Open access peer-reviewed chapter

Low-C ESD Protection Design in CMOS Technology

Written By

Chun-Yu Lin

Submitted: 19 February 2019 Reviewed: 04 March 2019 Published: 09 April 2019

DOI: 10.5772/intechopen.85594

From the Edited Volume

Electrostatic Discharge - From Electrical breakdown in Micro-gaps to Nano-generators

Edited by Steven H. Voldman

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Abstract

Electrostatic discharge (ESD) protection design is needed for integrated circuits in CMOS technology. The choice for ESD protection devices in the CMOS technology includes diode, MOSFET, and silicon controlled rectifier (SCR). These ESD protection devices cause signal losses at high-frequency input/output (I/O) pads due to the parasitic capacitance. To minimize the impacts from ESD protection circuit on high-frequency performances, ESD protection circuit at I/O pads must be carefully designed. A review on ESD protection designs with low parasitic capacitance for high-frequency applications in CMOS technology is presented in this chapter. With the reduced parasitic capacitance, ESD protection circuit can be easily combined or co-designed with high-frequency circuits. As the operating frequencies of high-frequency circuits increase, on-chip ESD protection designs for high-frequency applications will continuously be an important design task.

Keywords

  • CMOS
  • ESD protection
  • high frequency
  • high speed
  • low capacitance

1. Introduction

The integrated circuits (ICs) operated at higher frequency are needed. For example, the transceivers operated in gigahertz (GHz) bands are the good candidate for the demand of faster data transmission [1]. CMOS technology is a promising way to implement the GHz integrated circuits with the advantages of high integration capability and low cost for mass production [2, 3]. However, the transistors in CMOS and even FinFET technologies are inherently susceptible to the electrostatic discharge (ESD) events [4, 5]. Once any transistor is damaged by ESD, it cannot be recovered, and the IC functionality will be lost. Therefore, the ESD protection design must be equipped on the chip. Nevertheless, the ESD protection devices cause the IC performance degradation. The ICs operated in GHz frequencies are very sensitive to the parasitic capacitance [6, 7]. To mitigate the performance degradation caused by ESD protection device, the low-capacitance (low-C) ESD protection designs are needed [8, 9].

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2. ESD protection requirement

To adequately protect the ICs, the ESD protection circuit must shunt ESD current with limited voltage drop [10, 11, 12]. Figure 1 shows the ESD design window of an IC, which is defined by the power-supply voltage (VDD and VSS) and the breakdown voltage (VBD) of internal circuit. First, the internal circuit normally operates between VDD and VSS, and the ESD protection circuit cannot turn on in this normal circuit operation region. Second, the internal circuit causes failure beyond the positive or negative VBD, so the ESD protection circuit becomes invalid in this internal circuit failure region. Besides, it usually reserves some safety margin. Therefore, the ESD protection circuit must shunt ESD current with the voltage within ESD design window as shown in Figure 1. As ESD stresses at the I/O pad, the ESD protection circuit turns on at its trigger voltage (Vt1) and clamps to the holding voltage (Vh). The turn-on resistance (Ron) should be minimized to reduce the joule heat generated in the ESD protection circuit and enhance the current-handling ability, that is the secondary breakdown current (It2).

Figure 1.

ESD design window.

A typical method to enhance the current-handling ability is to widen the ESD device dimension; however, the large ESD protection device has too large parasitic capacitance to be tolerable for the high-frequency ICs. As shown in Figure 2(a), the parasitic capacitances seen at the input and output (I/O) pads cause signal loss to ground. The parasitic capacitances come from not only the ESD protection circuits but also the pads and the metal connections [13, 14]. If the parasitic capacitance increases, the signal loss dramatically increases at high frequency, as shown in Figure 2(b). To mitigate the performance degradation caused by the parasitic capacitance, the ESD protection circuit must carefully design. For example, a typical specification for the parasitic capacitance of input terminal of a gigahertz IC is 200fF [15].

Figure 2.

(a) Parasitic capacitances seen at I/O pads cause signal loss to ground and (b) Simulated loss of parasitic capacitances.

