How to connect the EPAD on the ISL97701?

The data sheet says this:

"The heat of the IC is mainly dissipated through the thermal
pad. Maximizing the copper area connected to the thermal pad
is preferable. In addition, a solid ground plane is helpful for the
EMI performance."

It DOES NOT explicitly say whether the "copper area connected to the thermal pad" should be directly via - connected to the board's ground plane, or whether it should be a "floating" copper area on the outside mounting layer. Which is preferable?

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