Datapath Logic Cells and I/O Cells | Cell Compilers

Datapath Logic Cells
Suppose we wish to build an n -bit adder (that adds two n -bit numbers) and to exploit the regularity of this function in the layout. We can do so using a datapath structure.
The following two functions, SUM and COUT, implement the sum and carry out for a full adder ( FA ) with two data inputs (A, B) and a carry in, CIN:  
COUT = A · B + A · CIN + B · CIN = MAJ(A, B, CIN).
The sum uses the parity function ('1' if there are an odd numbers of '1's in the inputs). The carry out, COUT, uses the 2-of-3 majority function ('1' if the majority of the inputs are '1'). We can combine these two functions in a single FA logic cell, ADD(A[ i ], B[ i ], CIN, S[ i ], COUT), shown in Figure 2.20(a), where  
S[ i ] = SUM (A[ i ], B[ i ], CIN) ,

COUT = MAJ (A[ i ], B[ i ], CIN) .
Now we can build a 4-bit ripple-carry adder ( RCA ) by connecting four of these ADD cells together as shown in Figure 2.20(b). The i th ADD cell is arranged with the following: two bus inputs A[ i ], B[ i ]; one bus output S[ i ]; an input, CIN, that is the carry in from stage ( i – 1) below and is also passed up to the cell above as an output; and an output, COUT, that is the carry out to stage ( i + 1) above. In the 4-bit adder shown in Figure 2.20(b) we connect the carry input, CIN[0], to VSS and use COUT[3] and COUT[2] to indicate arithmetic overflow (in Section 2.6.1 we shall see why we may need both signals). Notice that we build the ADD cell so that COUT[2] is available at the top of the datapath when we need it.
Figure 2.20(c) shows a layout of the ADD cell. The A inputs, B inputs, and S outputs all use m1 interconnect running in the horizontal direction—we call these data signals. Other signals can enter or exit from the top or bottom and run vertically across the datapath in m2—we call these control signals. We can also use m1 for control and m2 for data, but we normally do not mix these approaches in the same structure. Control signals are typically clocks and other signals common to elements. For example, in Figure 2.20(c) the carry signals, CIN and COUT, run vertically in m2 between cells. To build a 4-bit adder we stack four ADD cells creating the array structure shown in Figure 2.20(d). In this case the A and B data bus inputs enter from the left and bus S, the sum, exits at the right, but we can connect A, B, and S to either side if we want.
The layout of buswide logic that operates on data signals in this fashion is called a datapath . The module ADD is a datapath cell or datapath element . Just as we do for standard cells we make all the datapath cells in a library the same height so we can abut other datapath cells on either side of the adder to create a more complex datapath. When people talk about a datapath they always assume that it is oriented so that increasing the size in bits makes the datapath grow in height, upwards in the vertical direction, and adding different datapath elements to increase the function makes the datapath grow in width, in the horizontal direction—but we can rotate and position a completed datapath in any direction we want on a chip.
FIGURE 2.20 A datapath adder. (a) A full-adder (FA) cell with inputs (A and B), a carry in, CIN, sum output, S, and carry out, COUT. (b) A 4-bit adder. (c) The layout, using two-level metal, with data in m1 and control in m2. In this example the wiring is completed outside the cell; it is also possible to design the datapath cells to contain the wiring. Using three levels of metal, it is possible to wire over the top of the datapath cells. (d) The datapath layout.
What is the difference between using a datapath, standard cells, or gate arrays? Cells are placed together in rows on a CBIC or an MGA, but there is no generally no regularity to the arrangement of the cells within the rows—we let software arrange the cells and complete the interconnect. Datapath layout automatically takes care of most of the interconnect between the cells with the following advantages:
  • Regular layout produces predictable and equal delay for each bit.
  • Interconnect between cells can be built into each cell.
There are some disadvantages of using a datapath:
  • The overhead (buffering and routing the control signals, for example) can make a narrow (small number of bits) datapath larger and slower than a standard-cell (or even gate-array) implementation.
  • Datapath cells have to be predesigned (otherwise we are using full-custom design) for use in a wide range of datapath sizes. Datapath cell design can be harder than designing gate-array macros or standard cells.
  • Software to assemble a datapath is more complex and not as widely used as software for assembling standard cells or gate arrays.
There are some newer standard-cell and gate-array tools that can take advantage of regularity in a design and position cells carefully. The problem is in finding the regularity if it is not specified. Using a datapath is one way to specify regularity to ASIC design tools.

