Asynchronous circuit

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An asynchronous circuit, or self-timed circuit, is a sequential digital logic circuit which is not governed by a clock circuit or global clock signal. Instead it often uses signals that indicate completion of instructions and operations, specified by simple data transfer protocols. This type of circuit is contrasted with synchronous circuits, in which changes to the signal values in the circuit are triggered by repetitive pulses called a clock signal. Most digital devices today use synchronous circuits. However asynchronous circuits have the potential to be faster, and may also have advantages in lower power consumption, lower electromagnetic interference, and better modularity in large systems. Asynchronous circuits are an active area of research in digital logic design. [1] [2]

In digital circuit theory, sequential logic is a type of logic circuit whose output depends not only on the present value of its input signals but on the sequence of past inputs, the input history as well. This is in contrast to combinational logic, whose output is a function of only the present input. That is, sequential logic has state (memory) while combinational logic does not.

Electrical network interconnection of electrical components or a model of such an interconnection, consisting of electrical elements

An electrical network is an interconnection of electrical components or a model of such an interconnection, consisting of electrical elements. An electrical circuit is a network consisting of a closed loop, giving a return path for the current. Linear electrical networks, a special type consisting only of sources, linear lumped elements, and linear distributed elements, have the property that signals are linearly superimposable. They are thus more easily analyzed, using powerful frequency domain methods such as Laplace transforms, to determine DC response, AC response, and transient response.

In electronics and especially synchronous digital circuits, a clock signal is a particular type of signal that oscillates between a high and a low state and is used like a metronome to coordinate actions of digital circuits.


Synchronous vs asynchronous logic

Digital logic circuits can be divided into combinational logic, in which the output signals depend only on the current input signals, and sequential logic, in which the output depends both on current input and on past inputs. In other words, sequential logic is combinational logic with memory. Virtually all practical digital devices require sequential logic. Sequential logic can be divided into two types, synchronous logic and asynchronous logic.

Combinational logic type of digital logic which is implemented by boolean circuits

In digital circuit theory, combinational logic is a type of digital logic which is implemented by Boolean circuits, where the output is a pure function of the present input only. This is in contrast to sequential logic, in which the output depends not only on the present input but also on the history of the input. In other words, sequential logic has memory while combinational logic does not.

Computer memory physical device used to store programs or data for use in a digital electronic device; computer hardware device used to store information for immediate use in a computer

In computing, memory refers to the computer hardware integrated circuits that store information for immediate use in a computer; it is synonymous with the term "primary storage". Computer memory operates at a high speed, for example random-access memory (RAM), as a distinction from storage that provides slow-to-access information but offers higher capacities. If needed, contents of the computer memory can be transferred to secondary storage; a very common way of doing this is through a memory management technique called "virtual memory". An archaic synonym for memory is store.

Electronic oscillator electronic circuit that produces a repetitive, oscillating electronic signal, often a sine wave or a square wave

An electronic oscillator is an electronic circuit that produces a periodic, oscillating electronic signal, often a sine wave or a square wave. Oscillators convert direct current (DC) from a power supply to an alternating current (AC) signal. They are widely used in many electronic devices. Common examples of signals generated by oscillators include signals broadcast by radio and television transmitters, clock signals that regulate computers and quartz clocks, and the sounds produced by electronic beepers and video games.

Flip-flop (electronics) circuit that has two stable states and can be used to store state information

In electronics, a flip-flop or latch is a circuit that has two stable states and can be used to store state information. A flip-flop is a bistable multivibrator. The circuit can be made to change state by signals applied to one or more control inputs and will have one or two outputs. It is the basic storage element in sequential logic. Flip-flops and latches are fundamental building blocks of digital electronics systems used in computers, communications, and many other types of systems.

Signal edge

In electronics, a signal edge is a transition in a digital signal either from low to high or from high to low. It is called an edge because the square wave which represents a signal has edges at those points.

However a disadvantage of synchronous circuits is that they can be slow. The maximum possible clock rate is determined by the logic path with the longest propagation delay, called the critical path. So logic paths that complete their operations quickly are idle most of the time. Another problem is that the widely distributed clock signal takes a lot of power, and must run whether the circuit is receiving inputs or not.

Propagation delay is the length of time taken for the quantity of interest to reach its destination. It can relate to networking, electronics or physics.

Race condition type of software defect

A race condition or race hazard is the behavior of an electronics, software, or other system where the system's substantive behavior is dependent on the sequence or timing of other uncontrollable events. It becomes a bug when one or more of the possible behaviors is undesirable.

Theoretical foundation

The term asynchronous logic is used to describe a variety of design styles, which use different assumptions about circuit properties. [3] These vary from the bundled delay model – which uses "conventional" data processing elements with completion indicated by a locally generated delay model – to delay-insensitive design – where arbitrary delays through circuit elements can be accommodated. The latter style tends to yield circuits which are larger than bundled data implementations, but which are insensitive to layout and parametric variations and are thus "correct by design".

