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Title: Solutions and application areas of flip-flop metastability
Authors: Tarawneh, Ghaith
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: The state space of every continuous multi-stable system is bound to contain one or more metastable regions where the net attraction to the stable states can be infinitely-small. Flip-flops are among these systems and can take an unbounded amount of time to decide which logic state to settle to once they become metastable. This problematic behavior is often prevented by placing the setup and hold time conditions on the flip-flop’s input. However, in applications such as clock domain crossing where these constraints cannot be placed flip-flops can become metastable and induce catastrophic failures. These events are fundamentally impossible to prevent but their probability can be significantly reduced by employing synchronizer circuits. The latter grant flip-flops longer decision time at the expense of introducing latency in processing the synchronized input. This thesis presents a collection of research work involving the phenomenon of flip-flop metastability in digital systems. The main contributions include three novel solutions for the problem of synchronization. Two of these solutions are speculative methods that rely on duplicate state machines to pre-compute data-dependent states ahead of the completion of synchronization. Speculation is a core theme of this thesis and is investigated in terms of its functional correctness, cost efficacy and fitness for being automated by electronic design automation tools. It is shown that speculation can outperform conventional synchronization solutions in practical terms and is a viable option for future technologies. The third solution attempts to address the problem of synchronization in the more-specific context of variable supply voltages. Finally, the thesis also identifies a novel application of metastability as a means of quantifying intra-chip physical parameters. A digital sensor is proposed based on the sensitivity of metastable flip-flops to changes in their environmental parameters and is shown to have better precision while being more compact than conventional digital sensors.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering

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