2.6.1 Datapath Elements

Figure 2.21 shows some typical datapath symbols for an adder (people rarely use the IEEE standards in ASIC datapath libraries). I use heavy lines (they are 1.5 point wide) with a stroke to denote a data bus (that flows in the horizontal direction in a datapath), and regular lines (0.5 point) to denote the control signals (that flow vertically in a datapath). At the risk of adding confusion where there is none, this stroke to indicate a data bus has nothing to do with mixed-logic conventions. For a bus, A[31:0] denotes a 32-bit bus with A[31] as the leftmost or most-significant bit or MSB , and A[0] as the least-significant bit or LSB . Sometimes we shall use A[MSB] or A[LSB] to refer to these bits. Notice that if we have an n -bit bus and LSB = 0, then MSB = n – 1. Also, for example, A[4] is the fifth bit on the bus (from the LSB). We use a ' S ' or 'ADD' inside the symbol to denote an adder instead of '+', so we can attach '–' or '+/–' to the inputs for a subtracter or adder/subtracter.
FIGURE 2.21 Symbols for a datapath adder. (a) A data bus is shown by a heavy line (1.5 point) and a bus symbol. If the bus is n -bits wide then MSB = n – 1. (b) An alternative symbol for an adder. (c) Control signals are shown as lightweight (0.5 point) lines.
Some schematic datapath symbols include only data signals and omit the control signals—but we must not forget them. In Figure 2.21, for example, we may need to explicitly tie CIN[0] to VSS and use COUT[MSB] and COUT[MSB – 1] to detect overflow. Why might we need both of these control signals? Table 2.11 shows the process of simple arithmetic for the different binary number representations, including unsigned, signed magnitude, ones’ complement, and two’s complement.
TABLE 2.11 Binary arithmetic.
Binary Number Representation
no change
if positive then MSB = 0
else MSB = 1
if negative then flip bits
if negative then {flip bits; add 1}
3 =
–3 =
zero =
0000 or 1000
1111 or 0000
max. positive =
1111 = 15
0111 = 7
0111 = 7
0111 = 7
max. negative =
0000= 0
1111 = –7
1000 = –7
1000 = –8
addition =
S = A + B
= addend + augend
SG(A) = sign of A
S = A + B
if SG(A) = SG(B) then S = A + B
else { if B < A then S = A – B
else S = B – A}
S =
COUT is carry out
S = A + B
addition result:
OV = overflow,
OR = out of range
COUT is carry out
if SG(A) = SG(B) then OV = COUT[MSB]
else OV = 0 (impossible)
OV =
OV =
SG(S) = sign of S
S = A + B
if SG(A) = SG(B) then SG(S) = SG(A)
else { if B < A then SG(S) = SG(A)
else SG(S) = SG(B)}
subtraction =
D = A – B
= minuend
– subtrahend
D = A – B
SG(B) = NOT(SG(B));
D = A + B
Z = –B (negate);
D = A + Z
Z = –B (negate);
D = A + Z
subtraction result :
OV = overflow,
OR = out of range
BOUT is borrow out
as in addition
as in addition
as in addition
negation :
Z = –A (negate)
Z = A;
SG(Z) = NOT(SG(A))
Z = NOT(A)
Z = NOT(A) + 1

2.6.2 Adders

We can view addition in terms of generate , G[ i ], and propagate , P[ i ], signals.
method 1
method 2
G[i] = A[i] · B[i]
G[ i ] = A[ i ] · B[ i ]
P[ i ] = A[ i ] B[ i
P[ i ] = A[ i ] + B[ i ]
C[ i ] = G[ i ] + P[ i ] · C[ i –1]
C[ i ] = G[ i ] + P[ i ] · C[ i –1]
S[ i ] = P[ i ] C[ i –1]
S[ i ] = A[ i ] B[ i ] C[ i –1]
where C[ i ] is the carry-out signal from stage i , equal to the carry in of stage ( i + 1). Thus, C[ i ] = COUT[ i ] = CIN[ i + 1]. We need to be careful because C[0] might represent either the carry in or the carry out of the LSB stage. For an adder we set the carry in to the first stage (stage zero), C[–1] or CIN[0], to '0'. Some people use delete (D) or kill (K) in various ways for the complements of G[i] and P[i], but unfortunately others use C for COUT and D for CIN—so I avoid using any of these. Do not confuse the two different methods (both of which are used) in Eqs.  2.42–2.45 when forming the sum, since the propagate signal, P[ i ] , is different for each method.
Figure 2.22(a) shows a conventional RCA. The delay of an n -bit RCA is proportional to n and is limited by the propagation of the carry signal through all of the stages. We can reduce delay by using pairs of “go-faster” bubbles to change AND and OR gates to fast two-input NAND gates as shown in Figure 2.22(a). Alternatively, we can write the equations for the carry signal in two different ways

I/O Cells:

 Figure 2.33 shows a three-state bidirectional output buffer (Tri-State ® is a registered trademark of National Semiconductor). When the output enable (OE) signal is high, the circuit functions as a noninverting buffer driving the value of DATAin onto the I/O pad. When OE is low, the output transistors or drivers , M1 and M2, are disconnected. This allows multiple drivers to be connected on a bus. It is up to the designer to make sure that a bus never has two drivers—a problem known as contention .

