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254 IEEE JOURNAL OF SOLID-STATE CIRCUITS, VOL. 38, NO.

2, FEBRUARY 2003

High-Performance and Power-Efficient


CMOS Comparators
Chung-Hsun Huang, Student Member, IEEE, and Jinn-Shyan Wang, Member, IEEE

Abstract—Several design techniques for high-performance


and power-efficient CMOS comparators are proposed. First, the
comparator is based on the priority-encoding (PE) algorithm,
and the dynamic circuit technique developed specifically for the
priority encoder can be applied. Second, the PE function and the
subsequent logic functions are merged and efficiently realized in
the multiple output domino logic (MODL) to result in a shortened
logic depth. The circuit in MODL CMOS is also compact and
power efficient because few transistors are needed. Third, the
multilevel look-ahead technique is used to shorten the path of
priority-token propagation. Finally, the circuit is realized with
a latch-based two-stage pipelined structure, and the comparison
function is partitioned into two parts, with each part executed in
each half of the clock cycle in a delay-balanced manner. Post-layout
simulation results show that a 64-b comparator designed with the
proposed techniques in a 3-V 0.6- m CMOS technology is 16%
faster, 50% smaller, and 79% more power efficient as compared Fig. 1. Numerical example of 4-b priority-encoding-based comparison.
with the all-n-transistor comparator, which is the fastest among
the conventional comparators. Measurement results of the test
chip conform with simulation results and prove the feasibility of a six-pipeline circuit, and each comparison operation through
the proposed techniques. these six pipelines is finished in three clock cycles. Although
Index Terms—CMOS dynamic circuit, comparator, priority
such a heavily pipelined design achieves high throughput, it
encoding, multilevel lookahead, multiple output domino logic may not be suitable for all applications. For example, some
(MODL). popular microprocessors such as the ARM microprocessor [5]
often need to execute a comparison instruction within a single
clock cycle. Moreover, the latches used to form the pipelines
I. INTRODUCTION
increase the circuit complexity and power consumption of the

T HE COMPARATOR is a very basic and useful arith-


metic component of digital systems. There are several
approaches to designing CMOS comparators, each with
ANT comparator.
In this paper, we propose several design techniques for high-
performance and power-efficient CMOS comparators. The pro-
different operating speed, power consumption, and circuit posed techniques span from the microarchitecture to logic and
complexity. One can implement the comparator by flattening circuit design levels. In the microarchitecture design, the pri-
the logic function directly [1]. This approach is only suitable ority-encoding algorithm is adopted to efficiently implement
for comparators with short inputs. For the comparators with each comparison operation in one clock cycle. The critical path
longer inputs, circuit complexity increases drastically, and is effectively shortened using the multilevel look-ahead tech-
the operating speed is degraded accordingly. Another way to nique that we proposed in [6] for the priority encoder. Further-
designing the comparator is employing a parallel adder [2]. more, for long comparators, a two-stage pipelined architecture
In this approach, the adder becomes the major factor limiting is used to partition and balance the logic functions into each
the operating speed. However, a very high-speed adder often half of the clock cycle. In the logic design, the priority-encoding
requires thousands of transistors [11]–[13]. function and some logic functions are merged in one complex
Recently, Wang et al. [3] proposed to construct the com- CMOS gate called the magnitude decision module. Such a de-
parator in a tree structure with the all-n-transistor (ANT) sign not only improves the operating speed but also makes the
dynamic CMOS logic [3] in order to improve the operating circuit more compact and power efficient. In the circuit design,
speed. The ANT logic is derived from the all-n-logic (ANL) the dynamic technique with serially connected structure is ap-
[4]. Both ANT and ANL logic circuits can only be implemented plied to produce high performance with low switching activity.
with heavy pipelining. In [3], a 64-b comparator is designed as Also, a technique similar to the multiple output domino logic
(MODL) [7] is applied to the magnitude decision module so
Manuscript received March 26, 2002; revised September 6, 2002. This work that the circuit complexity is reduced further.
was supported by the National Science Council of Taiwan under Research Grant The rest of this paper is organized as follows. Section II de-
NSC 90-2215-E-194-019 and Grant NSC 91-2215-E-194-007. scribes the design principles of the new priority-encoding-based
The authors are with the Institute of Electrical Engineering, National Chung-
Cheng University, Chia-Yi, 621 Taiwan, R.O.C. (e-mail: ieegsw@ccu.edu.tw). comparator. Basic design techniques used to design new com-
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/JSSC.2002.807409 parators will be described in Section III, while the microarchi-
0018-9200/03$17.00 © 2003 IEEE

