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Measuring Junction Noise

A Ciphers By Ritter Page

Terry Ritter
2006 February 13

Also see: Junction Noise Measurements I

Noise is inherent in analog electronics. Thermal noise is generated in every resistor whether connected to power or not. Shot noise is
generated whenever current flows through a semiconductor junction, either in forward or reverse breakdown modes. But these noise sources
are very, very weak. Detection requires a relatively good preamplifier, with shielding against our surprisingly interfering environment.
Nevertheless, it is very possible to amplify and measure tiny amounts of produced noise. It is also possible to compare and contrast different
noise sources, such as zener diodes, IC "zeners" and low-voltage Metal-Oxide-Varistors (MOV's).

Thermal Noise (Johnson noise) is a result of thermal agitation, the sum of the Brownian movement of electrons in a resistance, even when not
in a circuit or when no current is applied. Thermal noise is the one-dimensional summation of the movement of vast numbers of individual
electrons, each with different speed and direction. Thermal noise is a very weak noise source.

Shot Noise is a statistical effect of event "clumping" when the events have an expected rate but independent times. Shot noise does not occur
in conductors, where electrons are correlated like water in a hose. Instead, shot noise requires some sort of independent emission of discrete
events, such as electrons through a semiconductor junction or water drops through a spray nozzle. Shot noise is another very weak noise

1/f Noise (flicker noise) has various sources, but we can minimize the effect by rolling off low frequencies in a filter.

Zener Diodes are a common source of deliberate analog noise. A zener diode is little more than ordinary semiconductor junction with a known
breakdown voltage. All diodes break down at some voltage, but most are intended to not break down in use. In contrast, zeners are intended to
break down in normal operation. Thus, zeners are manufactured to break down at relatively low voltages, for use in semiconductor circuits.

Breakdown is almost never a single voltage, but is instead a curve which covers a range of voltages depending on the current. Manufacturing
tolerances mean that devices of the same type may start to break down at slightly different voltages. Manufacturing differences mean that
devices of the same type may break down differently.

Zener Breakdown occurs mainly in junctions which break down at low voltages, typically below 5V or so. True zener diodes typically have a
fairly low noise level, much like raw shot noise.

Avalanche Breakdown dominates in junctions which break down above 5V, and often produces much more noise. Transistor base-emitter
junctions generally break down from 6V to 8V or so, and are an example of avalanche breakdown.

Measurement Box Goals

Various issues are involved in developing the ability to hear and measure diode noise:

Shielding. The desired noise signals have microvolt levels. To protect them, at least electrostatic and electromagnetic shielding is required. I
decided to use a "Danish cookie tin," which obviously is ferrous or magnetic, but the thin steel could not do much to keep out 60Hz magnetic

Amplification. Microvolt level signals need to be amplified, inside the shielding, to a level which can better compete with the outside
environment. I chose 30dB as a reasonable step. A total of 60dB of amplification is needed to reach the lower levels of my equipment which
will measure signals of -60dBm. It is also important to listen to the noise, and to use speakers instead of headphones.

Current Adjust. A diode junction has some DC offset when biased with a current of particular level. Varying the current always varies the
junction offset. (A zener of stated voltage only has that voltage in a circuit with a given current.) It is desired to vary the bias current over a wide
range of magnitudes, here from zero and 1uA to 10mA.

Inactive Circuitry. Various active servo circuits could be introduced to simplify operation, but doing that might create some uncertainty about
the actual source of the resulting noise. To avoid uncertainty, the circuit is inactive up to the point of first amplification.

External Measurement. The whole point of the exercise is to measure physical values, and we cannot look at a meter which is inside a metal
box. Internal signals must be conveyed to the outside, bearing in mind that the whole point of the shielding is to keep outside signals from
getting in.

Measurement Box Circuit

Basically, we have a potentiometer across battery power driving a resistor in series with a diode junction. A DC-blocking capacitor delivers
junction voltage noise to a preamplifier, and then to the RMS measurement system.

The potentiometer is used to exceed the junction offset of the device under test (DUT). Five selectable precision resistors each produce a given
current when 1.2V appears across them. We can measure that happy occurrence externally.

The potentiometer I used is a peculiar dual 3-turn precision wirewound in the old style. The switches are small toggles. The diode is held by
tiny alligator clips on stiff wires. The diode battery, the first preamp stage, and the preamp battery all fit inside the shield with the top on.

Originally I wanted to measure the junction current directly, though test points A and B. Unfortunately, digital multimeters seem to add their own
modulation to the flowing current, which can be sensed and heard at these very low levels. Accordingly, the current flow was jumpered
internally. An old-style analog multimeter might be OK, although a wide range of currents do need to be sensed.

