Sensors 2012, 12, 2162-2174; doi:10.3390/s120202162
A Highly Sensitive CMOS Digital Hall Sensor for Low Magnetic
Yue Xu 1,2, Hong-Bin Pan 1,*, Shu-Zhuan He 1 and Li Li 1
1 School of Electronic Science & Engineering, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, China;
E-Mails: email@example.com (S.-Z.H.); firstname.lastname@example.org (L.L.)
2 College of Electronic Science & Engineering, Nanjing University of Posts and
Telecommunications, Nanjing 210003, China; E-Mail: email@example.com
* Author to whom correspondence should be addressed; E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org;
Tel.: +86-25-8359-4796; Fax: +86-25-8368-6455.
Received: 22 December 2011; in revised form: 20 January 2012 / Accepted: 21 January 2012 /
Published: 15 February 2012
Abstract: Integrated CMOS Hall sensors have been widely used to measure magnetic
fields. However, they are difficult to work with in a low magnetic field environment due to
their low sensitivity and large offset. This paper describes a highly sensitive digital Hall
sensor fabricated in 0.18 μm high voltage CMOS technology for low field applications.
The sensor consists of a switched cross-shaped Hall plate and a novel signal conditioner. It
effectively eliminates offset and low frequency 1/f noise by applying a dynamic quadrature
offset cancellation technique. The measured results show the optimal Hall plate achieves a
high current related sensitivity of about 310 V/AT. The whole sensor has a remarkable
ability to measure a minimum ±2 mT magnetic field and output a digital Hall signal in a
wide temperature range from −40 °C to 120 °C.
Keywords: Hall sensor; CMOS technology; dynamic offset cancellation; chopped technique
Presently, Hall magnetic field sensors are widely established for their great applications in industrial
control systems, intelligent instruments, and consumer electronic products, etc. They are used not only
for direct measurement of magnetic fields, but also for non-direct measurements, like speed or
position, etc. Hall devices can be realized in standard integrated circuit processes such as the bipolar or
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CMOS technologies. Compared to bipolar Hall devices, CMOS Hall devices exhibit the following
advantages: high reliability, small size, low cost and compatibility with other CMOS technologies [1–4].
Unfortunately, integrated CMOS Hall sensors also suffer from a lot of non-idealities [2–4]. First of all,
their magnetic field sensitivity is very low. For instance, in a linear or angular position Hall sensor, the
value of magnetic field is usually 5 mT at one cm distance from a magnet which has a magnetic field
of around 0.1 T. Under this magnetic field, the CMOS Hall device gives a weak output signal of
hundreds of micro-volts. Second, its offset is rather high. A CMOS Hall device is very vulnerable to
process fluctuation, temperature drift and package-induced stress. These negative factors induce
serious offset voltage and low frequency 1/f noise which may be large enough to obscure the Hall
signal. In addition, CMOS operational amplifiers (OP-AMPs) used for Hall signal conditioning have
poor performance in terms of offset and 1/f noise compared to bipolar OP-AMPs. For example, the
typical value of the offset of a CMOS OP-AMP is as large as ±2 mV .
Therefore, the low magnetic sensitivity and the large offset of Hall sensors limit both the minimum
value of the magnetic field that can be measured as well as the accuracy of the measurements. So far
the techniques used to reduce the offset and 1/f noise from the electronic circuits, can be mainly
divided into auto-zero (AZ), correlated double sampling (CDS) and chopper stabilization (CHS)
techniques . Compared with the AZ and CDS, the CHS technique can effectively eliminate the
offset and 1/f noise of the electronics without requiring any low-pass filtering [7–9]. It transposes the
signal to a higher frequency, where there is no low frequency 1/f noise, and then demodulates it back
to the baseband after amplification. However, the CHS technique only effectively removes the offset
and 1/f noise of the amplifiers, but it cannot satisfactorily suppress the external input offset and 1/f
noise. In order to eliminate these non-ideal factors simultaneously, a quasi-chopped technique for
dynamic offset cancellation, i.e., the so-called spinning current technique, has been widely employed
in Hall sensors [9,10].
This paper deals with a highly sensitive digital Hall sensor fabricated in 0.18 μm high voltage (HV)
CMOS technology for low magnetic field applications. A new chopper stabilized instrumental chain is
employed to perform the dynamic offset cancellation, which mainly consists of an optimal switched
Hall plate, and a novel and simple signal conditioner. In particular, the proposed signal conditioner
features a switched hysteresis comparator to replace the sample-hold circuit and Schmitt trigger of
conventional signal conditioner, which further reduces the size and cost of the proposed Hall sensor.
This paper is arranged as follows: first, the design and optimization of the CMOS horizontal Hall
plate is briefly introduced. Further, the structure of an analog front-end with the dynamic offset
cancellation is described in detail. Then, the simulation and experimental results are presented and
discussed. Finally, conclusions are drawn.