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3. ESD protection strategy

At an I/O pad of IC, it may be stressed by positive or negative ESD with grounded VDD or VSS. A whole-chip ESD protection design must provide the ESD current paths of all possible combinations, including the positive I/O-to-VDD (PD), positive I/O-to-VSS (PS), negative I/O-to-VDD (ND), and negative I/O-to-VSS (NS) [16]. Since the common ESD protection devices in CMOS technologies include diode, MOSFET, and silicon controlled rectifier (SCR), they are used to implement the ESD protection circuits [17]. To achieve the whole-chip ESD protection, three types of ESD protection schemes are introduced in this chapter.

Type I ESD protection circuit uses one bidirectional ESD protection device between I/O pad and VSS and one bidirectional power-rail ESD clamp circuit between VDD and VSS, as shown in Figure 3(a). The bidirectional ESD protection device could be an NMOS or SCR device. Both PS and NS ESD currents can be discharged through the ESD protection device. Besides, PD and ND ESD currents can be discharged through the ESD protection device and the power-rail ESD clamp circuit.

Figure 3.

ESD protection schemes: (a) type I, (b) type II, and (c) type III.

Type II ESD protection circuit uses two unidirectional ESD protection devices from I/O pad to VDD and from VSS to I/O pad, respectively, and one bidirectional power-rail ESD clamp circuit between VDD and VSS, as shown in Figure 3(b). The unidirectional ESD protection device was a diode. Both PD and NS ESD currents can be discharged through one unidirectional ESD protection device. For the PS and ND ESD currents, they can be discharged through one ESD protection device and the power-rail ESD clamp circuit.

Type III ESD protection circuit uses a two-branched ESD protection device and an unidirectional ESD protection device between I/O pad and VSS and one bidirectional power-rail ESD clamp circuit between VDD and VSS, as shown in Figure 3(c). The two-branched ESD protection device was usually an SCR device. The PS and PD ESD currents can be discharged through the two-branched ESD protection device, and NS and ND ESD currents can be discharged through the unidirectional ESD protection device and the power-rail ESD clamp circuit.

All the ESD protection devices at I/O pad should be shrunk to lower the parasitic capacitance, while the power-rail ESD clamp circuit could be as large as possible. The large-sized power-rail ESD clamp circuit can help to reduce Ron during ESD current discharging, but it will not cause the parasitic capacitance to the I/O pad.

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4. ESD protection circuit design: Type I

A common ESD protection circuit used in CMOS technology is the grounded-gate NMOS (GGNMOS), as shown in Figure 4(a) [18, 19]. In this ESD protection circuit, the NMOS’s gate is grounded to keep it off during normal circuit operation. The GGNMOS turns on as the positive voltage excursions above the trigger voltage (Vt1). Figure 5 shows the positive I-V curve of a GGNMOS in 0.18 μm CMOS technology, which is measured by a transmission-line-pulsing (TLP) system. The TLP system with a 10 ns rise time and a 100 ns pulse width is used to investigate the turn-on behavior and the I-V characteristics in high-current regions of the test devices [20]. The trigger voltage (Vt1), holding voltage (Vh), and secondary breakdown current (It2) of test devices in the time domain of HBM ESD event can be extracted from the TLP-measured I-V curves. This GGMOS triggers on at 5.6 V, snapbacks to 4.0 V, and discharges ESD current until 1.1A. The GGNMOS with the help of parasitic junction diode turns on as the I/O voltage excursions below the VSS voltage.

Figure 4.

(a) ESD protection circuit with GGNMOS. Device cross-sectional view of (b) GGNMOS and (c) GGNMOS with additional N-well.

Figure 5.

TLP-measured I-V curve of a GGNMOS (W = 120 μm) in 0.18 μm CMOS technology.

The GGNMOS is generally drawn in the multi-finger structure with central drain to save total layout area [21]. Figure 4(b) shows the device cross-sectional view of a single-finger GGNMOS. The multi-finger structure can be realized by combining such single-finger structures with sharing drain and source regions between every two adjacent fingers. For the high-frequency applications, the parasitic capacitance of GGNMOS has to be considered. For a given drain width (Wn) and length (Ln), the total capacitance of a GGNMOS (Cn) is given by the drain-gate overlap capacitance (Coverlap), the N+/P-well bottom junction capacitance (Cj), and the N+/P-well sidewall capacitance (Cjsw), according to the following equation:

