Synchronous or Asynchronous resets ?

Both synchronous reset and asynchronous reset have advantages and disadvantages and based on their characteristics and the designers needs, one has to choose particular implementation.

Synchronous reset :

Advantages :

– This is the obvious advantage. synchronous reset conforms to synchronous design guidelines hence it ensures your design is 100% synchronous. This may not be a requirement for everyone, but many times it is a requirement that design be 100% synchronous. In such cases, it will be better to go with synchronous reset implementation.

– Protection against spurious glitches. Synchronous reset has to set up to the active clock edge in order to be effective. This provides for protection against accidental glitches as long these glitches don’t happen near the active clock edges. In that sense it is not 100% protection as random glitch could happen near the active clock edge and meet both setup and hold requirements and can cause flops to reset, when they are not expected to be reset.

This type of random glitches are more likely to happen if reset is generated by some internal conditions, which most of the time means reset travels through some combinational logic before it finally gets distributed throughout the system.

Figure : Glitch with synchronous reset

As shown in the figure, x1 and x2 generate (reset)bar. Because of the way x1 and x2 transition during the first clock cycle we get a glitch on reset signal, but because reset is synchronous and because glitch did not happen near the active clock edge, it got filtered and we only saw reset take effect later during the beginning of 4th clock cycle, where it was expected.

– One advantage that is touted for synchronous resets is smaller flops or the area savings. This is really not that much of an advantage. In terms of area savings it is really a wash between synchronous and asynchronous resets.

Synchronous reset flops are smaller as reset is just and-ed outside the flop with data, but you need that extra and gate per flop to accommodate reset. While asynchronous reset flop has to factor reset inside the flop design, where typically one of the last inverters in the feedback loop of the slave device is converted into NAND gate

Figure : Synchronous v/s Asynchronous reset flop comparison.

Disadvantages :

– Wide enough pulse of the reset signal. We saw that being synchronous, reset has to meet the setup to the clock. We saw earlier in the figure that spurious glitches gets filtered in synchronous design, but this very behavior could be a problem. On the flip side when we do intend the reset to work, the reset pulse has to be wide enough such that it meets setup to the active edge of the clock for the all receivers sequentials on the reset distribution network.

– Another major issue with synchronous is clock gating. Designs are increasingly being clock gated to save power. Clock gating is the technique where clock is passed through an and gate with an enable signal, which can turn off the clock toggling when clock is not used thus saving power. This is in direct conflict with reset. When chip powers up, initially the clocks are not active and they could be gated by the clock enable, but right during the power up we need to force the chip into an known set and we need to use reset to achieve that. Synchronous reset will not take into effect unless there is active edge and if clock enable is off, there is no active edge of the clock.

Designer has to carefully account for this situation and design reset and clock enabling strategy which accounts for proper circuit operation.

– Use of tri-state structures. When tri-state devices are used, they need to be disabled at power-up. Because, when inadvertently enabled, tri-state device could crowbar and excessive current could flow through them and it could damage the chip. If tri-state enable is driven by a synchronous reset flop, the flop output could not be low, until the active edge of the clock arrives, and hence there is a potential to turn on tri-state device.

Figure : Tri-state Enable.

Asynchronous reset :

Advantages :

– Faster data path. Asynchronous reset scheme removes that AND gate at the input of the flop, thus saving one stage delay along the data path. When you are pushing the timing limits of the chip. This is very helpful.

– It has obvious advantage of being able to reset flops without the need of a clock. Basically assertion of the reset doesn’t have to setup to clock, it can come anytime and reset the flop. This could be double edged sword as we have seen earlier, but if your design permits the use of asynchronous reset, this could be an advantage.

Disadvantages :

– Biggest issue with asynchronous reset is reset de-assertion edge. Remember that when we refer to reset as ‘asynchronous’, we are referring to only the assertion of reset. You can see in figure about synchronous and asynchronous reset comparison, that one of the way asynchronous reset is implemented is through converting one the feedback loop inverters into NAND gate. You can see that when reset input of the NAND gate, goes low it forces the Q output to be low irrespective of the input of the feedback loop. But as soon as you deassert reset, that NAND gate immediately becomes an inverter and we are back to normal flop, which is susceptible to the setup and hold requirements. Hence de-assertion of the reset could cause flop output to go metastable depending upon the relative timing between de-assertion and the clock edge. This is also called reset recovery time check, which asynchronous reset have to meet even if they are asynchronous ! You don’t have this problem in synchronous reset, as you are explicitly forced to check both setup and hold on reset as well as data, as both are AND-ed and fed to the flop.

– Spurious glitches. With asynchronous reset, unintended glitches will cause circuit to go into reset state. Usually a glitch filter has to be introduced right at the reset input port. Or one may have to switch to synchronous reset.

– If reset is internally generated and is not coming directly from the chip input port, it has to be excluded for DFT purposes. The reason is that, in order for the ATPG test vectors to work correctly, test program has to be able to control all flop inputs, including data, clock and all resets. During the test vector application, we can not have any flop get reset. If reset is coming externally, test program hold it at its inactive value. If master asynchronous reset is coming externally, test program also holds it at inactive state, but if asynchronous reset is generated internally, test program has no control on the final reset output and hence the asynchronous reset net has to be removed for DFT purpose.

One issue that is common to both type of reset is that reset release has to happen within one cycle. If reset release happen in different clock cycles, then different flops will come out of reset in different clock cycles and this will corrupt the state of your circuit. This could very well happen with large reset distribution trees, where by some of receivers are closer to the master distribution point and others could be farther away.

Thus reset tree distribution is non-trivial and almost as important as clock distribution. Although you don’t have to meet skew requirements like clock, but the tree has to guarantee that all its branches are balanced such that the difference between time delay of any two branches is not more than a clock cycle, thus guaranteeing that reset removal will happen within one clock cycle and all flops in the design will come out of reset within one clock cycle, maintaining the coherent state of the design.

To address this problem with asynchronous reset, where it could be more severe, the master asynchronous reset coming off chip, is synchronized using a synchronizer, the synchronizer essentially converts asynchronous reset to be more like synchronous reset and it becomes the master distributor of the reset ( head of reset tree). By clocking this synchronizer with the clock similar to the clock for the flops( last stage clock in clock distribution), we can minimize the risk of reset tree distribution not happening within one clock.


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