Precise Timing of Digital Signals: Circuits and Applications
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With the rapid advances in process technologies, the performance of state-of-the-art integrated circuits is improving steadily. The drive for higher performance is accompanied with increased emphasis on meeting timing constraints not only at the design phase but during device operation as well. Fortunately, technology advancements allow for even more precise control of the timing of digital signals, an advantage which can be used to provide solutions that can address some of the emerging timing issues. In this thesis, circuit and architectural techniques for the precise timing of digital signals are explored. These techniques are demonstrated in applications addressing timing issues in modern digital systems. A methodology for slow-speed timing characterization of high-speed pipelined datapaths is proposed. The technique uses a clock-timing circuit to create shifted versions of a slow-speed clock. These clocks control the data flow in the pipeline in the test mode. Test results show that the design provides an average timing resolution of 52.9ps in 0.18μm CMOS technology. Results also demonstrate the ability of the technique to track the performance of high-speed pipelines at a reduced clock frequency and to test the clock-timing circuit itself. In order to achieve higher resolutions than that of an inverter/buffer stage, a differential (vernier) delay line is commonly used. To allow for the design of differential delay lines with programmable delays, a digitally-controlled delay-element is proposed. The delay element is monotonic and achieves a high degree of transfer characteristics' (digital code vs. delay) linearity. Using the proposed delay element, a sub-1ps resolution is demonstrated experimentally in 0.18μm CMOS. The proposed delay element with a fixed delay step of 2ps is used to design a high-precision all-digital phase aligner. High-precision phase alignment has many applications in modern digital systems such as high-speed memory controllers, clock-deskew buffers, and delay and phase-locked loops. The design is based on a differential delay line and a variation tolerant phase detector using redundancy. Experimental results show that the phase aligner's range is from -264ps to +247ps which corresponds to an average delay step of approximately 2.43ps. For various input phase difference values, test results show that the difference is reduced to less than 2ps at the output of the phase aligner. On-chip time measurement is another application that requires precise timing. It has applications in modern automatic test equipment and on-chip characterization of jitter and skew. In order to achieve small conversion time, a flash time-to-digital converter is proposed. Mismatch between the various delay comparators limits the time measurement precision. This is demonstrated through an experiment in which a 6-bit, 2.5ps resolution flash time-to-digital converter provides an effective resolution of only 4-bits. The converter achieves a maximum conversion rate of 1.25GSa/s.