All the parasitic capacitance (Coverlap, Cj, and Cjsw) are given by the process. Besides the drain width, the Ln strongly affects the total capacitance. For high-frequency applications, the Ln needs to be optimized by reducing the contact rows, the enclosure of contacts, and the extension of silicide [22, 23]. Also the extension of silicide on drain side increases the ESD robustness of GGNMOS, it implies a larger junction area and thus induces additional parasitic capacitance of the N+/P-well bottom junction. Therefore, a trade-off between the ESD robustness and the parasitic capacitance has to be found. A possible solution to reduce the bottom capacitance with the given Ln is to use an N-well implant below the N+ drain, as shown in Figure 4(c). Most of the bottom N+/P-well capacitance is then replaced by an N-well/P-well sidewall capacitance and N-well/P-substrate bottom capacitance.

Instead of GGNMOS, gate-coupled NMOS and substrate-coupled NMOS have also been used as ESD protection circuit [24]. However, the parasitic capacitance of MOS-based ESD protection device is usually too large to be tolerable for the high-frequency circuits.

An alternative ESD protection device used in Type I ESD protection circuit is a silicon controlled rectifier (SCR) [25]. The SCR device has been reported to be useful for ESD protection in high-frequency circuits due to its higher ESD robustness within a smaller layout area and lower parasitic capacitance [22]. Besides, the SCR device can be safely used without latchup danger in advanced CMOS technologies with low supply voltage [26]. The equivalent circuit of the SCR consists of a PNP BJT and an NPN BJT, as shown in Figure 6(a). As ESD zapping from I/O to VSS, the positive-feedback regenerative mechanism of PNP and NPN results in the SCR device highly conductive to make SCR very robust against ESD stresses. The device structure of the SCR device is illustrated in Figure 6(b). The I/O pad is connected to the first P+ and the pickup N+, which is formed in the N-well. The VSS pad is connected to the second N+ and the pickup P+, which are formed in the nearby P-well. The SCR path between I/O and VSS consists of P+, N-well, P-well, and N+. Besides, the parasitic diode path from VSS to I/O consists of P-well and N-well. The SCR with the help of P-well/N-well junction diode turns on as the I/O voltage excursions below the VSS voltage.

Figure 6.

(a) ESD protection circuit with SCR. Device cross-sectional view of (b) STI-bounded SCR and (c) gate-bounded SCR.

Figure 7 shows the TLP-measured positive I-V curve of an SCR in 0.18 μm CMOS technology. This SCR triggers on at 16.7 V, snapbacks to 2.1 V, and discharges ESD current until 9.5A. The main drawback of SCR device is the higher trigger voltage and thus the slower turn-on speed. Research works have demonstrated that separation of the N-well and P-well junction can play an important role. The typical SCR device uses the shallow trench isolation (STI) to separate the N-well and P-well. To reduce the trigger voltage of an SCR device, a gate-bounded SCR has been reported, as shown in Figure 6(c) [27].

Figure 7.

TLP-measured I-V curve of an SCR (W = 120 μm) in 0.18 μm CMOS technology.

Another alternative method to reduce the trigger voltage of an SCR device uses the substrate-triggered technique. The trigger signal can be sent into the base terminal of PNP or NPN to enhance the turn-on speed. Some circuit design techniques are reported to enhance the turn-on efficiency of SCR devices, such as the gate-coupled, substrate-triggered, diode-triggered, and gate-grounded-NMOS-triggered (GGNMOS-triggered) techniques [28, 29, 30]. Figure 8(a) shows the schematic of a GGNMOS-triggered SCR device, and Figure 8(b) shows its device cross-sectional view. The GGNMOS is connected between the second N+ in the N-well and VSS. The trigger current is drawn from the N-well (base of PNP) to VSS through the GGNMOS. Similarly, the trigger device can be connected between I/O pad and the base and NPN, but the trigger device will also add the parasitic capacitance to I/O. A diode string could also be used as the trigger device, and its parasitic capacitance is lower than the GGNMOS.

Figure 8.

(a) ESD protection circuit with GGNMOS-triggered SCR and (b) device cross-sectional view of GGNMOS-triggered SCR.

