Understanding and managing buck regulator output ripple

Dan Tooth co-authored this technical article

Your new design needs to fit twice as much into half the space and cost nothing – sound familiar? You selected the smallest point-of-load regulator and generated the tightest layout you could with the most cost-effective passive components. So far so good. But then you look at the output ripple on your critical rails and it’s not what you expected. What’s going on?

Let’s start by understanding what makes up the output ripple on a buck DC/DC regulator. It is a composite waveform. Traditionally only the three dominant elements shown in Figure 1 have been considered:

  • A triangular wave generated by applying the inductor current ramp across the equivalent series resistance (ESR) of the output capacitors. A 22-µF X5R ceramic capacitor may have an ESR of only 2 mΩ. Considering an inductor peak-to-peak current ripple of 1 A, the ESR ripple is 2 mV (less if you’re using multiple parallel capacitors).
  • A pseudo-sinusoidal component due to output capacitance. For the same output capacitor and ripple current as in the bullet point above, the capacitive ripple will be around 8 mV (less for multiple parallel output capacitors).
  • A square component generated across the output capacitor equivalent series inductance (ESL). For a 22-µF X5R capacitor, the ESL is around 0.5 nH, which generates a ripple of about 2 mV.

Figure 1: Typical output ripple waveforms

However, what you measure has spikes on the edges and a higher square-wave content that changes polarity when you reverse the inductor shown in Figure 2:

Figure 2: Measured output ripple

What has caused these undesirable components? And more importantly, what can you do about it?


When you selected your inductor, the self-resonant frequency (SRF) was above your regulator switching frequency, so all was good. Let’s re-look at that – the inductor has an SRF because it has a parallel parasitic capacitance. Applying the fast edge of the switching voltage to the parasitic capacitance generates a large current spike through the capacitor, which in turn generates a large voltage spike across the ESL of the output capacitor (see Equation 1):


To reduce this spike:

  • Select an inductor with a smaller parasitic capacitance. Look for the highest SRF value for the inductance and rating you need. Lower inductances tend to have lower parasitic capacitance (as do lower current ratings), so don’t over-specify the inductance or current rating.
  • Reduce the output capacitance ESL. Choose the smallest capacitor package size that meets your output capacitance requirements. Using multiple smaller capacitors in parallel means the package size (and hence the ESL) of each capacitor can be smaller, while having inductors in parallel will also reduce the total ESL.
  • Reduce the transient voltages (dV/dt) of the switch node (increase the value of t). Some regulators may allow direct control of the switch-node edge, but more often you may be able to place a small resistor in series with the bootstrap capacitor to slow the edge. This can impact efficiency, so the first two options are preferable.

Square wave

Let’s say that you selected a cost-effective, unshielded inductor. The magnetic field from an unshielded (or resin-shielded inductor) can spread beyond the physical body of the component. The simulation plots in Figure 3 show the field for an unshielded open drum inductor and a fully shielded molded inductor. 

Figure 3: Magnetic field for unshielded drum and shielded molded inductors (Source: Courtesy of Coilcraft)

This compact layout has output capacitors sitting right next to the inductor. The escaping magnetic field couples to the ESL of the capacitors (and to a lesser extent the output track loops) and generates the square-wave component. When the inductor is reversed, the current in the inductor and the magnetic field is reversed (like swapping the dot in a coupled inductor), so the square-wave component is inverted.
To reduce this effect:

·       Select a shielded inductor to reduce the leakage flux that generates this coupling. If you’re using unshielded or semi-shielded inductors, selecting an inductor that is larger in the x-y dimension but has a lower profile will reduce the airgap height and hence the fringing flux.

·       Reduce the output capacitance ESL as described above.

·       Don’t position the output capacitors and tracking directly next to the inductor, where the field is highest. Where space is critical, consider placing the inductor on the opposite side of the board to the rest of the regulator circuit in a clamshell construction. This moves the output capacitors away from the plane of the inductor where the magnetic field is strongest.

Now you can look at your output ripple waveform and unpack the different components. By choosing the right external passives and making some careful decisions on layout, you can still achieve a tiny, cost-effective solution and optimize the output ripple for your application.
Additional resources

·       Read the Analog Design Journal article, “Select inductors for buck converters to get optimum efficiency and reliability.

·       Download the application reports, “Output Ripple Voltage for Buck Switching Regulator” and Space Optimized, ‘Clam-Shell’ Layout for Step-Down DC/DC Converters.

  • Hi Sir

    The answer to your question is .... it depends!  In the article above I have tried to suggest a few different steps to mitigate each undesired ripple component.  The step which is best in each case depends on the limitations within which you are working.  Are you trying to achieve the smallest possible solution, or the most cost effective solution, or the most efficient solution?  For example, a fully shielded inductor will allow a very small layout but will cost more; a lower cost, non-shielded inductor can be fine if the output capacitors are further away but this is a larger solution; or slowing down the switching edges can help but this sacrifices a little efficiency.  The double sided layout described in this apps note (www.ti.com/.../slva630a.pdf) can certainly help in some cases.  Generally, I would say that time spent optimising the layout of your design is never wasted.  It will allow you to achieve the full potential of the devices and components chosen, but it can't really compensate for a poor component.



  • Thanks Jim for demystifying what typically plagues my DC/DC power designs. Given the parts are generally well chosen, how much would you think the PCB layout plays out on ripple over selecting even more expensive (better) parts? In other words, is it worth putting more engineering time into parts vs. PCB layout.

  • Hi Kevin

    Yes, I did mean desoldering, spinning 180deg and resoldering.  As an ideal  component inductors are symmetrical, but for a real world, classic bobbin wound inductor rotating has two potential effects:

    Firstly it is good practice to connect the start of the winding to the SW node and the end of the winding to the output.  The SW end of the coil has the full ground to Vin voltage swing and can radiate EMI. If this is the start of the winding, it is buried in the centre of the inductor with the rest of the winding around it.  This has "self shielding" effect and can reduce the EMI.

    In this article however, we were discussing the effect of the output ripple.  This is due to the magnetic coupling from the inductor to the ESL of the output capacitors which acts like a transformer.  Reversing the inductor reverses the direction of current flow in the coil and reverses the field direction and hence the polarity of this coupled signal - like switching the dot on a transformer winding.

    Both these effects are seen when using lower cost, unshielded or semi-shielded inductors.  The simple solution is to use a fully shielded inductor but in cost sensitive applications this may not be an option.  I notice the DFE2520 inductor you cited is a chip inductor - the structure is slightly different but the effects are the same.



  • Hi Jim,

    What do you mean by "reverse the inductor"?

    I envisioned it as desoldering the inductor, rotating it 180 degrees and then soldering it back down, but I've always been under the impression that the inductors I use are symmetrical (DFE2520 for example: www.murata.com/.../productdetail