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Fundamentals of Clock Domain Crossing Verification: Part One

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

The increase in SOC designs is leading to the extensive use of asynchronous clock domains. The clock-domain-crossing (CDC) interfaces are required to follow strict design principles for reliable operation. Also, verification of proper CDC design is not possible using standard simulation and static timing-analysis (STA) techniques. As a result, CDC-verification tools have become essential in design flows.

A good understanding of the CDC problem requires an understanding of metastability and the associated design challenge.


When the input signal to a data latch changes within the setup-and-hold window around the transition of the latching clock, the latch output can become metastable at an intermediate voltage between logical zero and one. Figure 1 shows a simplified latch implementation. The metastable state is a very high-energy state as shown in Figure 2. Because of noise in the chip environment, this metastable voltage gets disturbed and eventually resolves to a logical value. The resolution time is dependent upon the load on the latch output and the gain through the feedback loop. It is impossible, however, to predict this logical value. Also, there is an inherent delay in the resolution of the metastable output as shown in the timing diagram of Figure 3. This logical and timing uncertainty introduces unreliable behavior in the design and, without proper protection, can cause it to fail in unpredictable ways.


Figure 1. A simplified latch.


Static Verification Leads to New Age of SoC Design

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

SoC companies are coming to rely on RTL sign-off of many verification objectives as a means to achieve a sensible division of labor between their RTL design team and their system-level verification team. Given the sign-off expectation, the verification of those objectives at the RT level must absolutely be comprehensive.

Increasingly, sign-off at the RTL level can be accomplished using static-verification technologies. Static verification stands on two pillars: Deep Semantic Analysis and Formal Methods. With the judicious synthesis of these two, the need for dynamic analysis (a euphemism for simulation) gets pushed to the margins. To be sure, dynamic analysis continues to have a role, but is increasingly as a backstop rather than the main thrust of the verification flow. Even where simulation is used, static methods play an important role in improving its efficacy.

Deep Semantic Analysis is about understanding the purpose or role of RTL structures (logic, flip-flops, state machines, etc.) in a design in the context of the verification objective being addressed. This type of intelligence is at the core of everything that Real Intent does, to the extent that it is even ingrained into the company’s name. Much of sign-off happens based just on the deep semantic intelligence in Real Intent’s tools without the invocation of classical formal analysis.


SoC CDC Verification Needs a Smarter Hierarchical Approach

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

This article was originally published on TechDesignForums and is reproduced here by permission.

Thanks to the widespread reuse of intellectual property (IP) blocks and the difficulty of distributing a system-wide clock across an entire device, today’s system-on-chip (SoC) designs use a large number of clock domains that run asynchronously to each other. A design involving hundreds of millions of transistors can easily incorporate 50 or more clock domains and hundreds of thousands of signals that cross between them.

Although the use of smaller individual clock domains helps improve verification of subsystems apart from the context of the full SoC, the checks required to ensure that the full SoC meets its timing constraints have become increasingly time consuming.

Signals involved in clock domain crossing (CDC), for example where a flip-flip driven by one clock signal feeds data to a flop driven by a different clock signal raise the potential issue of metastability and data loss. Tools based on static verification technology exist to perform CDC checks and recommend the inclusion of more robust synchronizers or other changes to remove the risk of metastability and data loss.


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