Recently, an inductor-assisted diode-triggered SCR (LASCR) has been presented to further reduce the parasitic capacitance [31]. As shown in Figure 9, the LASCR consists of an SCR, an inductor, and a diode string. The ESD current path from I/O to VSS consists of P+/N-well/P-well/N+ SCR. The diode string drawn the trigger current from the N-well (base of PNP) to VSS is used to enhance the turn-on efficiency of SCR. As the I/O voltage excursions below the VSS voltage, the ESD current path consists of P-well/N-well diode and inductor.

Figure 9.

(a) ESD protection circuit with LASCR and (b) device cross-sectional view of LASCR.

Under normal circuit operating condition, the inductor can resonate with the parasitic capacitance, and hence the signal loss can be compensated. Once the dimension of SCR has been chosen, the inductance (L) can be designed to minimize the high-frequency performance degradation by using the following equation:

where CP+/N-well is the parasitic capacitance of P+/N-well junction, and fo is the operating frequency. For example, the dimension of SCR is selected to be 30 μm, and the CP+/N-well in a 0.18 μm CMOS process is ∼60fF around 30GHz. Therefore, the required L for 30GHz applications is 460pH.

Figure 10(a) shows the TLP-measured I-V curves of LASCR with 3 and 5 diodes in diode string (LASCR_3D and LASCR_5D) in a 0.18 μm CMOS process. The LASCR_3D triggers on at 5.2 V, snapbacks to 2.9 V, and discharges ESD current until 2.4A, while LASCR_5D triggers on at 7.6 V, snapbacks to 2.9 V, and discharges ESD current until 2.1A. The trigger voltage can be adjusted by adding or reducing the diode numbers. The holding voltage of both LASCR devices exceed VDD (1.8 V in the given CMOS process), which is safe from latchup event.

Figure 10.

(a) TLP-measured I-V curves and (b) loss of LASCR (W = 30 μm) with 3 and 5 trigger diodes in 0.18 μm CMOS technology.

The signal losses of both LASCR devices are measured through the on-wafer two-port measurement. The measured loss versus frequencies of both LASCR devices is shown in Figure 10(b). The LASCR devices exhibit sufficiently low loss even if the frequency is up to 30GHz. Therefore, LASCR can be a good solution for ESD protection of high-speed applications.

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5. ESD protection circuit design: Type II

Diode is a typical ESD protection device with unidirectional discharging path [32, 33]. A dual-diode ESD protection circuit for high-frequency applications is shown in Figure 11(a), where two ESD diodes at I/O pad are cooperated with the turn-on efficient power-rail ESD clamp circuit to discharge ESD current in the forward-biased condition [13, 34].

Figure 11.

(a) ESD protection circuit with diodes. Device cross-sectional view of (b) STI-bounded P+/N-well diode, (c) STI-bounded N+/P-well diode, (d) gate-bounded P+/N-well diode, and (e) gate-bounded N+/P-well diode.

In the CMOS process, the choice for ESD protection diodes includes P+/N-well, N+/P-well, and N-well/P-well diodes. The P+/N-well diode, as shown in Figure 11(b), is used between I/O pad and VDD. For the N-well/P-well diode, it may occupy larger layout area than the N+/P-well diode. Thus, the N+/P-well diode, as shown in Figure 11(c), is used between VSS and I/O pad.

The typical diodes use the STI to separate the PN junctions. Besides the STI-bounded diodes, the gate-bounded diodes have been reported, as shown in Figure 11(d) and (e). The gate-bounded diodes were introduced by Voldman in order to improve the ESD robustness of STI bounded diodes [35].

In order to reduce the parasitic capacitance or provide the large signal-swing tolerance, the ESD protection diodes in stacked configuration have been presented [36, 37], as shown in Figure 12(a). The device cross-sectional views of the conventional stacked diodes are shown in Figure 12(b) and (c). Two P+/N-well diodes (stacked P diodes) can apply to I/O-to-VDD, and two N+/P-well diodes (stacked N diodes) can apply to VSS-to-I/O, as shown in Figure 12(b) and (c), respectively. With the stacked diodes, the junction capacitances are connected in series, and the overall parasitic capacitance becomes smaller. However, the stacked configuration is adverse to ESD protection because the overall turn-on resistance and the clamping voltage of the stacked diodes during ESD stresses are increased as well.

Figure 12.

