Magic Blue Smoke


Special cells required for Multi-Voltage Design

As discussed in the previous session,  Special cells are required for implementing a Multi-Voltage design. Today lets discuss about these cells in brief.

(1) Level Shifter
(2) Isolation Cell
(3) Enable Level Shifter
(4) Retention Flops
(5) AON cells
(6) Power Gating Switches/MTCMOS switch

(1) Level Shifter: Purpose of this cell is to shift the voltage from low to high as well as high to low. Generally buffer type and Latch type level shifters are available. In general H2L LS’s are very simple, L2H LS’s are little complex and are in general larger in size(double height) and have 2 power pins. There are some placement restrictions for L2H level shifter to handle noise levels in the design. Level shifters are typically used to convert signal levels and protect against sneak leakage paths. With great care, level shifters can be avoided in some cases, but this will become less practicable on a wider scale.

(2) Isolation Cell: These are special cells required at the interface between blocks which are shut-down and always on. They clamp the output node to a known voltage. These cells needs to be placed in an ‘always on’ region only and the enable signal of the isolation cell needs to be ‘always_on’. In a nut-shell, an  isolation cell is necessary to isolate floating inputs.

There are 2 types of isolation cells (a) Retain “0” (b) Retain “1”

(3) Enable Level Shifter: This cell is a combination of a Level Shifter and a Isolation cell.

(4) Retention Flops: These cells are special flops with multiple power supply. They are typically used as a shadow register to retain its value even if the block in which its residing is shut-down. All the paths leading to this register need to be ‘always_on’ and hence special care must be taken to synthesize/place/route them. In a nut-shell, “When design blocks are switched off for sleep mode, data in all flip-flops contained within the block will be lost. If the designer desires to retain state, retention flip-flops must be used”.

The retention flop has the same structure as a standard master-slave flop. However, the retention flop has a balloon latch that is connected to true-Vdd. With the proper series of control signals before sleep, the data in the flop can be written into the balloon latch. Similarly, when the block comes out of sleep, the data can be written back into the flip-flop.

(5) AON cells: Generally these are buffers, that remain always powered irrespective of where they are placed. They can be either special cells or regular buffers. If special cells are used, they have thier own secondary power supply and hence can be placed any where in the design. Using regular buffers as AON cells restricts the placement of these cells in a specific region.


Picture above gives an idea about how/why/when they are required. In a nut-shell, “If data needs to be routed through or from sleep blocks to active blocks and If the routing distance is excessively long or the driving load is excessively large, then buffers might be needed to drive the nets. In these cases, the always-on buffers can be used.”


(6) Power Gating Switches/MTCMOS Switch: MTCMOS stands for multi-threshold CMOS, where low-Vt gates are used for speed, and high-Vt gates are used for low leakage. By using high-Vt transistors as header switches, blocks of cells can be switched off to sleep-mode, such that leakage power is greatly reduced. MTCMOS switches can be implemented in various different ways. First, they can be implemented as PMOS (header) or NMOS (footer) switches. Secondly, their granularity can be implemented on a cell-level (fine-grain) or on a block-level (coarse-grain). That is, the switches can be either built into every standard cell, or they can be used to switch off a large design block of standard cells.

 Depending on the design characteristics, if these cells are readily available, we can start looking at how to use these cells in successfully implementing a Multi-Voltage Design.