2. Cross-Shaped Hall Plate
The cross-shaped Hall plate as a horizontal Hall device has been broadly used due to its relatively
high sensitivity and low offset. The structure of the CMOS cross-shaped Hall plate is schematically
shown in Figure 1. It is fabricated in an N-well diffusion area which is built in a P-type substrate, with
four N+ doped terminals [11–13]. The 90° rotation symmetrical structure makes it well suitable for
spinning current use where the biasing and sensing terminals are periodically permutated. In order
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to reduce the 1/f noise and carrier surface losses, a shallow P+ top layer often covers the surface of the
N-well. The P+ top layer and P-type substrate are usually connected to ground. When a voltage V or
current I bias is supplied via one pair of terminals and a perpendicular magnetic field BZ is applied to
the device surface, the Hall voltage VH appears on the other pair of terminals due to the Hall effect.
Considering the geometry of a real Hall plate, VH can be expressed with the current related sensitivity
. SI is determined by the geometrical correction factor G, the Hall
mobility μH or the Hall factor rH, the doping concentration nNW of the N-well, and the effective depth of
the N-well tNW.
Equation (1) can be rewritten with the voltage related sensitivity SV:
, L and W are the finger length and finger width of the
cross-shaped Hall plate, respectively.
For a cross-shaped Hall plate, the geometrical correction factor can be calculated by :
0267 . 51
θ is the Hall angle, equal to
Figure 1. Top view of a conventional cross-shape Hall plate.
Equation (1) means that SI is inversely proportional to the carrier concentration of the N-well.
Therefore, a Hall device fabricated by a standard CMOS process has a low sensitivity due to high
N-well doping concentration. In order to improve the current related sensitivity, we select a HV CMOS
process to fabricate the Hall plate as it can provide an obviously lower N-well doping level than the
standard CMOS process, despite a relatively deep N-well depth. On the other hand, the geometrical
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correction factor should also be enhanced, which is determined by the ratio of finger length L to finger
width W in terms of Equation (3). In order to improve the voltage related sensitivity without reducing
the current related sensitivity too much, an optimal cross geometry (W/L = 2) has been reasonably
selected in the layout design.
It is well known that CMOS Hall devices seriously suffer from a large offset. One of the main
origins of offset comes from the mask-misalignment, which can be minimized by designing a Hall
device with an appropriate and symmetric layout. In fact, the masks defining the terminals and N-well
implant active layer of the Hall plate could be shifted or rotated relative to each other during
photolithography. Any misalignment between terminals mask and the N-well mask will result in an
offset, even in the absence of magnetic field. However, the smaller terminals designed within the
N-well could lead to a larger masks misalignment. In the layout design, an optimized cross-shaped
Hall plate structure is developed. Compared to the conventional Hall plate, the length of terminals
reaches a maximum allowable value in the N-well for a given technology. Thus, the effect of the
masks misalignment on the offset can be greatly reduced.
3. Front-End Signal Conditioning
The block diagram of the new chopper stabilized instrumental chain is illustrated in Figure 2. At
first, applying the spinning current technique, the output and supply terminals of Hall plate are
periodically interchanged so that the useful Hall signals are separated from the offset and 1/f noise
through input chopping modulation. Then, the modulated signals are amplified by a differential
instrumentation amplifier. After this amplification, two high-pass filters remove the unwanted offset
and 1/f noise. Finally, the output signal passing through the filters is demodulated and the digital Hall
signal is generated by a switched hysteresis comparator.
Figure 2. Block diagram of the new chopper stabilized instrumental chain.
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3.1. Switched Hall plate
Figure 3 shows the switched Hall plate in Figure 2. Since the 90° rotation symmetrical Hall plate
can be considered as a distributed resistive Wheatstone bridge from a dc point of view, the dynamic
offset cancellation can be achieved by the spinning current method [3,4]. By periodical supply and
output terminals permutation, the quadrature states are generated. One pair of complementary clocks of
100 kHz produce 0° and 90° states respectively. When CLK is high level, M2, M3, M5, and M8 turn
on. The terminal a and terminal c of the Hall plate are connected to power and ground. Then current
flows from terminal a to terminal c, and Hall signal appears between terminal b and terminal d. When
NCLK is high level, M1, M4, M6 and M7 turn on, so there is a current flowing from terminal b to
terminal d. Accordingly, a Hall signal is present between terminal c and terminal a. Thus, if the change
of the magnetic field is much slower than the clock frequency, the differential output Hall voltage VH
periodically changes its polarities with the same magnitude in the course of current spinning. On the
contrary, the differential output offset voltage VOP always keeps the same magnitude and a constant
polarity, as the same imbalance occurs in adjacent branches of the equivalent Wheatstone bridge
network. It is important to note that the offset VOA of the instrumentation amplifier becomes
indistinguishable from VOP. Consequently, a demodulation should be performed to extract the Hall
signal and eliminate the Hall offset and the instrumentation amplifier’s offset simultaneously by the
following signal conditioner at no extra cost.