ESD protection circuit with stacked diodes. (a) ESD protection circuit with stacked diodes. Device cross-sectional view of (b) stacked P+/N-well diode and (c) stacked N+/P-well diode.

For effective ESD protection, the stacked diodes with embedded SCR (SDSCR) have been presented [38, 39]. The SCR device has been reported to be useful for ESD protection with low turn-on resistance, low parasitic effects, and high ESD robustness. The stacked diodes with embedded SCR are illustrated in Figure 13. In this design, a P+/N-well diode and an N+/P-well diode are stacked, and a P+/N-well/P-well/N+ SCR is embedded to form the ESD current path. A deep N-well structure is used to isolate the P-well region from the common P-substrate, so the SDSCR can apply to I/O-to-VDD or VSS-to-I/O. In the beginning of ESD stress, the initial current will be discharged through the stacked diodes, and then the primary current will be discharged through the embedded SCR. The stacked diodes also play the role of trigger circuit of SCR, because the current drawn from N-well and injected into P-well can also trigger the PNP and the NPN of SCR. Figure 14 shows the TLP-measured I-V curves of P+/N-well diode (DP), stacked P+/N-well diodes (SDP), and stacked diodes with embedded SCR (SDSCR) in a 0.18 μm CMOS process. We can find that turn-on resistance or the clamping voltage of single diode is much lower than that of the stacked diodes. The embedded SCR can help to slightly reduce the turn-on resistance and the clamping voltage of the stacked diodes. In fact, some layout skills can be used to further improve the turn-on efficient of the stacked diodes with embedded SCR [40].

Figure 13.

(a) ESD protection circuit with SDSCR and (b) device cross-sectional view of SDSCR.

Figure 14.

TLP-measured I-V curves of DP, SDP, and SDSCR (W = 20 μm) in 0.18 μm CMOS technology.

Recently, a similar structure of the stacked diodes with embedded SCR, where a resistor uses to separate two diodes, has been reported [41]. The resistor acts as the trigger element of SCR, so the device is named resistor-triggered SCR (RTSCR). Figure 15(a) and (b) shows the schematic and the device cross-sectional view of RTSCR. The resistor can also reduce the parasitic capacitance of the ESD protection circuit. Considering the simplified SCR model by using junction capacitances, as shown in Figure 15(c), the equivalent capacitance seen at anode or cathode of RTSCR can be calculated by the following equation:

C RTSCR = Im Y RTSCR ω = Im 1 1 C P + / N Well + 1 1 R T + C P Well / N Well Deep N Well + 1 C P Well / N + ω

Figure 15.

(a) ESD protection circuit with RTSCR. (b) device cross-sectional view and (c) simplified model of RTSCR.

where YRTSCR denotes the admittance of the RTSCR, RT is the resistance, and CP+/N-Well, CP-Well/N-Well(Deep N-Well) and CP-Well/N+ denote the junction capacitances. To simplify the above equation, the junction capacitance is rewritten to CJ, and then the parasitic capacitance of the RTSCR can be expressed by the following equation:

C RTSCR = Im 1 2 jC J + 1 1 ω R T + jC J = 2 C J + ω 2 R T 2 C J 1 + ω 2 R T 2 C J 2 2 C J + ω 2 R T 2 C J 1 + ω 2 R T 2 C J 2 2 + ω R T 1 + ω 2 R T 2 C J 2 2 C J 2 + 3 2 ω 2 R T 2 C J 2

It can be noted that the parasitic capacitance of the RTSCR can be reduced by adding the resistor. Generally, the capacitance reduction of RTSCR can be up to 30%. Therefore, the ESD protection circuit with dual RTSCRs can be used for high-frequency applications.

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6. ESD protection circuit design: Type III

Figure 16(a) shows another SCR-based ESD protection circuit [13]. The typical SCR device in CMOS process consists of P+, N-well, P-well, and N+. Instead of connecting the N-well to I/O pad, connecting the N-well to VDD avoids the parasitic capacitance or noise coupling from P-substrate or P-well to N-well and I/O [42]. As shown in Figure 16(b), the I/O pad is connected to the first P+, which is formed in the N-well. The pickup N+ in the N-well is biased to VDD. The VSS pad is connected to the second N+ and the pickup P+, which are formed in the nearby P-well. The SCR path between I/O and VSS consists of P+, N-well, P-well, and N+. Besides, the parasitic diode path from I/O to VDD consists of P+ and N-well. In this structure, the PS and the PD ESD currents can be discharged through the SCR path and its parasitic diode path. The NS and the ND ESD currents need reverse diode and power-rail ESD clamp circuit to form their discharging paths.

