# Considerations for the Output Current and Voltage Ripple in a Multiphase Buck with Coupled Inductors

### Abstract

Multiphase coupled inductors are a promising technology with significant system benefits due to the current ripple cancellation inside each coupled phase. A surprising fact, however, is that the total output current ripple of the multiphase buck is the same for coupled or noncoupled inductors. This article focuses on considerations for the output current ripple and the specific details that impact output voltage ripple and overall converter performance.

### Introduction

The multiphase buck converter is a widely used topology for voltage step-down applications with high output currents. Voltage regulators with this circuit can be found in servers, AI, data centers, cloud computing, communications, automotive, and more.

Current ripple in inductors is an important parameter that influences design choices, which impacts efficiency, output voltage ripple, transient performance, solution size, and other performance metrics. This article will focus on these current ripple considerations.

The conventional multiphase buck converter with discrete inductors (DL) is shown in Figure 1a. An alternative to replace DLs with coupled inductors (CLs) is depicted in Figure 1b.1-9 It is important to ensure a phase shift between all converter phases (1 to Nph) for optimal interleaving of waveforms. Such phase shift is generally expected to minimize the total output current ripple that goes into the output capacitance Co and therefore the output voltage ripple. The appropriate phase shift is also needed to get the best performance in the CL.

The current ripple in each phase of the conventional buck converter can be calculated using Equation 1, where duty cycle D = VOUT/VIN, VOUT is the output voltage, VIN is the input voltage, L is the inductance value, and Fs is the switching frequency. Assuming the discrete inductor is replaced with a coupled inductor of the same value (L, now leakage inductance) and added mutual inductance Lm, the current ripple in CL can be shown in Equation 2.6 The figure of merit (FOM) is expressed as Equation 3, where Nph is the number of coupled phases, ρ is a coupling coefficient (Equation 4), and j is a running index that defines an applicable interval of the duty cycle (Equation 5).

Generally, CL exhibits a larger FOM,6 indicating a significant advantage in terms of current ripple cancellation (Equation 2) as compared to DL (Equation 1). In other words, the same transient performance of inductance L will result in a considerably smaller current ripple in the case of CL, allowing for a potential reduction in Fs for higher efficiency. Alternatively, the inductance value can be decreased for faster transient and smaller magnetics and output capacitance. Thus, the benefits of CL can be leveraged in various ways, such as reducing solution size or achieving notable improvements in efficiency.

### Total Current Ripple at Output

Interleaved multiphase converters offer the advantage of reduced total current ripple when multiple inductor currents flow into the same net.10,11 In the case of a multiphase buck converter, this reduction in total AC flowing into the output capacitors (Co) is generally achieved (Equation 6). Reduced AC in the output capacitance is typically beneficial as it reduces the output voltage ripple and slightly improves efficiency. Additionally, improvements can also be observed in the ripple in input capacitors. However, the main focus of this article will be on the current ripple in inductors and its impact on the output.

The current ripple in DL phase (Equation 1) will have the largest amplitude at D = 0.5. Normalizing (Equation 6) by that worst value allows to eliminate voltages, frequency, and inductance, and plot the normalized (relative) total current ripple curves as a function of the duty cycle (Equation 7). Of course, this assumes that all eliminated circuit conditions remain the same.

The total normalized output current ripple in the multiphase buck converter is represented by Equation 7 and is visualized in Figure 2. It is worth noting that it equals a single-phase current ripple when Nph = 1, as expected. When more phases (1 to Nph) are paralleled with a phase shift of 360/Nph degrees between each phase, it often results in a proportionally higher output current and therefore power. However, Figure 2 shows that the total current ripple that goes into output capacitance decreases dramatically at the same time. This highlights one of the advantages of interleaving multiple phases for better system performance, which applies to both DL and CL configurations. Although the current waveforms inside each phase of uncoupled DL and CL may appear different, the total summed current (total output current in a multiphase buck) exhibits the same waveform. In fact, equations 6 and 7 are applicable to both DL and CL buck converters (with the exception that CL needs Nph > 1). Figure 3, Figure 4, and Figure 5 show simulated current ripple in six phases of buck with VIN = 12 V, VOUT = 1.0 V (D = 0.0833), L = 50 nH, Fs = 600 kHz. Bottom red curves illustrate the total six phase current ripple at the output. Figure 3a corresponds to the discrete inductor case Lm = 0 (DL = 50 nH), and Figure 3b has a small Lm = 20 nH introduced (CL = 6× 50 nH). Increasing the coupling further, Figure 4a has Lm = 50 nH and Figure 4b has Lm = 200 nH. The latter corresponds to the off-the-shelf six-phase coupled inductor CL1010V1-6-R050-R: CL = 6× 50 nH, Lm = 200 nH. Finally, it is important to note that Figure 5a and Figure 5b depict cases that are practically unrealistic due to challenging implementation of very large Lm = 1 μH and Lm = 10 μH, respectively.