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HUANG AND WANG: HIGH-PERFORMANCE AND POWER-EFFICIENT CMOS COMPARATORS 255

Fig. 2. Conceptual block diagram of the priority-encoding-based 4-b comparator.

tecture improvement together with modified circuits for long


comparators is described in Section IV. Performance evaluation
and experimental results are given in Section V, and the conclu-
sion is given in Section VI.

II. DESIGN PRINCIPLES OF THE


PRIORITY-ENCODING-BASED COMPARATOR (a)
Let the two inputs of the comparator be and , both with
bits counted from bit 0 to bit . The binary variable
denotes that is larger than . Another bi-
nary signal EQUAL indicates is equal to . A 4-b numerical
example, as shown in Fig. 1, is used to demonstrate the design
concept of the proposed comparator.
Assume the two operands and are 4 b1011 and 4 b1000,
respectively. By inspection, and should be 1 and 0,
respectively, and EQUAL should be 0. The magnitude compar-
ison is divided into four steps and the number in each shaded
oval in Fig. 1 stands for the sequence number of each step. The
first step is to determine whether each corresponding bit of
and is equal or not using XOR gates. If is equal to , all
the output bits of the XOR gates will be 0. On the other hand, if
is not equal to , there is at least one “1” bit in the result. In
this numerical example, the result is 4 b0011, reflecting that
is not equal to .
There are two operations in the second step. The first opera- (b)
tion is performed by NORing the result of the first step, which is Fig. 3. (a) Block diagram of a 4-b comparator. (b) Schematic diagram of a 4-b
4 b0011, to generate the output signal EQUAL. The second op- MDM.
eration actually determines which input is larger. Observe that in
the result of the first step (4 b0011), the most significant “1” bit, and 4 b0000, respectively. The nonzero value of
which will be called the most significant unequal bit (MSUB) immediately shows that is larger than . Finally, the signals
hereafter, is at bit 1. Meanwhile, the bit at the MSUB of is and can be generated by ORing the bits of
“1,” while the bit at the MSUB of is “0.” The MSUB imme- and , respectively. As expected, and are 1
diately shows which operand is larger. In order to quickly find and 0 in this example.
the MSUB, we employ the priority encoder proposed in [6] and The above operations can be realized by the circuit shown in
[8] (details of the circuit will be described in a later section). For Fig. 2. The priority encoder implements the following equations
this numerical case, the priority encoder takes the output of the [6].
first step (4 b0011) and generates 4 b0010. There is only one
“1” bit in the output, which is exactly at the MSUB.
In the third step, AND operations are used to find out from
which operand the “1” bit (MSUB) comes. Let
( be the AND of and the output of the
priority encoder. Then, and are 4 b0010 (1)

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256 IEEE JOURNAL OF SOLID-STATE CIRCUITS, VOL. 38, NO. 2, FEBRUARY 2003

Fig. 4. Schematic diagram of a 4-b priority-encoding-based CMOS comparator.

