Setup and hold checks

Setup and hold checks ensure that the finite state machine works in the way as designed. In essence, whole of the timing analysis, be it static or dynamic, revolves around setup and hold checks only. In this post, we will be touching upon setup and hold checks.

What is meant by setup check: Setup check ensures that the design transitions to the next state as desired through the state machine design. Mostly, the setup check is at next active clock edge relative to the edge at which data is launched. Let us call this as default setup check. This is, of course, in correspondence to state machine requirement to transfer to next state and the possibility of meeting both setup and hold checks together in view of delay variations accross timing corners. Figure 1 below shows the setup check for a timing path from positive edge-triggered register to negative edge-triggered register. It shows that the data launched by flop1 on positive edge will be captured by flop2 on the forthcoming negative edge and will update the state of flop2. To do so, it has to be stable at the input of flop2 before the negative edge at least setup time before.


Default setup check for positive edge-triggered register to negative edge-triggered register timing path
Figure 1: Default setup check for a timing path from positive edge-triggered to negative edge-triggered flop



What is meant by hold check: Hold check ensures that the design does not move to the next state before its stipulated time; i.e., the design retains its present state only. The hold check should be one active edge prior to the one at which setup is checked unless there are some architectural care-abouts in the state machine design. The hold check corresponding to default setup check in such a scenario is termed as default hold check. Of course, there are some architectural care-abouts for this to happen. Figure 2 below shows the default hold check corresponding to the default setup check of figure 1. It shows that the data launched on positive edge by flop 1 should be captured by next negative edge and not the previous negative edge.


Default hold timing check for a timing path from positive edge-triggered flip-flop to negative edge-triggered flip-flop
Figure 2: Default hold check for a timing path from positive edge-triggered


Default setup and hold check categories: As discussed above, for each kind of timing path, there is a default setup check and a default hold check that will be inferred unless there is an intended non-default check. We can split the setup and hold checks into following categories for our convenience. Each of the following is a link, which you can visit to know about the default setup and hold checks for each category:


Non-default setup and hold checks: These are formed when the state machine behavior is different than the default intended one. Sometimes, a state machine can be designed causing the setup and hold checks to be non-default. For this to happen, of course, you have to first analyze delay variations across timing corners and ensure that the setup timing equation and hold timing equation are satisfied for all timing corner scenarios. The non-default setup and hold checks can be modeled with the help of multi-cycle path timing constraints. You may wish to go through our posts Multicycle paths - the architectural perspective and Multicycle paths handling in STA to understand some of the concepts related to non-default setup and hold checks.

Negative setup time

As we know from the definition of setup time, setup time is a point on time axis which restrains data from changing after it. Data can change only before occurrence of setup timing point. Theoretically, there is no constraint on occurrence of setup time point with respect to clock active edge. It can either be before, after or at the same time as that of clock edge. Depending upon the relative occurrence of setup time point and clock active edge, setup time is said to be positive, zero or negative.

When setup time point is  before the arrival of clock edge, setup time is said to be positive. Figure 1 below shows positive setup time.


When setup time point is at the same instant as clock's active edge, setup time is said to be zero. Figure 2 shows a situation wherein setup time is zero.



When setup time point occurs after clock edge, setup time is said to be negative. Figure 3 shows timing waveform for negative setup time.


We have discussed above theoretical aspects of positive, zero and negative setup time. Let us go a bit deeper into the details. Figure 4 shows a positive level-sensitive D-latch. As we know from the definition of setup time, setup time depends upon the relative arrival times of data and clock at input transmission gate (We have to ensure data has reached upto NodeD when clock reaches input transmission gate). Depending upon the relative arrival times of data and clock, setup time can be positive, zero or negative.

Let us assume the delay of an inverter is 1 ns. Then, to ensure that the data has reached NodeD when clock edge arrives at input transmission gate, data has to be available at the input transmission gate at least 2 ns before. So, if both data and clock reach the reference point at the same time, the latch has a setup time of 2 ns.

Now, if data takes 1 ns more than clock to reach input transmission gate from the reference point, then, data has to reach reference point at least 3 ns before clock reference point. In this case, setup time will be 3 ns.

Similarly, if data takes 1 ns less than clock to reach input transmission gate, setup time will be 1 ns. And if data takes 2 ns less than clock to reach input transmission gate, setup time will be zero.

Now, if there is further difference between delays of data and clock from respective reference points to input transmission gate, the hold time will become negative. For example, if data takes 3 ns less than clock to reach input transmission gate, setup time will be -1 ns.

This is how setup time depends upon relative delays of data and clock within the sequential element. And it completely makes sense to have negative setup time.

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