In order to prevent the problem opposite to contention—a bus floating to an intermediate voltage when there are no bus drivers—we can use a bus keeper or bus-hold cell (TI calls this Bus-Friendly logic). A bus keeper normally acts like two weak (low drive-strength) cross-coupled inverters that act as a latch to retain the last logic state on the bus, but the latch is weak enough that it may be driven easily to the opposite state. Even though bus keepers act like latches, and will simulate like latches, they should not be used as latches, since their drive strength is weak.
Transistors M1 and M2 in Figure 2.33 have to drive large off-chip loads. If we wish to change the voltage on a C = 200 pF load by 5 V in 5 ns (a slew rate of 1 Vns –1 ) we will require a current in the output transistors of I DS = C (d V /d t ) = (200 ¥ 10 –12 ) (5/5 ¥ 10 –9 ) = 0.2 A or 200 mA.
Such large currents flowing in the output transistors must also flow in the power supply bus and can cause problems. There is always some inductance in series with the power supply, between the point at which the supply enters the ASIC package and reaches the power bus on the chip. The inductance is due to the bond wire, lead frame, and package pin. If we have a power-supply inductance of 2 nH and a current changing from zero to 1 A (32 I/O cells on a bus switching at 30 mA each) in 5 ns, we will have a voltage spike on the power supply (called power-supply bounce ) of L (d I /d t ) = (2 ¥ 10 –9 )(1/(5 ¥ 10 –9 )) = 0.4 V.
We do several things to alleviate this problem: We can limit the number of simultaneously switching outputs (SSOs), we can limit the number of I/O drivers that can be attached to any one VDD and GND pad, and we can design the output buffer to limit the slew rate of the output (we call these slew-rate limited I/O pads). Quiet-I/O cells also use two separate power supplies and two sets of I/O drivers: an AC supply (clean or quiet supply) with small AC drivers for the I/O circuits that start and stop the output slewing at the beginning and end of a output transition, and a DC supply (noisy or dirty supply) for the transistors that handle large currents as they slew the output.
The three-state buffer allows us to employ the same pad for input and output— bidirectional I/O . When we want to use the pad as an input, we set OE low and take the data from DATAin. Of course, it is not necessary to have all these features on every pad: We can build output-only or input-only pads.
FIGURE 2.32 A three-state bidirectional output buffer. When the output enable, OE, is '1' the output section is enabled and drives the I/O pad. When OE is '0' the output buffer is placed in a high-impedance state.
We can also use many of these output cell features for input cells that have to drive large on-chip loads (a clock pad cell, for example). Some gate arrays simply turn an output buffer around to drive a grid of interconnect that supplies a clock signal internally. With a typical interconnect capacitance of 0.2pFcm –1 , a grid of 100 cm (consisting of 10 by 10 lines running all the way across a 1 cm chip) presents a load of 20 pF to the clock buffer.
Some libraries include I/O cells that have passive pull-ups or pull-downs (resistors) instead of the transistors, M1 and M2 (the resistors are normally still constructed from transistors with long gate lengths). We can also omit one of the driver transistors, M1 or M2, to form open-drain outputs that require an external pull-up or pull-down. We can design the output driver to produce TTL output levels rather than CMOS logic levels. We may also add input hysteresis (using a Schmitt trigger) to the input buffer, I1 in Figure 2.33, to accept input data signals that contain glitches (from bouncing switch contacts, for example) or that are slow rising. The input buffer can also include a level shifter to accept TTL input levels and shift the input signal to CMOS levels.
The gate oxide in CMOS transistors is extremely thin (100 Å or less). This leaves the gate oxide of the I/O cell input transistors susceptible to breakdown from static electricity ( electrostatic discharge , or ESD ). ESD arises when we or machines handle the package leads (like the shock I sometimes get when I touch a doorknob after walking across the carpet at work). Sometimes this problem is called electrical overstress (EOS) since most ESD-related failures are caused not by gate-oxide breakdown, but by the thermal stress (melting) that occurs when the n -channel transistor in an output driver overheats (melts) due to the large current that can flow in the drain diffusion connected to a pad during an ESD event.
To protect the I/O cells from ESD, the input pads are normally tied to device structures that clamp the input voltage to below the gate breakdown voltage (which can be as low as 10 V with a 100 Å gate oxide). Some I/O cells use transistors with a special ESD implant that increases breakdown voltage and provides protection. I/O driver transistors can also use elongated drain structures (ladder structures) and large drain-to-gate spacing to help limit current, but in a salicide process that lowers the drain resistance this is difficult. One solution is to mask the I/O cells during the salicide step. Another solution is to use pnpn and npnp diffusion structures called silicon-controlled rectifiers (SCRs) to clamp voltages and divert current to protect the I/O circuits from ESD.
There are several ways to model the capability of an I/O cell to withstand EOS. The human-body model ( HBM ) represents ESD by a 100 pF capacitor discharging through a 1.5 k W resistor (this is an International Electrotechnical Committee, IEC, specification). Typical voltages generated by the human body are in the range of 2–4 kV, and we often see an I/O pad cell rated by the voltage it can withstand using the HBM. The machine model ( MM ) represents an ESD event generated by automated machine handlers. Typical MM parameters use a 200 pF capacitor (typically charged to 200 V) discharged through a 25 W resistor, corresponding to a peak initial current of nearly 10 A. The charge-device model ( CDM , also called device charge–discharge) represents the problem when an IC package is charged, in a shipping tube for example, and then grounded. If the maximum charge on a package is 3 nC (a typical measured figure) and the package capacitance to ground is 1.5 pF, we can simulate this event by charging a 1.5 pF capacitor to 2 kV and discharging it through a 1 W resistor.
If the diffusion structures in the I/O cells are not designed with care, it is possible to construct an SCR structure unwittingly, and instead of protecting the transistors the SCR can enter a mode where it is latched on and conducting large enough currents to destroy the chip. This failure mode is called latch-up . Latch-up can occur if the pn -diodes on a chip become forward-biased and inject minority carriers (electrons in p -type material, holes in n -type material) into the substrate. The source–substrate and drain–substrate diodes can become forward-biased due to power-supply bounce or output undershoot (the cell outputs fall below V SS ) or overshoot (outputs rise to greater than V DD ) for example. These injected minority carriers can travel fairly large distances and interact with nearby transistors causing latch-up. I/O cells normally surround the I/O transistors with guard rings (a continuous ring of n -diffusion in an n -well connected to VDD, and a ring of p -diffusion in a p -well connected to VSS) to collect these minority carriers. This is a problem that can also occur in the logic core and this is one reason that we normally include substrate and well connections to the power supplies in every cell.

