4-Channel I2C Multiplexer Provides Address Expansion, Bus Buffering and Fault Management


As data processing, mass storage and communications systems have grown, the size and complexity of the subsystems employed to transfer information such as temperature, fan speed, system voltages and Vital Product Data (VPD, board identification, for example) have grown in proportion. This information is most often transferred through two-wire serial buses, such as I2C or SMBus.

Several practical problems can arise in the design of these systems, especially as they become large. First, many devices, such as Small Form Factor Pluggable optical modules (SFPs) have hard-wired I2C addresses, preventing the use of multiple such devices due to address conflict. Second, as the variety of devices increases and more I/O cards are hot-swapped into and out of a system, the likelihood of an I2C device becoming confused and holding the bus low increases. Third, bus timing specifications become difficult to meet with increasing equivalent bus capacitance. In addition to these large system issues, cycling power whenever a new I/O card is installed is not an option in uninterruptible systems of any size.

The LTC4306 4-channel 2-wire bus multiplexer/switch with bus buffers addresses all of these issues (see Table 1 for a short list of features). A master on the upstream 2-wire bus (SDAIN, SCLIN) can connect to any combination of downstream buses through the LTC4306’s bus buffers and multiplexers/switches. As a result, the same device address can be used on multiple downstream buses. The buffers provide capacitive isolation between the upstream and downstream buses, allowing for partitioning of the system loading. Rise time accelerators further aid in overcoming capacitance limitations. Stuck Low Timeout circuitry disconnects the upstream bus from the downstream buses when the bus is low for a programmed length of time, freeing the upstream bus to resume communications. Finally, any of the LTC4306’s 2-wire bus pins can be hot-swapped into and out of a live system without corrupting it. The LTC4306 works with supply voltages ranging from 2.7V to 5.5V.

Table 1. Some features of the LTC4306
Feature Benefits
4 Selectable Downstream Buses ❏ Maximum flexibility of bus configurations
❏ Nested addressing when used a MUX
Disconnect from Stuck Bus ❏ Frees masters to resume upstream communications
2-Wire Bus Buffers ❏ Breaks up capacitance
Buffer Supply Independence ❏ Level-shifting: 2-Wire buses can be pulled up to supply voltages ranging from 2.2V to 5.5V, independent of the LTC4306 VCC voltage
Slew Limited Rise Time Accelerators ❏ Aid in reducing rise time
❏ Allow larger bus pull-up resistors for better noise margin
❏ Drive long cables with no reflection issues
2-Wire Bus Hot Swap ❏ Prevents 2-wire bus corruption during live insertion and removal from backplane
Fault Reporting ❏ Helps master find and resolve system faults efficiently
Mass Write Address ❏ Issue one command to all LTC4306s at the same time

General Operation

A block diagram for the LTC4306 is shown in Figure 1, and a description of its register contents is given in Table 2. The UVLO comparator prevents the LTC4306 from receiving commands until the VCC voltage rises above 2.5V (typical). This ensures that the LTC4306 does not try to function until it has sufficient bias voltage. When ENABLE is brought below 1V, the LTC4306 is reset to its default high-impedance state and ignores any attempts at communication on its 2-wire buses. When ENABLE is brought back above 1.1V, masters may resume communication with the LTC4306.

Figure 1. A block diagram of the LTC4306.

Table 2. LTC4306 Register Contents
Register Contents
0 Gives logic state of ALERT1#–ALERT4# pins, and present and latched states of Stuck Low Timer. Indicates whether upstream bus is connected to any downstream buses and whether any failed attempts at connection occurred.
1 Activates/deactivates upstream and downstream rise time accelerators. Writes and reads logic states of GPIO pins.
2 Configures behavior mode of GPIOs. Enables/disables Mass Write feature. Programs Stuck Low Time. Sets requirements on downstream bus logic states for connection to upstream bus.
3 Connects upstream bus to any combination of 4 downstream buses. Masters can read logic state of the downstream buses before connecting to them.

Disconnecting from a Stuck Bus

The LTC4306 disconnects the upstream bus from the downstream buses when the 2-wire bus is stuck low for a programmed period of time. Masters are then free to resume communications on the upstream bus, assuming the source of the problem resides on a downstream bus. The Stuck Low Timeout circuitry monitors the two common internal nodes of the downstream SDA and SCL switches and runs a timer whenever either of the internal node voltages is below 0.52V. The timer is reset whenever both internal voltages are above 0.6V. Using register 2, masters can set times of 7.5ms, 15ms, or 30ms, or they can choose to disable the timeout feature.

2-Wire Bus Buffers and Multiplexer Switches Provide Capacitance Buffering and Level Shifting

Masters write to register 3 to connect to any combination of downstream channels. The 2-Wire Bus Buffers provide capacitive isolation between the upstream SDAIN, SCLIN bus and the downstream buses. Thanks to this feature, masters can include LTC4306s at various points in their system to break one large bus into several smaller buses. When any downstream bus is connected, the LTC4306 allows the READY pin to be pulled to a logic high by an external resistor.