Asynchronous logic is the logic required for the design of asynchronous digital systems. These function without a clock signal and so individual logic elements cannot be relied upon to have a discrete true/false state at any given time. Boolean logic is inadequate for this and so extensions are required.[ clarification needed ] Karl Fant developed a theoretical treatment of this in his work Logically determined design in 2005 which used four-valued logic with null and intermediate being the additional values. This architecture is important because it is quasi-delay-insensitive. [4] Scott Smith and Jia Di developed an ultra-low-power variation of Fant's Null Convention Logic that incorporates multi-threshold CMOS. [5] This variation is termed Multi-threshold Null Convention Logic (MTNCL), or alternatively Sleep Convention Logic (SCL). [6] Vadim Vasyukevich developed a different approach based upon a new logical operation which he called venjunction. This takes into account not only the current value of an element, but also its history. [7]

Logic study of inference and demonstration

Logic is the systematic study of the form of valid inference, and the most general laws of truth. A valid inference is one where there is a specific relation of logical support between the assumptions of the inference and its conclusion. In ordinary discourse, inferences may be signified by words such as therefore, hence, ergo, and so on.

In programming, nullable types are a feature of the type system of some programming languages which allow the value to be set to the special value NULL instead of the usual possible values of the data type. In statically-typed languages, a nullable type is an option type, while in dynamically-typed languages, equivalent behavior is provided by having a single null value.

Petri nets are an attractive and powerful model for reasoning about asynchronous circuits. However, Petri nets have been criticized for their lack of physical realism (see Petri net: Subsequent models of concurrency). Subsequent to Petri nets other models of concurrency have been developed that can model asynchronous circuits including the Actor model and process calculi.


A variety of advantages have been demonstrated by asynchronous circuits, including both quasi-delay-insensitive (QDI) circuits (generally agreed to be the most "pure" form of asynchronous logic that retains computational universality) and less pure forms of asynchronous circuitry which use timing constraints for higher performance and lower area and power:



There are several ways to create asynchronous communication channels that can be classified by their protocol and data encoding.


There are two widely used protocol families which differ in the way communications are encoded:

Illustration of two and four-phase handshakes. Top: A sender and a receiver are communicating with simple request and acknowledge signals. The sender drives the request line, and the receiver drives the acknowledge line. Middle: Timing diagram of two, two-phase communications. Bottom: Timing diagram of one, four-phase communication. 2 and 4 phase handshakes.svg
Illustration of two and four-phase handshakes. Top: A sender and a receiver are communicating with simple request and acknowledge signals. The sender drives the request line, and the receiver drives the acknowledge line. Middle: Timing diagram of two, two-phase communications. Bottom: Timing diagram of one, four-phase communication.

Despite involving more transitions per communication, circuit implementations four-phase protocols are usually faster and simpler than two-phase protocols because the signal lines return to their original state by the end of each communication. In two-phase protocols, the circuit implementations would have to store the state of the signal line internally.

Note that these basic distinctions do not account for the wide variety of protocols. These protocols may encode only requests and acknowledgements or also encode the data, which leads to the popular multi-wire data encoding. Many other, less common protocols have been proposed including using a single wire for request and acknowledgment, using several significant voltages, using only pulses or balancing timings in order to remove the latches.

Data encoding

There are two widely used data encodings in asynchronous circuits: bundled-data encoding and multi-rail encoding

Another common way to encode the data is to use multiple wires to encode a single digit: the value is determined by the wire on which the event occurs. This avoids some of the delay assumptions necessary with bundled-data encoding, since the request and the data are not separated anymore.

Bundled-data encoding

Bundled-data encoding uses one wire per bit of data with a request and an acknowledge signal; this is the same encoding used in synchronous circuits without the restriction that transitions occur on with a clock edge. The request and the acknowledge are sent on separate wires with one of the above protocols. These circuits usually assume a bounded delay model with the completion signals delayed long enough for the calculations to take place.

In operation, the sender signals the availability and validity of data with a request. The receiver then indicates completion with an acknowledgement, indicating that it is able to process new requests. That is, the request is bundled with the data, hence the name "bundled-data".

Bundled-data circuits are often referred to as micropipelines, whether they use a two-phase or four-phase protocol, even if the term was initially introduced for two-phase bundled-data.

A 4-phase, bundled-data communication. Top: A sender and receiver are connected by data lines, a request line, and an acknowledge line. Bottom: Timing diagram of a bundled data communication. When the request line is low, the data is to be considered invalid and liable to change at anytime. 4-phase bundled-data communication.svg
A 4-phase, bundled-data communication. Top: A sender and receiver are connected by data lines, a request line, and an acknowledge line. Bottom: Timing diagram of a bundled data communication. When the request line is low, the data is to be considered invalid and liable to change at anytime.

