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Journal Article

Metastability-Containing Circuits


Friedrichs,  Stephan
Algorithms and Complexity, MPI for Informatics, Max Planck Society;

Lenzen,  Christoph
Algorithms and Complexity, MPI for Informatics, Max Planck Society;

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Friedrichs, S., Függer, M., & Lenzen, C. (2018). Metastability-Containing Circuits. IEEE Transactions on Computers, 67(8), 1167-1183. doi:10.1109/TC.2018.2808185.

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Communication across unsynchronized clock domains is inherently vulnerable to metastable upsets; no digital circuit can deterministically avoid, resolve, or detect metastability (Marino, 1981). Traditionally, a possibly metastable input is stored in synchronizers, decreasing the odds of maintained metastability over time. This approach costs time, and does not guarantee success. We propose a fundamentally different approach: It is possible to \emph{contain} metastability by logical masking, so that it cannot infect the entire circuit. This technique guarantees a limited degree of metastability in---and uncertainty about---the output. We present a synchronizer-free, fault-tolerant clock synchronization algorithm as application, synchronizing clock domains and thus enabling metastability-free communication. At the heart of our approach lies a model for metastability in synchronous clocked digital circuits. Metastability is propagated in a worst-case fashion, allowing to derive deterministic guarantees, without and unlike synchronizers. The proposed model permits positive results while at the same time reproducing established impossibility results regarding avoidance, resolution, and detection of metastability. Furthermore, we fully classify which functions can be computed by synchronous circuits with standard registers, and show that masking registers are computationally strictly more powerful.