The inductor and capacitor (e.g., L1 and C1) at each test point A, B and C are inside a commercial lowpass filter or "feedthrough." These
devices are fully shielded and are intended to keep outside RF outside. Unfortunately, it appears that some diodes will oscillate, and do so
inside the shield, thus affecting the values delivered to the outside. Accordingly, R7, C4 and R8 were added to reduce measurement problems.

Measuring voltage across the test points B and C describes the amount of current through the junction. Measuring voltage across C and ground
shows the bias voltage across the diode.

In practice, I have to remove the lid to change the diode. To set the current, I select a range on the switches, then adjust the voltage pot for
1.2V on meter M2. Then I replace the lid and measure the result.

The Preamp Signal

The DC-blocking capacitor C7 is large to support preamps which need a low-impedance signal source for lowest preamp noise.

Unlike resistive impedance, capacitive reactance does not create noise, but it can get in the way. When the device under test (DUT) has a
particularly low dynamic impedance, noise from the preamp input device can be "shunted" into the DUT. That is, device noise flows out of the
input of the preamp into the signal source, while signal from that source flows to the preamp as expected. Capacitor C7 must be large for the
noise shunting action to be effective, even if the preamp has a high input impedance.

How large must C7 be? A preamp stage using an Analog Devices OP27 would like a source impedance under, say, 300 ohms. So the effect of
C7 should be negligible if we keep the impedance under, say, 30 ohms. A 100uF capacitor will be 31.8 ohms capacitive at 50Hz, and
correspondingly less at higher frequencies. At 10 seconds, the RC time constant is a little long, but we can live with it.

The ultimate advantage all this might deliver depends upon working with a junction or other device with a source dynamic impedance under
300 ohms. With ordinary semiconductor breakdown, that seems unlikely. However, an "IC zener" design might well have a dynamic impedance
in the tens of ohms.

The Back-End System

After 30dB of amplification inside the measurement box, the audio noise signal exits on a double-shielded cable. It then enters a completely
shielded preamp box, holding another 30dB gain stage, with its own battery power. Both preamp stages have a fixed, known gain so that
measuring the amplitude of the resulting signal gives us the amplitude of the original signal.

Inside the preamp box, the signal first encounters a highpass RC filter stage targeted at 1000Hz. (In practice, 0.022uF and 7.5k should roll off
below about 965Hz.) That filter takes out most 60Hz energy, which can occur strongly from time to time and cause signal clipping.

The highpass filter output goes into the 30dB gain stage, and then into another RC filter. This filter is a 15kHz lowpass (actually 4990 ohms and
0.022uF for rolloff above about 14.5kHz). The lowpass filter cuts low-frequency RF signals which the meter would otherwise show. The output
of the lowpass filter exits the box.

The resulting amplified signal is parallel-connected both to an ancient Hewlett-Packard 3400A analog RMS voltmeter and an old stereo
amplifier and speakers. It is crucial to be able to listen to noise before one starts to measure it, because various different problems may need to
be solved first.

In section 7.21 of The Art of Electronics we find the equivalent noise bandwidth for RC-filtered noise. The bandwidth, B in hertz, for lower
frequency f1 and higher frequency f2 (both single-pole RC filters) is:
B = (Pi/2)((f2*f2)/(f1+f2))

Here we have f1 = 965 and f2 = 14500, so the equivalent noise bandwidth B is 21355Hz.

Terry Ritter, his current address, his top page and electronics home.
Junction Noise Measurements I

A Ciphers By Ritter Page

Terry Ritter
2006 February 13

Also see: Measuring Junction Noise

The analog noise produced by semiconductor junctions is thought to be the fundamentally unpredictable sum of
astronomical numbers of independent quantum actions. The unpredictability part of this makes noise attractive for
cryptography. Alas, real noise often exhibits measurable and predictable correlations which contradict the simple model.

Ordinary semiconductor junctions are not intended for noise production. If anything, most electronic devices are designed
for minimum noise, not maximum. As a result, the noise produced by these devices is rarely under manufacturing control.
Noise amounts vary widely, even between devices of exactly the same type.

What Do The Values Mean?

The measured values are the readings observed on an ancient analog RMS voltmeter based on dBm(600). The observed
reading is the signal after 61.0dB of amplification, with a filter-enforced bandwidth of 21,355Hz. A measurement is made at
each of 6 different device currrents, and with the junction voltage also recorded.

