Bad Circuit Design 3 - Compensating an Op-Amp


Perhaps one of the biggest misses in 70s, 80s, and 90s in CMOS analog IC design research was the

use of split-length devices (first reported in the second edition of the CMOS book in 2004) for

compensation. These techniques have been developed and applied to 3 stage op-amp design where

there are literally dozens of published papers that report less than quality designs, especially

with regard to biasing and topology. Here we won’t discuss three-stage designs or using cascode

structures (see how to connect the compensation capacitor in Fig. 24.29). For more information

about three stage designs or design specifics for high-performance see Dr. Saxena’s Master’s

Thesis: Indirect Feedback Compensation Techniques for Multi-Stage Operational Amplifiers or

the presentation here. See also Vishal Saxena OpAmps Matlab Design


Below is a simple two-stage op-amp using Miller compensation with a zero-nulling resistor. This is

a bad design. Using this approach the op-amp is slower, larger, and (for a fixed speed requirement)

burns more power.


A (much) better design uses split-length loads as seen below (Fig. 24.21). The RHP zero is removed

and the compensation capacitor can be 4 to 10 times smaller (so the op-amp is faster!) Assuming

the same widths for M3T/M3B and M4T/M4B they can be combined into a single MOSFET with

the lengths of the devices summed (see problem 6.14 on page 160). For DC biasing purposes the

topology above is exactly the same as the below topology.


We can apply the same technique to the diff-pair to get better power supply rejection, see below.

This topology, because the source of M2B isn’t at AC ground as is the source of M4T above,

doesn’t have as clean of settling as the split-length current mirror load above (the zero is at a

lower frequency than in the split-length loads) but the power supply rejection is much better.

Again, details are found in Dr. Saxena’s Thesis referenced above.


In simple terms, never connect a compensation capacitor back to a high-impedance node in a

multi-stage op-amp design, again see the presentation here. Doing so is incredibly common but

it’s bad design!




P.S. Feeding the current through a compensation capacitor indirectly back to the high-impedance

node using a: 1) common-gate amplifier, 2) cascode structure, 3) current mirror, 4) split-length

diff-pair (SLDP), or 5) split-length current-mirror load (SLCL) is called indirect compensation to

correctly describe the circuit design technique. See pages 783 to 788 (see comment at the bottom

of page 788).


Sometimes, when using one of these specific indirect paths, other names are used. For example,

when using a cascode structure the terminology “cascode compensation” may be used. It’s best

(more precise), however, to use a name that represents the more general compensation technique

hence why “indirect compensation” is used in the book and (above) presentation.


No, including the zero-nulling resistor, as seen in the first figure above, doesn’t make connecting

the compensation capacitor back to a high-impedance node okay. It’s still bad design.