Figure 3. Switched Hall plate.
3.2. Signal Conditioner
The traditional signal conditioners execute sample-and-hold (S/H) and adding functions to remove
offset without using low-pass filters [3,8]. First, the two differential outputs of the instrumentation
amplifier are sampled and hold by S/H circuits during 0° and 90° states respectively. Next, the outputs
of S/H circuits input the summing OP-AMP. Finally, the offset can be cancelled out by the summing
OP-AMP. However, this signal conditioner layout requires four completely differential S/H circuits
and a summing OP-AMP, thus it requires too large a chip size to fabricate four S/H capacitances.
Moreover, the circuit structure is much more complicated. Later, a simplified circuit configuration was
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proposed . Here, a capacitance clocked by sampling clock is used to realize the adding function,
taking place of a summing OP-AMP. Further, it only needs two S/H capacitances, and the total number
of capacitances decreases from four to three. Nevertheless, this circuit requires four-phase different
clocks, and the timing relationship in the circuit is much more complex.
In this work, we propose a signal conditioner based on a high-pass filtering—demodulation
configuration, as shown in Figure 4. Here, the switched Hall plate is represented by block SWP. EN is
the enable signal and high level is effective. Compared to other similar signal conditioners [15,16], the
proposed signal conditioner has a simpler structure. In addition to the instrumentation amplifier A, it
only consists of two high-pass filters and a switched hysteresis comparator B. The circuit properly
works as follows: during the 0° state, the differential input voltage of the instrumentation amplifier is:
) 0 ()
During the 90° state, the differential input voltage of the instrumentation amplifier changes to:
) 90() 90(
Figure 4. Signal conditioner of the digital Hall sensor.
After it is amplified by the instrumentation amplifier, the Hall signal can pass through the high-pass
filters, but the offset and 1/f noise are blocked. It is important to notice that a simple passive first order
high-pass filter is sufficient to perfectly cancel the offset and 1/f noise. The cut-off frequency of the
high-pass filter has to be higher than the 1/f noise frequency, which is typically between 500 Hz and
1 kHz, so a first order high-pass filter with 2 kHz cut-off frequency can achieve this requirement. The
cut-off frequency is determined by 1/C1RAB or 1/C2RAB, where RAB is the equivalent resistance
between the points A and B. In order to obtain low 1/f noise performance, C1 and C2 are set to 10 pF.
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When NCLK is high level, switches M1 and M2 turn on, then, the differential input voltage of the
comparator B is clamped to:
where Vth is a trigger threshold level and its polarity is controlled by the feedback Hall output signal.
When the Hall output signal is high level, switch M3 turns on and Vth is equal to VR1 (the current of
10 μA flowing across resistor R1). Otherwise, switch M4 turns on, then Vth becomes −VR2 (the current
of 10 μA flowing across resistor R2). We selected R1 = R2 = R3 = R4 = 2 K to make Vth = ±20 mV. At
the moment, the cut-off frequency of the high-pass filters is much higher than the chopping frequency
of 100 KHz, hence both Hall signal and offset and 1/f noise are blocked.
When NCLK is low level, switches M1 and M2 turn off. At this time, the cut-off frequency of the
high-pass filters becomes less than 100 kHz but higher than 2 kHz. Thus, only the Hall signal can pass
through the high-pass filters. Since the amount of electric charge on the capacitances C1 and C2
remains unchanged, the differential input voltage of the comparator B changes to:
where, Au is the voltage gain of the instrumentation amplifier A, and the residual offset voltage is
First assume that the initial state is VA > VB, so the output voltage of comparator B is a high level. At
this time, Vth is equal to VR1. When 2AuVH reversely increases more than |VR1|, the comparator B
outputs a low level and Vth becomes −VR2. Only when the value of 2AuVH forward increases more than
|VR2|, the output becomes a high level. In order to output a standard CMOS level, a D flip-flop (DFF)
Therefore, the proposed signal conditioner not only effectively eliminates the offset and 1/f noise,
but also realizes the hysteresis characteristics of a digital Hall sensor without a Schmitt trigger.