RMS. Root-Mean-Squared. For a sampled signal, the square root of the sum of the squares of each sample. For a
sampled voltage signal, an RMS value is proportional to power, and noise is measured as power.

dB. Decibel. A measure of power ratios. 10 times the base-10 logarithm of the ratio of two power values. Equivalently, for a
fixed common resistance value, 20 times the base-10 logarithm of the ratio of two voltage values.

dBm(600). A common if older reference base for power: 1 milliwatt (1mW) into 600 ohms.
Since P=E*E/R, E=SQRT(PR).

The 0dBm voltage across 600 ohms is SQRT(0.001*600)= SQRT(0.6)= 0.775 volts or 775mv (millivolts).

An interesting and useful fact is that 20dB represents a factor of 10 in voltage. So -60dBm =775uv (microvolts) and -
120dBm =775nv (nanovolts). The signal levels we are dealing with here are in the very low microvolt range, or lower.

Preamps. The tiny noise signal is amplified by 61.0dB. Thus, a signal read as -53.5dBm actually represents a -114.5dBm
input. -114.5dBm is a voltage ratio of 10**(114.5/20) = 10**5.725 or 530,884 below the base of 0.775v, or about 1.46uV.

Noise Density. The amount of energy expected in a bandwidth of 1Hz. At the most general level, we model white noise as
flat distribution of energy across frequency. The more bandwidth we have, the more energy we expect. Noise energy should
accumulate as the square root of bandwidth. Here our bandwidth is 21,355Hz, a factor of 146 above 1Hz, so a reading of
1.46uV is a noise density of about 10nV/SQRT(Hz). So for measuring -114.5dBm, we want our noise preamp to have an
input noise of 2.5nV/SQRT(Hz) or less.

Each device was measured at 6 different currents, NONE and from 1uA to 10mA. At each current, the dBm(600) output
signal was read and recorded, along with the DC junction voltage. Due to preamplification, the absolute signal level is
61.0dB lower than the recorded value.

700-Series Zeners

400mW and +/-10 percent voltage tolerance, except suffix A for +/-5 percent.
NONE 1uA 10uA 100uA 1mA 10mA
1N749 -53.2 -53.5 -53.2 -55.2 -60.3 -63.0 (4.3V @ 20mA)
----- 1.31V 1.70V 2.20V 2.84V 3.62V
1N751A -53.1 -53.3 -50.6 -42.5 -43.3 -50.2 (5.1V @ 20mA)
----- 2.26V 3.81V 4.45V 4.63V 4.70V
1N753 -53.0 -53.4 -49.2 -37.4 -37.2 -47.9 (6.2V @ 20mA)
----- 2.22V 5.07V 5.73V 5.82V 5.86V

4700-Series Zeners

1.0W and +/-10 percent voltage tolerance, except suffix A for +/-5 percent.
NONE 1uA 10uA 100uA 1mA 10mA
1N4728A -54.0 -54.0 -54.4 -57.4 -61.9 -64.4 (3.3V @ 76mA)
----- 0.70V 0.91V 1.24V 1.68V 2.28V
1N4730A -51.0 -45.0 -39.3 -40.3 -48.8 -57.4 (3.9V @ 64mA)
----- 0.93V 1.25V 1.68V 2.21V 2.90V
1N4732 -54.6 -54.8 -53.6 -53.5 -55.7 -58.5 (4.7V @ 53mA)
----- 1.85V 2.54V 3.19V 3.85V 4.35V
1N4733 -53.7 -54.0 -52.0 -43.7 -44.4 -53.9 (5.1V @ 49mA)
----- 2.16V 3.59V 4.35V 4.63V 4.68V
1N4734A -53.7 -53.2 -52.0 -46.5 -47.5 -53.5 (5.6V @ 45mA)
----- 2.20V 3.78V 4.57V 5.01V 5.14V
1N4735#1 -53.3 -53.4 -51.3 -35.6 -35.8 -43.7 (6.2V @ 41mA)
----- 2.11V 4.54V 5.32V 5.39V 5.42V
1N4735#2 -53.2 -53.4 -49.2 -26.4 -35.2 -42.2
----- 2.19V 5.23V 5.66V 5.68V 5.72V
1N4735#3 -53.2 -53.3 -13.3 -17.7 -39.4 -50.0
----- 2.25V 5.66V 5.66V 5.68V 5.74V
1N4736 -53.3 -54.4 -9.0! -14.0 -41.7 -48.8 (6.8V @ 37mA)
----- 2.23V 5.95V 5.95V 5.96V 6.02V
1N4738 -55.7 -55.6 -50.X -35.6 -28.4 -36.5 (8.2V @ 31mA)
----- 2.18V 5.30V 7.38V 7.65V 7.73V
1N4739#1 -53.2 -53.2 -53.6 +6.4! -30.3 -34.6 (9.1V @ 28mA)
----- 2.21v 6.33V 8.25V 8.18V 8.26V
1N4739#2 -53.3 -53.4 -53.6 +6.8! -24.5 -17.6
----- 2.45V 6.31V 8.12V 8.07V 8.15V

