Computer Laboratory

Technical reports

Synthesis of asynchronous circuits

Stephen Paul Wilcox

July 1999, 250 pages

This technical report is based on a dissertation submitted December 1998 by the author for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy to the University of Cambridge, Queens’ College.


The majority of integrated circuits today are synchronous: every part of the chip times its operation with reference to a single global clock. As circuits become larger and faster, it becomes progressively more difficult to coordinate all actions of the chip to the clock. Asynchronous circuits do not suffer from this problem, because they do not require global synchronization; they also offer other benefits, such as modularity, lower power and automatic adaptation to physical conditions.

The main disadvantage of asynchronous circuits is that there are few tools to help with design. This thesis describes a new synthesis tool for asynchronous modules, which combines a number of novel ideas with existing methods for finite state machine synthesis. Connections between modules are assumed to have unbounded finite delays on all wires, but fundamental mode is used inside modules, rather than the pessimistic speed-independent or quasi-delay-insensitive models. Accurate technology-specific verification is performed to check that circuits work correctly.

Circuits are described using a language based upon the Signal Transition Graph, which is a well-known method for specifying asynchronous circuits. Concurrency reduction techniques are used to produce a large number of circuits that conform to a given specification. Circuits are verified using a simulation algorithm derived from the work of Brzozowski and Seger, and then performance estimations are obtained by a gate-level simulator utilising a new estimation of waveform slopes. Circuits can be ranked in terms of high speed, low power dissipation or small size, and then the best circuit for a particular task chosen.

Results are presented that show significant improvements over most circuits produced by other synthesis tools. Some circuits are twice as fast and dissipate half the power of equivalent speed-independent circuits. Specification examples are provided which show that the front-end specification is easier to use than current specification approaches. The price that must be paid for the improved performance is decreased reliability and technology dependence of the circuits produced; the proposed tool can also can a very long time to produce a result.

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BibTeX record

  author =	 {Wilcox, Stephen Paul},
  title = 	 {{Synthesis of asynchronous circuits}},
  year = 	 1999,
  month = 	 jul,
  url = 	 {},
  institution =  {University of Cambridge, Computer Laboratory},
  number = 	 {UCAM-CL-TR-468}