Figure 16.

(a) ESD protection circuit with SCR and diode and (b) device cross-sectional view of SCR and diode.

The SCR device in this ESD protection circuit still has the drawbacks of higher trigger voltage and the slower turn-on speed. The circuit design techniques, including the gate-coupled, substrate-triggered, diode-triggered, and GGNMOS-triggered techniques can be used to enhance the turn-on efficiency of SCR device. Of course, the capacitive triggering device increases the total parasitic capacitance seen at the I/O pad, even if the triggering device is not directly connected to I/O. Recently, an SCR device with inductive triggering device has been presented [43]. That inductor-triggered SCR (LTSCR) is proposed for ESD protection of high-frequency applications to achieve low high-frequency performance degradation, low trigger voltage, and high ESD robustness. In this design, the inductor provides a current path to trigger the SCR device, and it can also compensate the parasitic capacitance of ESD protection devices.

Figure 17(a) shows the ESD protection circuit with an LTSCR and a reverse diode. This design consists of an SCR device and a reverse diode as the main ESD current path, and an inductor (Ltrig), a MOS transistor (Mtrig), and an RC-based ESD detection circuit as the trigger circuit. The initial-on PMOS transistor is selected for Mtrig to quickly pass the trigger current to SCR device [44]. The positive and negative ESD current discharging paths for the I/O pad are provided by the SCR and the reverse diode. Figure 17(b) shows the device cross-sectional view of inductor-triggered SCR. Under ESD stress conditions, the inductor and PMOS are used to provide the trigger path between the I/O pad and the base of NPN of the SCR device. When the trigger current is sent into the base of NPN of the SCR device, the SCR device can be quickly triggered on to discharge the ESD current from the I/O pad to VSS. The ESD detection circuit usually uses RC timer to distinguish the ESD-stress conditions from the normal circuit operating conditions, and the PMOS transistor is well controlled to turn on or off by the ESD detection circuit. Under normal circuit operating conditions, the inductor can compensate the parasitic capacitance of SCR and diode.

Figure 17.

ESD protection circuit with LTSCR and reverse diode. (a) ESD protection circuit with LTSCR and reverse diode and (b) device cross-sectional view of LTSCR and reverse diode.

In this circuit, the dimensions of the inductor (Ltrig), PMOS transistor (Mtrig), SCR device, and reverse diode can be designed to minimize the high-frequency performance degradation. Since the capacitor used in power-rail ESD clamp circuit is large enough to keep the node between R and C at AC ground under normal circuit operating conditions, the impedance of the trigger path (Ztrig) seen at the I/O pad to ground can be calculated as:

Z trig L trig + 1 C trig = L trig 1 ω 2 C trig

where Ctrig is the sum of gate-to-source, gate-to-body, and drain-to-body capacitances of the PMOS. The resonance angular frequency (ωo) can be obtained by

ω o = 1 L trig 1 ω o 2 C trig C ESD

where ωo is designed to be the operating frequency, and CESD is the parasitic capacitance contributed by the SCR and diode. The sizes of SCR and diode depend on the required ESD robustness, while the size of Mtrig transistor depends on the required trigger current. Once the sizes of Mtrig transistor, SCR, and diode have been chosen, the required inductance (Ltrig) can be determined.

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7. Conclusion

A comprehensive review in the field of ESD protection design for high-frequency integrated circuits is presented in this chapter. Besides improving the ESD robustness, the parasitic effects from ESD protection devices must be minimized or canceled to optimize the high-frequency performance simultaneously. Furthermore, the ESD protection circuits and high-frequency circuits can be co-designed to achieve both good circuit performance and high ESD robustness. The on-chip ESD protection designs for high-frequency circuits will be continuously an important design task in CMOS technology.

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Written By

Chun-Yu Lin

Submitted: 19 February 2019 Reviewed: 04 March 2019 Published: 09 April 2019