5200-Series Zeners

400mW and limited +/-10 percent voltage tolerance, except suffix A for full +/-10 percent and B for +/-5 percent.
NONE 1uA 10uA 100uA 1mA 10mA
1N5221B -54.1 -53.8 -54.6 -57.7 -62.0 -64.0 (2.4V @ 20mA)
----- 0.64V 0.83V 1.13V 1.54V 2.09V
1N5225 -53.7 -53.7 -54.0 -56.7 -61.5 -63.8 (3.0V @ 20mA)
----- 0.79V 1.04V 1.41V 1.91V 2.56V
1N5228B -53.5 -53.x -52.x -54.x -59.x -63.x (3.9V @ 20mA)
----- 1.09V 1.45V 1.95V 2.59V 3.40V
1N5229B -53.2 -53.5 -53.6 -55.0 -60.0 -63.0 (4.3V @ 20mA)
----- 1.39V 1.81V 2.33V 3.00V 3.77V
1N5230B -53.3 -53.3 -53.8 -54.0 -57.8 -59.2 (4.7V @ 20mA)
----- 1.69V 2.27V 2.92V 3.68V 4.32V
1N5235B -53.4 -53.6 -47.8 -20.5 -30.2 -38.4 (6.8V @ 20mA)
----- 2.10V 5.72V 6.36V 6.38V 6.44V
1N5236B -53.4 -53.5 -48.X -23.X -20.2 -32.3 (7.5V @ 20mA)
----- 2.04V 5.44V 6.47V 6.52V 6.59V
1N5238B -53.2 -53.4 -53.5 -4.7! -15.7 -16.1 (8.7V @ 20mA)
----- 2.16V 6.31V 8.01V 8.03V 8.11V

2V Zeners

NONE 1uA 10uA 100uA 1mA 10mA

BZT52C2V4 -53.5 -53.6 -54.0 -57.0 -61.4 -64.0 (2.4V @ 5mA)
----- 0.79V 1.03V 1.38V 1.85V 2.48V
BZT52C2V4 -54.0 -53.5 -54.0 -57.0 -61.5 -64.1
----- 0.79V 1.03V 1.38V 1.85V 2.47V
BZX84C2V7 -53.7 -53.7 -54.0 -56.7 -61.4 -64.0 (2.7V @ 5mA)
----- 0.87V 1.14V 1.52V 2.02V 2.68V
BZV90-C2V4 -54.1 -54.0 -54.4 -57.2 -62.0 -64.2 (2.4V @ 5mA)
----- 0.83V 1.06V 1.39V 1.83V 2.42V

Other Zeners

NONE 1uA 10uA 100uA 1mA 10mA

1N4625 -53.2 -53.3 -51.9 -46.2 -47.3 -53.8 (5.1V @ 250uA, low noise)
----- 2.17V 3.82V 4.60V 5.03V 5.16V
BZX8V2 -54.2 -53.3 -53.2 0.0! -20.2 -30.2
----- 2.18V 6.30V 7.45V 7.48V 7.54V

Bipolar Transistor B-E

NONE 1uA 10uA 100uA 1mA 10mA

MPS2222A -53.2 -53.2 -49.3 -21.0 -30.0 -39.7 (6.0V min @ 10uA)
----- 2.28V 6.39V 6.59V 6.61V 6.66V
JAN2222 -53.2 -53.3 -35.8 -16.5 -23.8 -37.4 (5.0V min @ 10uA)
----- 2.16V 6.46V 6.52V 6.54V 6.60V
2N3904 -53.2 -53.3 -53.5 +0.6! -06.0 -20.0 (6.0V min @ 10uA)
----- 2.29V 6.53V 7.13V 7.18V 7.27V
2N3906 -53.2 -53.3 -53.5 -13.5 -24.3 -37.6 (5.0V min @ 10uA)
----- 2.03V 6.51V 7.66V 7.69V 7.76V
2N4401 -53.2 -53.3 -53.6 -7.4! -20.0 -31.0 (6.0V min @ 100uA)
----- 2.18V 6.46V 7.01V 7.03V 7.07V
FN4402 -53.2 -53.3 -53.6 -13.3 -22.0 -32.0 (5.0V min @ 100uA?)
----- 2.17V 6.44V 7.50V 7.51V 7.55V