Note that although the above design concept is similar to that from to . For example, if , then the
described in [1], the implementation details are quite different. signal will be used to turn off the discharging paths
We will elaborate these details shortly. for and . Therefore,
outputs and will be kept
at “0.” The values of and depend
III. BASIC DESIGN TECHNIQUES
on and . For example, if , nodes and
When implementing the comparator in CMOS technology, will be evaluated as logic 0 and 1, while nodes
we found that the priority encoder and those AND gates in Fig. 2 and will be kept at logic 1 and 0, respectively. On
can be merged into a functional block, called the magnitude the other hand, if , neither node nor node have
decision module (MDM). With the MDM, the block diagram discharging path because transistor is turned off. Then,
of a 4-b comparator is revised as shown in Fig. 3(a). The circuit outputs and stay in the precharged
for generating EQUAL will not be shown hereafter because it state. At the same time, relinquishes the control
is not in the critical path. The MDM implements the functions and the rest of the circuit functions as if there are only three
listed below, and it is designed as the circuit shown in Fig. 3(b). inputs, , , and .
The schematic of the 4-b comparator [Fig. 3(a)] is shown in
Fig. 4. The circuit follows the domino logic style [9] and, hence,
the necessary inversion function is moved to the input terminal
and implemented via static CMOS circuits. On the other hand,
the OR function is implemented by a dynamic NOR gate plus a
NOT gate, and placed after the dynamic MDM circuit.
Although we can derive an MDM with more than four inputs
in the same way as (2), the circuit becomes too complicated to
achieve high speed. Thus, instead, we employ the concept of
multilevel lookahead proposed for the priority encoder [6] to
(2) design comparators with more than four input bits. The concept
of multilevel lookahead is illustrated with the aid of the block
The circuit in Fig. 3(b) is derived from the priority encoder we diagram of a 16-b comparator in Fig. 5(a), and the schematic
proposed in [6]. We also adapt the MODL style [7] to reduce diagram of the modified 4-b comparator macro PEBCLA4b is
circuit complexity and increase operating speed. shown in Fig. 5(b).
The circuit in Fig. 3(b) operates as follows. When the clock In addition to the input/output (I/O) signals shown in Fig. 4,
signal clk goes low, the circuit enters the precharging phase and the new 4-b comparator macro needs an extra input look-ahead
the output nodes and signal and an extra output look-ahead signal . As il-
are precharged to 0. When clk goes high, the circuit enters lustrated in Fig. 5(a), the in the th macro is connected to
the evaluation phase. For , the priority descends the in the th macro, except that the in the least

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HUANG AND WANG: HIGH-PERFORMANCE AND POWER-EFFICIENT CMOS COMPARATORS 257

(a)

(b)
Fig. 5. (a) Block diagram of a 16-b comparator. (b) Schematic diagram of the macro PEBCLA4b.

significant macro should be tied to directly. The following As described in [6], and in (3) realize
equations describe the functions of Fig. 5(b). the first-level look-ahead mechanism because all these func-
tions are flattened without iteration and finished with one gate
delay. On the other hand, the circuits enclosed in the gray areas
of Fig. 5(b) realize the second-level look-ahead mechanism
because the signal is generated only with a domino-gate
delay. The look-ahead signals are used to connect different
macros to shorten the critical path.

IV. LONG PRIORITY-ENCODING-BASED COMPARATORS


When the size of the comparator grows larger, the third- and
even the fourth-level look-ahead circuit structures, which are
similar to that used in the priority encoder [6], can be used to
shorten the critical path further. However, not only does the
structure of a single gate become more complex, but also the
(3) propagation delay grows linearly to the number of the cascading

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258 IEEE JOURNAL OF SOLID-STATE CIRCUITS, VOL. 38, NO. 2, FEBRUARY 2003

Fig. 6. Block diagram of a high-performance 64-b comparator.

