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A "strong" pull (up/down) resistor would be one of a relatively low value, while a "weak" one would be of a relatively high value.

For example, a pull-down resistor would be used to keep an I/O pin low, but a button connected from that pin to VCC would bring it high when pressed, because more current flows from VCC to the pin than from the pin to GND.

In that situation, it seems any value of resistor could be used to keep the pin low, and a button press would always "override" it. What, then, would determine if the pull-down resistor is strong or weak?

Does "strong" vs "weak" only apply when one such resistor is being compared to other resistances in the circuit, such as an internal pull-down resistor?

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Strong means low resistance. Weak means high resistance. Of course low and high are relative terms, and so are strong and weak. The reference for this relationship must be inferred from context.

A strong or low resistance pull-up/down resistor is good because the time constant formed the load capacitance (often, the input gate capacitance, and the PCB trace capacitance) is small, so rise/fall times will be short.

A strong pull-up/down resistor is good because noise currents from unintended coupling and EMI will result in smaller noise voltages. (Think about Ohm's law)

A weak or high resistance pull-up/down resistor is good because it will not require much current from the driving circuitry to work against the resistor. Batteries will thus last longer, parts can be smaller and don't get as hot.

Of course, you usually want all of these things, but a resistor can't be both. A discussion about strong vs. weak is usually clarifying which of these concerns (or perhaps others) are more important for a particular application.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You say, "strong means low resistance. Weak means high resistance." But a high resistance pull-up becomes strong when the drive strengths of the other components are relatively low. \$\endgroup\$ – travisbartley Jul 19 '13 at 5:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trav1s of course it's relative. If I didn't want relative terms, I'd say simply a \$4.7k\Omega\$ pull-up resistor. \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Frost Jul 19 '13 at 11:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ That wasn't clear from your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – travisbartley Jul 19 '13 at 14:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @trav1s better? \$\endgroup\$ – Phil Frost Jul 19 '13 at 14:21
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A "weak" pull resistor is usually a high value resistor that only allows a small amount of current through, and can quickly be overwritten, but takes longer to reassert itself.

A "strong" pull resistor is usually a low value resistor, allows more current through, takes longer to be overwritten, but can quickly reassert a line.

They are completely relative to your needs, not just other pull resistors like internal ones.

In your button scenario, the time it takes to switch from one state to the other isn't important, so weak vs strong doesn't apply there. But weak vs strong does apply in the practical matter of Current Consumption. A strong pull resistor would, when the button is pressed, cause a large drain of current from vcc through the resistor to ground. A weak pull resistor would cause a small drain of current. Theoretically any resistor would work, but for practical purposes, a weak resistor is used because unnecessary high current drains can cause issues and can easily be avoided by sizing the resistor correctly.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I understand the difference of times to reassert the line by weak vs strong pull resistors. But I don't understand why does the strong takes longer to be overwritten. Could you explain? \$\endgroup\$ – Rafael Nov 6 '15 at 21:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rafael think of the line as a boat (a capacitor). Think of the pull-up as a hole. The bigger the hole, the harder/longer it is to empty the bowl. You sink faster with a bigger hole, so you need to work harder. The amount of time it takes to empty the boat is longer. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Nov 6 '15 at 21:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @passerby The bigger the hole the easier/shorter it is to empty the bowl. \$\endgroup\$ – HörmannHH Sep 17 at 16:13
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Does "strong" vs "weak" only apply when one such resistor is being compared to other resistances in the circuit, such as an internal pull-down resistor?

Yes, this is exactly it. Strong and weak simply refer to the relative drive strength of the component. A pull up/down resistor's value has no association to whether it is strong or weak. Only in knowing the context of the other connections to the net can you determine if a pull-up is strong or weak.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Consider a pull-up resistor connected to an open switch connected to ground. Now, how does having a LOW-value resistor make it "stronger"? The resistance of the switch and wire to ground will have a far high impact on Vin levels when the resistance of the pull up is getting closer to that of the resistance of the ground switch. I'm missing something. Help! \$\endgroup\$ – HörmannHH Sep 17 at 16:16
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There are other things to consider when selecting the value of a pull-up or pull-down. For example, depending on the capacitance of the circuit, too week of a pull-up/down will limit how quickly the voltage change occurs. On the other hand, too strong of a pull-up/down will draw excessive current through whatever is trying to pull the other way. These are often considerations in selecting the pull-ups for an I2C (open drain) bus, for example.

However, the place I see "weak pull-ups" typically used is inside microcontroller chips, typically on I/O pins. These are mainly used to guarantee that an input won't float if not connected. The pull-ups are weak both to limit their effect on the external circuitry and to limit the power dissipated inside the chip.

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When you put a large resistance for ground coupling, the voltage developed across it would prevent the node from getting to ground potential. On the other hand, if you put small resistance to the ground, the node potential would be more close to V(gnd). If R(gnd) is high, it would not be able to pull down your node to zero potential. So, you can consider this as "weak" pull down, and vice-versa. Of course, this is just for comparison purpose only (with other components in your circuit)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ What has this to do with the concept of pull up and strength which is to counteract resistance and hence voltage drop in the ground lead connection? When talking about strength of the pull up its in the context of not necessarily knowing what the ground resistance and currents from noise can be, \$\endgroup\$ – HörmannHH Sep 17 at 15:24

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