The advantage of current ripple cancellation in CL is visible. As mutual inductance is increased, the ripple current in each phase decreases dramatically until reaching a diminishing return, where a further increase of Lm lowers the current ripple at a smaller and smaller rate. Designing an overkill Lm, such as 1 μH or 10 μH in Figure 5, would also noticeably impact the CL size and most likely DCR, so these cases are plotted just to show the current ripple trend.

Comparing the amplitude of the phase currents between DL = 50 nH (Figure 3a) and CL = 6× 50 nH with Lm = 200 nH (Figure 4a) shows a significant reduction in current ripple, with a 4× decrease (from 30.63 A to 7.7 A). However, note that the bottom red curves representing the total output current ripple from all phases remain identical for any Lm value (including Lm = 0 in Figure 3a), even though the phase current waveforms are very different. The peak-to-peak amplitudes of the simulated ripple waveforms in figures 3 to 5 align with the calculated current ripple (1), (2), and (6) plotted in Figure 6. For the given conditions VIN = 12 V, Nph = 6, and, Fs = 600 kHz, the total output current ripple from all six phases remains constant for any Lm value and equals 16.6 A for VOUT = 1.0 V. One way to understand this phenomenon is by recognizing that as the Lm value increases, the current ripple decreases, causing the phase currents to become more similar. Consequently, their peaks effectively add up to the output. It could be approximately considered that coupling reduces the phase ripple by a factor ~Nph but then Nph similar ripple peaks are added together at the output, resulting in the same total output current ripple. This is particularly evident in Figure 5, where waveforms with very large Lm are shown. It can be observed that the total current ripple cancellation for interleaved phases remains consistent for the same inductor values. However, there is a distinction in how this cancellation occurs. In the case of DL, it primarily takes place at the output net. On the other hand, the presence of coupled inductors allows a significant portion of the interleaving and ripple cancellation to propagate upstream into each individual phase current.

Notice that all curves in Figure 6 correspond to the same maximum current slew rate limit (and therefore transient), defined by the 50 nH inductance value in each phase.

### Output Voltage Ripple

A simplified understanding of output voltage ripple assumes that the total output current ripple passes through the effective equivalent series resistance (ESR) of the output capacitance bank, resulting in a directly proportional voltage drop. This voltage drop manifests as a steady-state voltage waveform at the output of the converter. A more detailed analysis would entail considering the actual capacitance in each output capacitor, along with capacitor parasitics and layout parasitics. However, the general expectation is that a higher total current ripple at the output will lead to the higher output voltage ripple. This could pose a limiting factor for CL. The phase current ripple in figures 3 to 5 is shown for comparison under apples-to-apples conditions, illustrating the same total output current ripple for the same inductance values. However, in practical applications, a DL ripple of 30.6 A as shown in Figure 3a may exceed the typical target range for 30 A to 50 A load current per phase. In such scenarios, the Fs would be higher or the DL value would be increased. Utilizing the benefits of CL often entails maintaining a comparable (and acceptable) phase current ripple between DL and CL designs. The advantage of CL manifests either in significantly lower Fs for higher efficiency or in a smaller inductance value, facilitating the faster transient and reducing the size of the output capacitance.8 This means that while the current ripple inside the phase would be comparable between DL and CL—the total output current ripple of the CL solution could be higher.

However, several factors should be taken into account. The typical multiphase solution usually has the power stages lined up in a row, followed by inductors and then output capacitors. This layout applies similarly when using CL. Consequently, the VOUT net isn’t a single connection point in simulation, but a distributed network where phase currents are injected at varying distances. The capacitors are also distributed along the row of VOUT inductor leads, with associated parasitics within and between them. The distributed network of parasitics in layout and output capacitors effectively filters waveforms from distant phases more rapidly. As a result, individual capacitors conduct more current ripple from nearby VOUT inductor pins than from those further away. Since ceramic capacitors typically have minimum impedance above 1 MHz to 2 MHz, current ripple with the main Fs < 1 MHz harmonic (DL, Figure 3a) may be attenuated less compared to waveforms with multiple current peaks per the switching period (for example, CL; Figure 4b). Additionally, considering the poles created by ESL and ESR of the output capacitors, along with layout parasitics, a larger attenuation of the waveform with higher frequency content is also expected.

Another factor is that even though the total output current ripple of CL could be mathematically larger than such from DL: the local phase currents will be comparable, in fact often the CL phase ripple current will have somewhat smaller amplitude. The CL is effectively bringing current ripple cancellation from the output VOUT net (in DL case) up to each switching phase.

Figure 7 shows a typical component placement and layout of the multiphase buck converter, where the output voltage rail is provided to some CPU or GPU load (socket area is shown by the large rectangular outline). The output capacitor array is located under the specified load area.