Cell Compilers :

The process of hand crafting circuits and layout for a full-custom IC is a tedious, time-consuming, and error-prone task. There are two types of automated layout assembly tools, often known as a silicon compilers . The first type produces a specific kind of circuit, a RAM compiler or multiplier compiler , for example. The second type of compiler is more flexible, usually providing a programming language that assembles or tiles layout from an input command file, but this is full-custom IC design.

We can build a register file from latches or flip-flops, but, at 4.5–6.5 gates (18–26 transistors) per bit, this is an expensive way to build memory. Dynamic RAM (DRAM) can use a cell with only one transistor, storing charge on a capacitor that has to be periodically refreshed as the charge leaks away. ASIC RAM is invariably static (SRAM), so we do not need to refresh the bits. When we refer to RAM in an ASIC environment we almost always mean SRAM. Most ASIC RAMs use a six-transistor cell (four transistors to form two cross-coupled inverters that form the storage loop, and two more transistors to allow us to read from and write to the cell). RAM compilers are available that produce single-port RAM (a single shared bus for read and write) as well as dual-port RAMs , and multiport RAMs . In a multi-port RAM the compiler may or may not handle the problem of address contention (attempts to read and write to the same RAM address simultaneously). RAM can be asynchronous (the read and write cycles are triggered by control and/or address transitions asynchronous to a clock) or synchronous (using the system clock).
In addition to producing layout we also need a model compiler so that we can verify the circuit at the behavioral level, and we need a netlist from a netlist compiler so that we can simulate the circuit and verify that it works correctly at the structural level. Silicon compilers are thus complex pieces of software. We assume that a silicon compiler will produce working silicon even if every configuration has not been tested. This is still ASIC design, but now we are relying on the fact that the tool works correctly and therefore the compiled blocks are correct by construction .


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