Multi-rail encoding

Multi-rail encoding uses multiple wires without a one-to-one relationship between bits and wires and a separate acknowledge signal. Data availability is indicated by the transitions themselves on one or more of the data wires (depending on the type of multi-rail encoding) instead of with a request signal as in the bundled-data encoding. This provides the advantage that the data communication is delay-insensitive. Two common multi-rail encodings are one-hot and dual rail. The one-hot (a.k.a. 1-of-n) encoding represents a number in base n with a communication on one of the n wires. The dual-rail encoding uses pairs of wires to represent each bit of the data, hence the name "dual-rail"; one wire in the pair represents the bit value of 0 and the other represents the bit value of 1. For example, a dual-rail encoded two bit number will be represented with two pairs of wires for four wires in total. During a data communication, communications occur on one of each pair of wires to indicate the data's bits. In the general case, an m n encoding represent data as m words of base n.

Diagram of dual rail and 1-of-4 communications. Top: A sender and receiver are connected by data lines and an acknowledge line. Middle: Timing diagram of the sender communicating the values 0, 1, 2, and then 3 to the receiver with the 1-of-4 encoding. Bottom: Timing diagram of the sender communicating the same values to the receiver with the dual-rail encoding. For this particular data size, the dual rail encoding is the same as a 2x1-of-2 encoding. 4-phase multi-rail asynchronous communications.svg
Diagram of dual rail and 1-of-4 communications. Top: A sender and receiver are connected by data lines and an acknowledge line. Middle: Timing diagram of the sender communicating the values 0, 1, 2, and then 3 to the receiver with the 1-of-4 encoding. Bottom: Timing diagram of the sender communicating the same values to the receiver with the dual-rail encoding. For this particular data size, the dual rail encoding is the same as a 2x1-of-2 encoding.

Dual-rail encoding with a four-phase protocol is the most common and is also called three-state encoding, since it has two valid states (10 and 01, after a transition) and a reset state (00). Another common encoding, which leads to a simpler implementation than one-hot, two-phase dual-rail is four-state encoding, or level-encoded dual-rail, and uses a data bit and a parity bit to achieve a two-phase protocol.

Asynchronous CPU

Asynchronous CPUs are one of several ideas for radically changing CPU design.

Unlike a conventional processor, a clockless processor (asynchronous CPU) has no central clock to coordinate the progress of data through the pipeline. Instead, stages of the CPU are coordinated using logic devices called "pipeline controls" or "FIFO sequencers." Basically, the pipeline controller clocks the next stage of logic when the existing stage is complete. In this way, a central clock is unnecessary. It may actually be even easier to implement high performance devices in asynchronous, as opposed to clocked, logic:

Asynchronous logic proponents believe these capabilities would have these benefits:

The biggest disadvantage of the clockless CPU is that most CPU design tools assume a clocked CPU (i.e., a synchronous circuit). Many tools "enforce synchronous design practices". [17] Making a clockless CPU (designing an asynchronous circuit) involves modifying the design tools to handle clockless logic and doing extra testing to ensure the design avoids metastable problems. The group that designed the AMULET, for example, developed a tool called LARD [18] to cope with the complex design of AMULET3.

Despite the difficulty of doing so, numerous asynchronous CPUs have been built, including:

The ILLIAC II was the first completely asynchronous, speed independent processor design ever built; it was the most powerful computer at the time. [19]

DEC PDP-16 Register Transfer Modules (ca. 1973) allowed the experimenter to construct asynchronous, 16-bit processing elements. Delays for each module were fixed and based on the module's worst-case timing.

The Caltech Asynchronous Microprocessor (1988) was the first asynchronous microprocessor (1988). Caltech designed and manufactured the world's first fully Quasi Delay Insensitive processor.[ citation needed ] During demonstrations, the researchers loaded a simple program which ran in a tight loop, pulsing one of the output lines after each instruction. This output line was connected to an oscilloscope. When a cup of hot coffee was placed on the chip, the pulse rate (the effective "clock rate") naturally slowed down to adapt to the worsening performance of the heated transistors. When liquid nitrogen was poured on the chip, the instruction rate shot up with no additional intervention. Additionally, at lower temperatures, the voltage supplied to the chip could be safely increased, which also improved the instruction rate – again, with no additional configuration.

In 2004, Epson manufactured the world's first bendable microprocessor called ACT11, an 8-bit asynchronous chip. [36] [37] [38] [39] [40] Synchronous flexible processors are slower, since bending the material on which a chip is fabricated causes wild and unpredictable variations in the delays of various transistors, for which worst-case scenarios must be assumed everywhere and everything must be clocked at worst-case speed. The processor is intended for use in smart cards, whose chips are currently limited in size to those small enough that they can remain perfectly rigid.