Figure 8 shows the VOUT voltage ripple at the voltage sense point in the middle of the load socket in Figure 7 in the following conditions: VIN = 12 V, VOUT = 1 V, Fs = 600 kHz. Initially, DL = 100 nH is loaded into six phases of the voltage regulator, resulting in a maximum voltage ripple of 10.11 mV (Figure 8a). Placing CL = 6× 100 nH results in a slightly improved measurement of 10.05 mV max (Figure 8b). Then loading CL = 6× 50 nH into the inductor footprint for a better transient shows only a slightly increased ripple of 14.91 mV (Figure 8c). This is a negligible increase, especially considering that the typical limiting factor for the minimum output capacitance is the fast transient conditions, not the VOUT ripple.

The phase current ripple of CL = 6× 50 nH is only 7.7 A as shown in Figure 4b or Figure 6. Reducing the high current ripple of 30.6 A for DL = 50 nH by increasing the value to DL = 100 nH results in a proportional decrease to 15.3 A, which is an improvement (though at the cost of transient response). However, it remains twice as large as the ripple in CL = 6× 50 nH. Therefore, choosing DL = 100 nH will still impact efficiency.

### Transient Performance

As the 6-phase CL = 6× 50 nH would have a big advantage in current ripple over the DL = 50 nH with a similar transient performance, the value of the discrete inductor is increased to DL = 100 nH to decrease the ripple difference at least partially with CL = 6× 50 nH. The resulting transient is compared in Figure 9.

Measurements were done with the same conditions of VIN = 1 2 V , VOUT = 1 V, Fs = 600 kHz. In order to showcase undershoot and overshoot of the output voltage, the loadline setting was changed for a smaller droop of 0.132 mΩ. The approach to showcase the voltage overshot is easier than that of removing some output capacitors. As expected with low VOUT (for example, VOUT < VIN/2), the overshoot dominates the peak-to-peak transient performance of the output voltage.

For the load step of 240 A (40 A per phase), the output voltage peak-to-peak is dVOUT = 81.2 mV for CL = 6× 50 nH (Figure 9a), and dVOUT = 153.3 mV for DL = 100 nH (Figure 9b). Notice the PWM signals on top of the waveforms in Figure 9: even though the feedback loop is never instantaneous, the overshoot corresponds to the complete absence of the PWM pulses. This means that all phases are pulled down without any switching events and the transient performance is limited only by the current slew rate in the inductors themselves. This explains a roughly 2× measured difference in output voltage peak-to-peak between CL = 6× 50 nH and DL = 100 nH.

Looking at the Figure 9 waveforms, the VOUT ripple is not a concern as the aggressive transient excursions dominate the output voltage peak-to-peak. The minimum output capacitance will be defined by the transient specs, not the VOUT ripple.

In a real application, the slower DL = 100 nH would require close to 2× more output capacitance to satisfy the same VOUT peak-to-peak transient specifications as compared to CL = 6× 50 nH. At the same time, the DL = 100 nH would still have 2× larger current ripple if the same switching frequency is used. This could affect efficiency for two reasons: either due to large current ripple causing increased rms in current waveforms across the circuit and higher AC losses in DL, or due to higher switching frequency needed to reduce ripple, leading to proportionally higher switching losses.

### Conclusion

Coupled inductor technology enables a variety of system benefits compared to the conventional approach, and these advantages can be optimized for many different priorities and applications.8–10 However, an intriguing and counterintuitive fact is that the total current ripple of a multiphase buck converter remains the same for discrete and coupled inductors with identical inductance values. Leveraging the benefits of CL often results in an increase in the total output current ripple, despite typically reducing the current ripple in each phase. However, this potential drawback is generally mitigated by CL effectively pulling the phase interleaving from the output of the converter upstream into each phase, as well as by the filtering properties of the distributed Co tank. In other words, even if the total output current ripple of the solution with CL is purposely increased, it is better mixed among the physically separated VOUT leads of the different phases, compared to DL. Also, the individual phase currents of CL typically have a higher frequency content and lower peak-to-peak, so they are often filtered better in the distributed network of the output capacitors and layout parasitics. This typically results in a very minor increase of VOUT ripple when the CL advantage is utilized for a better transient or efficiency.

In many multiphase applications, the minimum amount of the output capacitance is often defined by the large and fast transient step specifications rather than considerations for the VOUT ripple. This makes the total current ripple considerations even less important. As the number of phases (Nph) increases for larger load current specifications, there’s a general trend to note: the transient steps are expected to grow proportionally with Nph, leading to a proportional increase in the minimum required output capacitance. However, the total current ripple at the output decreases significantly with the increase of interleaved phases in parallel. This holds true for both DL and CL and generally reduces the significance of output voltage ripple considerations. As a CL solution is typically associated with a faster transient and/or higher efficiency, a potential increase of the total output current ripple is typically not a significant design factor. However, it is good practice to check the VOUT ripple performance in applications with slow transient and low Nph, where VOUT ripple rather than transient response might be a dominating factor dictating the minimum required output capacitance.

### References

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