DC Operating Point Algorithms

SIMetrix uses five alternative strategies to resolve the DC operating point. These are:

  1. Junction initialised iteration. This is our name for the standard algorithm sometimes simply known as 'DC Iteration'.
  2. Source stepping.
  3. Diag GMIN stepping.
  4. Junction GMIN stepping.
  5. Pseudo transient analysis.
These are described in the following sections.

In this topic:

Junction Initialised Iteration

This is the standard algorithm and is sometimes known simply as 'DC iteration'. Each semiconductor junction is initialised with a small voltage and iteration then proceeds until convergence (or otherwise). This method often succeeds and is usually the quickest. However, the starting point is only a bit better than an educated guess and can be so far removed from the real solution that it never has a chance of succeeding. ('Junction initialised iteration' is a name we have coined and you may see it referred to as JI2 elsewhere in this manual and also in messages output by SIMetrix)

Source Stepping

Source stepping. This method - as with all the remaining methods to be described - belong to a class of convergence strategies known as continuation methods. These all work by repeating the iterative process while gradually varying some circuit parameter. The circuit parameter is chosen so that at its start value the solution is known or trivial and at its final value the solution is the operating point that is required. In source stepping, all the circuit's power sources are gradually ramped up from zero to their final value. While at zero, the circuit's solution is trivial; all the voltages and currents are zero. At the first step, the supplies might be ramped up to 10% of their maximum and the solution iterates to convergence. Then the supplies are increased and the process is repeated. At each step the solution is initialised with the previous solution which, if the steps are small, will be close to the new solution that is required and convergence will therefore be relative easy to achieve.

This method is quite effective and is included in all SPICE based simulators including those derived from SPICE2. However the SPICE versions use a fixed step size, whereas in SIMetrix (since version 2.0), the step size is variable so if a step fails, the step size is reduced and it tries again.

However, even with an arbitrarily small step size, this method can fail if the circuit contains some kind of regenerative action. As the supplies are ramped it is possible for the circuit to abruptly switch from one state to another as in a schmitt trigger. Although circuits such as schmitt triggers do give difficulty, even circuits that do not have such elements can also give trouble.

Diagonal GMIN Stepping

In this method, a large conductance term is added to every diagonal entry of the solution matrix and gradually reduced. This is similar to placing a low value resistor from every node of the circuit to ground but is by no means equivalent. The high conductance term (=low resistance) in the matrix effectively swamps non-linearities and as a result the solution is easy to find. The term is gradually reduced until it is zero.

This method is also effective and sometimes works for circuits for which source stepping fails. It is included with all SPICE3 derived simulators but, as with source stepping, the SPICE variants use a fixed step while SIMetrix uses a variable step.

GMIN stepping suffers from the same problems as source stepping but not always with the same circuits so it always worth trying both approaches.

The received wisdom has always been that GMIN stepping is more effective than source stepping. This has not however been borne out by our own research which has shown the source stepping converges more often and more quickly. For this reason, SIMetrix attempts source stepping before GMIN stepping. This is the reverse of SPICE3 and its derivatives.

Junction GMIN Stepping

The junction GMIN stepping method incrementally steps the conductance across semiconductor junctions. This in effect sweeps the GMIN option parameter.

This method is effective for CMOS IC designs as long as GMIN is implemented as a conductance between drain and source. This is not the default configuration for LEVEL 1 to 3 MOSFETs in which GMIN is implemented as two conductances between the drain and bulk and source and bulk. For other MOSFET models such as BSIM3, the default GMIN is now between source and drain. For designs containing these devices, Junction GMIN Stepping is the first method attempted after JI2. For circuits that do not contain such devices, this method is not attempted at all.

Pseudo Transient Analysis

This method finds the solution using transient analysis. In SIMetrix, a transient analysis is conducted while ramping up all power sources, in effect simulating the action of switching on the power supplies. This is not the same as source stepping as the latter is a pure DC method with all reactive components set to zero. Because reactive components - i.e. capacitors and inductors - are included in transient analysis, effects such as abrupt changes are damped and occur gradually over a finite time. This eliminates the problem - described above - that the DC continuation methods suffer from.

The above assumes, however, that the circuit is well modelled with all reactive elements correctly specified. With integrated circuit design this is usually the case, but for discrete circuits frequently is not. Opamp macro models, for example, consist of many idealised elements that are not always damped by reactive elements. Without such damping, pseudo transient analysis can fail for the same reason as source and GMIN stepping. So, SIMetrix automatically adds additional capacitance to the circuit to prevent this situation from arising.

The end result is a convergence strategy that nearly always succeeds. However, it is generally the slowest method so in SIMetrix it is, by default, attempted last.

Although pseudo transient analysis is very powerful it is not completely infallible. Its Achilles Heel is oscillation. Because a transient analysis is being performed it is possible for the circuit to oscillate. If this happens, pseudo transient analysis can end up going on forever without ever finding a stable solution. In our experience, however, this is actually rare. A number of steps are taken to damp oscillators so that even circuits that are designed to oscillate still succeed with pseudo transient analysis.

SIMetrix provides a number of facilities to inhibit circuit oscillation during pseudo transient analysis. These are described in Pseudo Transient Analysis.

Controlling DC Method Sequence

You may have a circuit that only succeeds with - say - pseudo transient analysis and so attempting the other methods just wastes time. In this situation, you can force the simulator to attempt this method exclusively. To do this you need to set the two simulator options noOpiter and dcopSequence. noOpiter inhibits the first method (junction initialised iteration) while dcopSequence controls which and what order the remaining methods are attempted. The value of dcopSequence consists of any combination of SOURCE, GMIN, JUNCGMIN and PTA separated by the pipe symbol: '|'. SOURCE, GMIN, JUNCGMIN and PTA refer respectively to 'source stepping', 'DIAG GMIN stepping', 'Junction GMIN stepping' and 'pseudo transient analysis'. The order in which these words appear in the value of dcopSequence, determines the order in which the corresponding methods will be attempted. So for example:


will force GMIN stepping to be attempted first followed by pseudo-transient analysis. Junction initialised iteration, junction GMIN stepping and source stepping won't be attempted at all. Note that PTA must always be the last entry.