Two power domains interact if one contains the driver and the other contains the load. If the driving logic is powered down, the input to the receiving logic may float between 1 or 0. This can cause significant current to flow through the receiving logic, and the circuit may be damaged. In addition, an undriven input can also cause functional problems since it may float to an undefined value.

To avoid this problem, isolation cells shall be inserted between power domains to ensure that, input to receiving logic stays at a deterministic value. Isolation may be inserted for an input or for an output of the power domain. An isolation cell operates in two modes: normal mode, in which it acts like a buffer, and isolation mode, in which it clamps its output to a defined value. An isolation enable signal determines the operational mode of an isolation cell at any given time.

To avoid async timing arc from one power domain to the other, the transition between normal mode and isolation mode needs to be synchronous. Usually, in chip level, a power management module will activate / de-active isolation cells synchronously.

In next post, we will discuss the types of isolation cells used in power aware design.

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