Automotive magnetic field sensing applications require a robust sensing concept. One way to meet the corresponding sensor requirements, such as a negligible hysteresis and a large linear working range, is to employ the vortex state. Consequently, the nucleation field Hn of the vortex state becomes a highly important sensor parameter. In this study, we examine different factors that affect Hn. Tunneling magnetoresistance spin-valve sensors with disk-shaped CoFeB free layers, which energetically favor the nucleation of the vortex state, are electrically characterized and compared with micromagnetic simulations. Phase transitions into intermediate magnetic states, such as various buckling states, the S-state, or the double vortex state, are extracted from hysteresis loops. The resulting phase diagrams show that the formation of the S-state only occurs below a thickness of approximately 25 nm, whereas the double vortex state nucleates frequently only above approximately 35 nm. Both the S- and double vortex states lower the nucleation field of the single vortex state compared to higher order buckling states. Understanding both the origin and the influence of the intermediate phases opens the way to designing a robust and reliable vortex sensor concept.

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