In 2014, IBM announced a SyNAPSE-developed chip that runs in an asynchronous manner, with one of the highest transistor counts of any chip ever produced. IBM's chip consumes orders of magnitude less power than traditional computing systems on pattern recognition benchmarks. [41]

See also

Related Research Articles

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A central processing unit (CPU), also called a central processor or main processor, is the electronic circuitry within a computer that carries out the instructions of a computer program by performing the basic arithmetic, logic, controlling, and input/output (I/O) operations specified by the instructions. The computer industry has used the term "central processing unit" at least since the early 1960s. Traditionally, the term "CPU" refers to a processor, more specifically to its processing unit and control unit (CU), distinguishing these core elements of a computer from external components such as main memory and I/O circuitry.

Processor design is the design engineering task of creating a processor, a component of computer hardware. It is a subfield of computer engineering and electronics engineering (fabrication). The design process involves choosing an instruction set and a certain execution paradigm and results in a microarchitecture, which might be described in e.g. VHDL or Verilog. For microprocessor design, this description is then manufactured employing some of the various semiconductor device fabrication processes, resulting in a die which is bonded onto a chip carrier. This chip carrier is then soldered onto, or inserted into a socket on, a printed circuit board (PCB).

In digital logic and computing, a counter is a device which stores the number of times a particular event or process has occurred, often in relationship to a clock signal. The most common type is a sequential digital logic circuit with an input line called the clock and multiple output lines. The values on the output lines represent a number in the binary or BCD number system. Each pulse applied to the clock input increments or decrements the number in the counter.

Microcode is a computer hardware technique that imposes an interpreter between the CPU hardware and the programmer-visible instruction set architecture of the computer. As such, the microcode is a layer of hardware-level instructions that implement higher-level machine code instructions or internal state machine sequencing in many digital processing elements. Microcode is used in general-purpose central processing units, although in current desktop CPUs it is only a fallback path for cases that the faster hardwired control unit cannot handle.

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A synchronous circuit is a digital circuit in which the changes in the state of memory elements are synchronized by a clock signal. In a sequential digital logic circuit, data is stored in memory devices called flip-flops or latches. The output of a flip-flop is constant until a pulse is applied to its "clock" input, upon which the input of the flip-flop is latched into its output. In a synchronous logic circuit, an electronic oscillator called the clock generates a string of pulses, the "clock signal". This clock signal is applied to every storage element, so in an ideal synchronous circuit, every change in the logical levels of its storage components is simultaneous. Ideally, the input to each storage element has reached its final value before the next clock occurs, so the behaviour of the whole circuit can be predicted exactly. Practically, some delay is required for each logical operation, resulting in a maximum speed at which each synchronous system can run.

Metastability (electronics)

Metastability in electronics is the ability of a digital electronics system to persist for an unbounded time in an unstable equilibrium or metastable state. In digital logic circuits, a digital signal is required to be within certain voltage or current limits to represent a '0' or '1' logic level for correct circuit operation; if the signal is within a forbidden intermediate range it may cause faulty behavior in logic gates the signal is applied to. In metastable states, the circuit may be unable to settle into a stable '0' or '1' logic level within the time required for proper circuit operation. As a result, the circuit can act in unpredictable ways, and may lead to a system failure, sometimes referred to as a "glitch". Metastability is an instance of Buridan's paradox.

The primary focus of this article is asynchronous control in digital electronic systems. In a synchronous system, operations are coordinated by one, or more, centralized clock signals. An asynchronous digital system, in contrast, has no global clock. Asynchronous systems do not depend on strict arrival times of signals or messages for reliable operation. Coordination is achieved via events such as: packet arrival, changes (transitions) of signals, handshake protocols, and other methods.

In digital electronic design a clock domain crossing (CDC), or simply clock crossing, is the traversal of a signal in a synchronous digital circuit from one clock domain into another. If a signal does not assert long enough and is not registered, it may appear asynchronous on the incoming clock boundary.

The history of general-purpose CPUs is a continuation of the earlier history of computing hardware.

Arithmetic logic unit digital circuits

An arithmetic logic unit (ALU) is a combinational digital electronic circuit that performs arithmetic and bitwise operations on integer binary numbers. This is in contrast to a floating-point unit (FPU), which operates on floating point numbers. An ALU is a fundamental building block of many types of computing circuits, including the central processing unit (CPU) of computers, FPUs, and graphics processing units (GPUs). A single CPU, FPU or GPU may contain multiple ALUs.

Globally asynchronous locally synchronous (GALS) is an architecture for designing electronic circuits which addresses the problem of safe and reliable data transfer between independent clock domains. GALS is a Model of Computation (MoC) that emerged in the 1980s. It allows to design computer systems consisting of several synchronous islands interacting with other islands using asynchronous communication, e.g. with FIFOs.


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Further reading