Meanwhile, the whole signal conditioner only needs two capacitances, which further make the chip
4. Circuit Simulations
A SPICE simulation of the front-end chopper stabilized instrumental chain was performed with
100 kHz chopping clock frequency using a Cadence spectre simulator. The simulation model
parameters of the devices were derived from the X-FAB 0.18 μm HV CMOS technology. The Hall
plate is modeled by an equivalent simulation model written in Verilog-A language . The Hall plate
model produces a 1 kHz sinusoidal Hall output signal of 80 μV and a dc output offset of 2.5 mV when
the input bias current is 100 μA and the perpendicular magnetic field is 2.5 mT. After the Hall plate
output signals are modulated at 100 kHz by applying the spinning current technique, they are fed into
the instrumentation amplifier for amplification. Figure 5 illustrates the transient voltage waveform
between the differential inputs of the instrumentation amplifier. Unfortunately, some parasitic spikes
are obviously observed during commutations. These spikes are generated by the various non-idealities
of the switches, including charge injection, clock feed-through and parasitic capacitances of Hall plate
and switches. Although a dummy switch can reduce the charge injection, it will increase the
complexity of the spinning current circuit. Since the RC time of the spikes is dominated by the
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400 K. When the Hall plate is biased with 100 μA DC current, the current related sensitivity was
measured at room temperature. A comparison of the current related sensitivity has been made between
the proposed Hall device and the reported CMOS Hall devices, as shown in Table 1.
Table 1. Comparison of the current related sensitivity between the proposed single Hall
device and the reported Hall devices.
Current Related Sensitivity
0.18 μm HV CMOS
0.35 μm CMOS
0.35 μm CMOS
0.8 μm CMOS
It is obvious that a higher sensitivity of about 310 V/AT is achieved in this work. Figure 9 shows the
thermal drift of the current related sensitivity within an industrial temperature range of −40 °C–120 °C.
Figure 9. Measurement of the current-related sensitivity versus temperature.
The temperature first order coefficient of sensitivity is estimated to about 800 ppm/K. The variation of
the current related sensitivity with the DC bias current is shown in Figure 10. Because of the junction
effect increasing with the bias current, the effective thickness of the active area of the Hall plate is
reduced. Thus, we observe that the sensitivity is increased with the bias current. The static Hall offset
voltage between one pair of terminals was measured when the substrate is grounded and two other
terminals are applied to 1.0 V and 0 V. A small Hall offset about 1 mV is obtained at temperature = 27 °C.
Next, the functions of the whole Hall sensor were measured. The digital output of the Hall sensor
was observed by using an Agilent 3032A oscilloscope, as illustrated in Figure 11. It can be seen that
the output level of the Hall sensor changes synchronously when the magnetic field changes from
−2 mT to 2 mT. A minimum detectable magnetic field of ±2 mT is obtained, showing a hysteretic
characteristic of 4 mT. Note that the detectable sensitivity could be further improved by reducing the
threshold voltage of the hysteresis comparator, whereas a too low threshold voltage will cause a poor
anti-jamming ability of the hysteresis comparator. Therefore, the minimum detection sensitivity of
±2 mT is difficult to improve. In addition, the test results show that the Hall sensor can work well as the
supply voltage changes from 2 V to 4 V while the temperature ranges from −40 °C to 120 °C.
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Figure 10. Measurement of the variation of the current-related sensitivity with the biasing
Figure 11. Digital output of the Hall sensor displayed on an Agilent 3032A oscilloscope.
Table 2 summarizes the measured important parameters of the digital Hall sensor die, which
suggests that the CMOS integrated digital Hall sensor can provide high sensitivity and better
temperature stability over a wide temperature range.
Table 2. Typical characteristics of Hall sensor.
Supply voltage 2–4 V
Hall plate sensitivity @100μA 310 V/AT
Original Hall plate offset @1V 1 mV
Operating point BOP @27°C 2 mT
Release point BOP @27°C −2 mT
Hysteresis @27°C 4 mT
Operating temperature range −40–120 °C
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A highly sensitive digital Hall magnetic sensor using the X-FAB 0.18 μm HV CMOS technology is
introduced. The cross-shaped structure of Hall device is optimized to reduce Hall offset and improve
sensitivity. In order to eliminate the relatively large offset, including Hall offset, amplifier’s offset and
1/f noise, the dynamic offset cancellation technique through Hall current spinning is applied. A novel
signal conditioner with a simple structure is proposed for saving chip area and improving the
performance of the sensor. The recovery of digital Hall output and offset cancellation are achieved
with only two high-pass filters and a switch-controlled comparator. The whole signal conditioner only
requires a pair of complementary clocks. Additionally, it is convenient to change the hysteresis
characteristics by adjusting resistances, without needing an actual Schmitt trigger. The experimental
results show that the sensor has a remarkable ability to measure a minimum ±2 mT magnetic field and
output a digital Hall signal over a wide temperature range from −40 °C to 120 °C. Therefore, this Hall
sensor is well suited for low magnetic field applications, such as integrated brushless DC motor drivers
which require small chip size and high sensitivity.
This work was supported by the Science and Technology Support Project, Jiangsu, China under
Grant No. BE2009143.
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