilia, Modena,
Italy, where he taught a course on advanced analog
IC design. In January 2010, he joined the Universit
di Pavia, Pavia, Italy. He has authored or coauthored