IC Voltage References

NONE 1uA 10uA 100uA 1mA 10mA

ICL8069 -54.1 -54.2 -51.5 -23.3 -25.7 -26.5 (1.23V, 50uA..5mA)
----- 0.58V 0.78V 1.19V 1.22V 1.23V
TL431C -54.8 -54.0 -56.2 -57.4 -33.7 -33.6 (2.495V, 1mA..100mA)
----- 1.01V 1.15V 1.63V 2.37V 2.37V
LM336 -54.0 -53.2 -52.0 -47.2 -34.4 -34.5 (2.49V, 400uA..10mA)
----- 1.00V 1.14V 1.21V 2.36V 2.36V

Low-Voltage MOV

NONE 1uA 10uA 100uA 1mA 10mA

SR2220M4 -62.6 -63.2 -55.5 -18.5 -15.X -5.5 (5.5V, 20mW max)
----- 1.75V 3.94V 6.11V 7.00V 7.63V

Forward Biased Junctions

NONE 1uA 10uA 100uA 1mA 10mA

1N4148 -55.0 -55.0 -58.9 -63.6 -65.0 -65.0 (200mA, 75 PIV)
----- 0.39V 0.47V 0.56V 0.66V 0.78V
BYW56 -58.7 -56.0 -60.7 -63.8 -64.8 -64.7 (2A, 1k PIV)
----- 0.39V 0.45V 0.52V 0.62V 0.71V

Forward Biased LED's

NONE 1uA 10uA 100uA 1mA 10mA

old red -53.5 -54.1 -58.9 -64.1 -65.5 -65.6
----- 1.32V 1.42V 1.51V 1.60V 1.76V
sml clr red -53.3 -54.2 -59.4 -64.1 -65.4 -65.6
----- 1.34V 1.44V 1.53V 1.64V 1.79V
tiny red -53.4 -54.4 -59.7 -64.2 -65.3 -64.2
----- 1.34V 1.42V 1.51V 1.65V 1.76V
pink red -54.9 -54.3 -59.5 -64.2 -65.5 -64.7
----- 1.35V 1.44V 1.52V 1.61V 1.80V

Rubber References. Semiconductor junctions simply do not have a single breakdown or forward voltage. Instead they have
a wide range of voltages, depending upon the amount of current flowing through them. The physical mechanism for this
may be a plethora of distinct microsites, each of a different voltage and limited to a tiny amount of current.

Variation with Current. As a gross generalization, "good" devices may reduce the amount of noise they generate by about
3dB for every 10x increase in current. In reality, each device is unique and behaves differently, sometimes wildly differently.
Some devices are particularly bursty, with heavy 1/f noise peeking through despite strong filtering.

Oscillation. The vast increases in signal from particular devices at particular current ranges are what one might expect from
oscillation. Presumably that would be due to the diode taking on a negative dynamic resistance and exciting incidental
resonance structures inside the measurement box. In cryptographic use we need to be very concerned about oscillations,
which of course repeat predictably while masquerading as unpredictable diode noise.

Best Device Types. I lean toward noise sources that operate at low voltages, but the list is short. The 2.4V and 2.7V
zeners typically have very low noise output. The IC voltage references produce much more noise: The ICL8069 should
work at 50uA. The TL431C and LM336 produce less noise and need more current. When higher voltages are available, a
low-voltage Metal Oxide Varistor (MOV) can produce a lot of noise at 100uA. The usual strategy of using a bipolar
transistor B-E junction also requires higher voltages. Consistent device characteristics may be the real advantage of the IC
Time Correlation. If we describe noise as a range of frequencies, the sine wave energy at each must impose some degree
of amplitude correlation between time samples. Moreover, low frequency signals must intrude on more nearby samples than
high frequency signals. Both effects can be reduced significantly by taking the difference between adjacent samples and
using that as noise data.

Autocorrelation. Previous work has exposed apparently unknown and complex autocorrelation structure in noise (see:
Experimental Characterization of Recorded Noise). The existence of autocorrelation structure directly contradicts the idea
that noise must be completely unpredictable because of its quantum origin. Unfortunately, deep analysis is now required. In
practice, it may be necessary to actually skip some number of noise samples until autocorrelations become acceptably

Terry Ritter, his current address, his top page and electronics home.