By default, the LTC4306 only connects to downstream buses that are high. Attempts to connect to a low downstream bus fail and cause the LTC4306 to pull the ALERT# pin low to indicate a fault. Masters can override this feature by writing to register 2 and instructing the LTC4306 to execute connection commands regardless of the downstream logic state.

The upstream and downstream bus pull-up supply voltages can range from 2.2V to 5.5V, independent of the LTC4306 VCC voltage—the LTC4306 therefore provides level-shifting between buses having different pull-up voltages. To guarantee proper operation when connecting multiple downstream channels at once, make sure that the LTC4306 VCC voltage is less than or equal to all downstream pull-up voltages to maintain channel-to-channel isolation during logic highs.

Rise Time Accelerators Reduce Rise Times

By writing to Register 2, masters may activate the rise time accelerators on the upstream bus, downstream bus, neither or both. When activated, the accelerators turn on in a controlled manner and source current into the buses to make them rise at a typical rate of 100V/μs during positive bus transitions. These strong pull-up currents allow users to build large, heavily capacitive systems while still meeting rise time specifications, but are also slew limited for driving long cables. In addition, given the strong drive provided by the accelerators, system designers can choose large resistor pull-ups to minimize bus logic low voltages, thereby maximizing logic low noise margin.

Fault Information Aids Diagnosis

After a fault occurs and the LTC4306 pulls the ALERT# pin low, the LTC4306 works with the master to resolve the fault simply and quickly. The LTC4306 stores specific fault information in read-only register 0. Faults stored include a stuck low bus, faults on the downstream buses, and a failed attempt to connect to a downstream channel.

If the source of the problem is on a connected downstream bus, the master can communicate directly with the offending device. In this case, the LTC4306 acts transparently, with the master and offending device communicating directly via the LTC4306’s bus buffers.

In all other cases, the LTC4306 communicates with the master on the upstream 2-wire bus to resolve the fault. After the master broadcasts the Alert Response Address (ARA), the LTC4306 responds with its address on SDAIN and releases ALERT#. The LTC4306 also releases ALERT# if it is addressed by the master. The master determines the source of the fault by reading register 0. After the master solves the problem, it writes a dummy byte to register 0 (which is a read-only register) to reset the fault detection circuitry.

Nested Addressing and Level-Shifting

The circuit shown in Figure 2 illustrates the nested addressing, level-shifting and capacitance buffering features of the LTC4306. For simplicity, only channels 1 and 4 are shown. Note that the backplane, card 1 and card 4 are pulled up to three different supply voltages. Also, the SFP modules have the same address, but no conflict occurs as long as channels 1 and 4 are never active at the same time.

Figure 2. A circuit illustrating the nested addressing and level shifting features of the LTC4306.

2-Wire Bus Hot Swapping with the LTC4306 Located on the Backplane

Figure 3 shows a circuit with the LTC4306 located on the backplane and an I/O card plugging into downstream channel 4. Again, channels 2 and 3 are omitted for simplicity. Before plugging and unplugging the card, make sure that channel 4 is not connected to the upstream bus, so that any transaction occurring on the upstream bus is not disturbed. The pull-up resistors on SDA4 and SCL4 are shown on the backplane, but they may be located on the I/O card, as long as masters on the backplane do not connect to channel 4 when no card is present. The pull-up resistor on ALERT4# must be located on the backplane, to prevent false fault reporting when the I/O card is not present.

Figure 3. A 2-Wire Bus hot-swapping application circuit with the LTC4306 resident on the backplane.

2-Wire Bus Hot Swapping with the LTC4306 Located on an I/O Card

In Figure 4 the LTC4306 resides on the edge of an I/O card having four separate downstream buses. Connect a 200kΩ resistor from ENABLE to ground and make ENABLE the shortest pin on the connector. This ensures that ENABLE remains at a constant logic low while all other pins are connecting, so that the LTC4306 remains in its default high impedance state and ignores connection transients on SDAIN and SCLIN during connection. In addition, make the ALERT# connector pin shorter than the VCC pin, so that VCC establishes solid contact with the I/O card pull-up supply pin and powers the pull-up resistors on ALERT1#–ALERT4# before ALERT# makes contact. When disconnecting, ENABLE breaks contact first, resetting the LTC4306 to its default state, so that it causes minimal disturbance on the SDAIN and SCLIN bus as the card disconnects.

Figure 4. A 2-Wire Bus hot-swapping application circuit with the LTC4306 resident on the I/O card.


The LTC4306 eases the practical design issues associated with large 2-wire bus systems. It serves as a multiplexer to provide nested addressing. It disconnects buses when they are stuck low. It breaks a large capacitive bus into smaller pieces and allows I/O cards to be hot-swapped into and out of live systems. It logs faults, reports to the master, and works with the master to resolve faults efficiently.

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John Ziegler