What is MTBF?

For most applications, it is important to calculate the Mean Time Before Failure / MTBF for any signal crossing a CDC boundary. In the context of MTBF, the failure means the output of the synchronizer still goes metastable. Obviously, a larger MTBF is favored over a smaller one, and the synchronization scheme needs to guarantee sufficient larger MTBF.

MTBF is inversely proportional to input data changing rate as well as receiving clock frequency. The faster of input data rate and receiving clock, the lower of MTBF.

Interviewees often mix the concept of input data changing rate with sending clock frequency, and incorrectly think sending clock frequency does impact MTBF. Faster sending clock does not necessarily imply faster input data changing rate.

It is required to flop the data in sending clock domain before synchronized in receiving clock domain. The output of combo logic often have glitches, i.e., it requires some time to settle. Without data flopping, the input data changing rate is effectively increased in receiving clock domain, decreasing the MTBF of CDC circuit.

Why can synchronizers handle CDC?

The simplest synchronization scheme is back-to-back flop synchronizer. Even though the output of the first stage is metastable, the CDC signal still have one more cycle to settle to a stable logic value. Therefore, synchronizers essentially increase the MTBF.

Conclusion

We recommend interviewees to further read Clifford E. Cummings’ paper “Clock Domain Crossing (CDC) Design & Verification Techniques Using SystemVerilog”.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.