Simulation and design flow technologies for high-frequency printed-circuit board (PCB) development

Better RF Boards

To support increasing functionality, printed-circuit boards (PCBs) employ more complex board structures designed for a range of specialized applications. Offering a layout-driven design methodology for complex RF PCBs, NI AWR software supports accurate modeling of PCB transmission media from the RF signal path to digital control and DC bias lines. Circuit/system and electromagnetic co-simulation provides first-pass design success with complete PCB analysis of surface-mount components, interconnecting transmission lines, embedded and distributed passive elements, as well as EM verification.

Faster Design

Design automation accelerates product development with smart workflows for PCB realization.


RF-aware PCB design with EM co-simulation provides enhanced accuracy and greater fast-pass success.


The integrated platform supports concurrent electrical/physical design and circuit/system/EM co-simulation to minimize reliance on disparate point tools.

Solution Highlights

Design Entry/Management

RF-aware PCB designs include transmission-lines, distributed elements, and surface-mount device models from component vendors, analyzed by circuit/system/EM co-simulation to accurately capture the high-frequency response. Circuit-board electrical behavior is directly linked to the physical attributes of individual components, as well as to the overall layout. Design entry via schematic/layout capture manages the circuit details, while automation and powerful scripting allows PCB designers to reduce manual design entry/editing and excessive data import/export between tools, while enabling tool customization for every special design consideration. 


Prior to manufacturing, board designs must be verified through computer-aided simulation and analysis. RF/microwave electronics rely on specialized measurements such as noise figure (NF) and small-signal transmission and reflection parameters (S-parameters), as well as their nonlinear power, gain compression, and efficiency response to large-signal stimuli. While transient and time-domain analysis are used for oscillator design and waveform engineering, respectively, most RF PCB analysis relies on frequency-domain HB analysis of nonlinear networks, including power amplifiers (PAs) and frequency converters (mixers).

With the advent of digital modulation for communications systems, designers may also need to analyze PCB-based RF front-ends using circuit envelop analysis to simulate metrics such as adjacent-channel power-ratio (ACPR) and error-vector magnitude (EVM). In addition, dedicated RF link analysis provides a system perspective on the overall performance of multi-component signal paths.

Model Support

Apart from modeling signal traces and distributed components, RF board designs require accurate high-frequency vendor models that capture the parasitics which lead to self-resonance and other non-ideal characteristics. RF-aware design tools should provide component model libraries for commercially available discrete and packaged MMIC/RFIC devices in the form of equivalent (compact) circuit models, S-parameters and/or behavioral models. 

Design Verification

PCB designers rely on circuit/EM co-simulation, along with RF-aware circuit simulation and frequency-dependent transmission-line models, to provide embedded parasitic extraction and design verification. Hierarchical EM/circuit/system co-simulation enables designers to perform in-situ EM analysis to capture and correct harmful parasitic couplings and resonances before tapeout. Simulation with pre-configured and/or customized system test benches provides design verification of communications performance metrics such as ACPR, bit-error rate (BER), and EVM for mobile device and base-station PCBs operating under wireless, standards-specific, modulated waveforms. 

Associated Products

NI AWR Design Environment

The NI AWR Design Environment platform provides a single, complete design environment that seamlessly integrates simulation and design technology and manages the circuit/system/EM components within a project, supporting schematic design entry and fully-synchronized PCB layout.

Microwave Office

Microwave Office circuit design software features APLAC multi-rate, transient, and transient-assisted HB, as well as time-variant (circuit envelope) analysis for linear and nonlinear circuit simulation of PAs and low-noise amplifiers (LNAs), mixers/frequency converters, filters, switches, and RF subsystems. Design aids include load-pull analysis, filter and impedance-matching network synthesis (optional), design for manufacturing (optimization, yield, and statistical analysis), and discrete component (surface-mount) vendor libraries. 


The AXIEM 3D proprietary full-wave planar EM simulator is based on method-of-moments (MoM) fast-solver technology that readily analyzes distributed PCB components, transmission lines, and layer-to-layer PCB interconnects such as vias. Designers can extract S-parameters directly within in their PCB design and visualize fields/currents to identify parasitic coupling and resonances.

Visual System Simulator

Visual System Simulator™ (VSS) system design software provides virtual test benches that support multiple wireless communications standards for performance metrics such as ACPR, EVM, BER and complementary cumulative distribution function (CCDF), transmitter conformance testing, and receiver sensitivity analysis. VSS software also supports circuit-envelope simulation, modulation load-pull analysis, and virtual test benches with standard-specific communication waveforms for board-level PA designs and link-budget analysis for component specification and system verification.


The Analyst™ simulator with integrated 3D finite-element method (FEM) EM analysis enables designers to model finite-dielectrics, and advanced package and board interconnects including wire bonds, air bridges, and ball grids.


AWR Connected™ links third-party software/hardware solutions to NI AWR software within a broader PCB subsystem design flow, including enterprise-level layout tools, alternative EM/thermal simulators, and design-rule check (DRC)/layout vs. schematic (LVS) technologies. 

RF planner™ accelerates development of first-cut radio communications links for radio communications systems, cellular, and/or military radio, enabling designers to efficiently determine spurious-free dynamic range and bandwidths and providing spurious analysis from device nonlinearities, as well as cascaded measurements such as NF, P1dB, signal-to-noise ratio (SNR), and IM3.