macros. Therefore, for a longer comparator, we propose a two-


stage pipelined structure to enhance the performance with little
increase in circuit complexity.
The previous design approach needs a precharge phase and
an evaluation phase to finish one comparison operation. Thus,
the precharging time is wasted from the viewpoint of logic op-
eration. Furthermore, the duty cycle of a system clock is usu-
ally set to be 50% despite that the required precharging time
is typically shorter than the evaluation time. Taking these fac-
tors into consideration, we partition the logic functions of the
comparator into each half of the clock cycle to form a two-stage
pipeline. Such a design not only makes each pipeline shorter but
also fully utilizes the clock cycle if the circuit is implemented
in the dynamic CMOS logic. When the first pipeline stage en-
ters the evaluation phase, the second pipeline stage enters the
precharge phase. After the first pipeline stage turns to precharge
and latches the results, the second pipeline stage begins to eval-
uate. Although the new architecture needs more transistors for
pipeline latches, it can effectively shorten the clock cycle to im-
prove the operating speed. Furthermore, implementing the cir-
cuit by dynamic CMOS circuits, the comparator can still finish (4)
each comparison in one clock cycle.
Let us take the 64-b comparator as an example. The block The circuit structure is derived from that of Fig. 5(b) and is
diagram of the new design is shown in Fig. 6. The 64 input bits described as follows.
are partitioned into eight small groups, each having eight input 1) Two 4-b comparators are used to construct the 8-b macro.
bits. In the first pipeline stage, eight comparators process eight 2) The least significant macro of PEB8b uses an AND gate to
groups of inputs respectively, producing eight pairs of outputs generate the lookahead signal for the second macro
and . After latching, these outputs are sent to the of PEB8b. The second macro does not need to generate
second stage, which is another 8-b comparator, to perform the because there is no connection between different
rest operations. 8-b macros.
The 8-b macro cell PEB8b shown in Fig. 7 implements the 3) Those transistors controlled by in the original 4-b
following equations. macro are removed from the least significant macro of
PEB8b because PEB8b does not need .
4) The and signals in the two 4-b
macros are combined together by two eight-input dy-
namic NOR gates, respectively, and the results are latched
by two N-C MOS latches.
The detail operations of the 64-b comparator are described
briefly as follows.

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HUANG AND WANG: HIGH-PERFORMANCE AND POWER-EFFICIENT CMOS COMPARATORS 259

Fig. 7. Schematic diagram of the 8-b macro cell PEB8b.

1) The first and second pipeline stages of the 64-b com- 2) When goes low, the macro cells in the first pipeline
parator utilize the same 8-b macro PEB8b. However, the stage enter the precharge phase and the evaluated results
macros in the first pipeline stage accept the clock signal are latched in the N-C MOS latches. These outputs are
, but the macro in the second pipeline stage accepts also fed into the corresponding inputs of the macro in the
the clock signal . Therefore, when goes high, the second pipeline stage for obtaining the final comparison
macro cells in the first pipeline stage enter the evaluation result.
phase and the macro cell in the second pipeline stage en- 3) Both stages have the same critical path, i.e., the 8-b com-
ters the precharge phase. parator. Because the critical paths of both stages are short-

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260 IEEE JOURNAL OF SOLID-STATE CIRCUITS, VOL. 38, NO. 2, FEBRUARY 2003

TABLE I
COMPLEXITY COMPARISON OF TWO 64-b COMPARATORS

TABLE II
POST-LAYOUT SIMULATION RESULTS OF TWO DIFFERENT 64-b COMPARATORS

design, both stages have the same critical path, i.e., the 8-b com-
parator. Then, we only need to characterize the critical path
delay of the 8-b comparator macro, which is the sum-
(a)
mation of the delay of the static XOR gate and the eval-
uation delay of the dynamic gate . Note that the output
of the static XOR gate must be stable before the dynamic gate
entering the evaluation phase. This means that can be
viewed as the setup time of the dynamic circuit. The minimal
cycle time will be twice of , and the maximal operating
frequency will be . Analysis shows that we can
apply the pattern ( , ) to
trigger the longest signal propagation path. The timing chart of
the 8-b macro PEB8b is illustrated in Fig. 9.
As mentioned above, the new comparator finishes each com-
parison in just one clock cycle, while the conventional 64-b
(b) comparator takes three clock cycles to finish the task. Similar to
Fig. 8. Layouts of (a) Wang et al.’s comparator [3]. (b) Proposed comparator. the new design, all stages in the conventional design also have
the same critical path, but each pipeline is a 2-b comparator in
ened and balanced, the operation speed of the comparator this case. Then, we only need to characterize the critical path
delay of the 2-b comparator macro. For a fair compar-
is improved significantly.
ison, we define the equivalent total delay time for each
operation to be six times of , and the equivalent max-
V. PERFORMANCE EVALUATION AND EXPERIMENTAL RESULTS imal operating frequency is defined to be . The
In order to verify the proposed techniques, a two-stage pattern ( ) is applied to trigger the longest
pipelined 64-b comparator is realized. To minimize the layout signal propagation path.
effort and layout area, we have all N-type transistors at the Post-layout simulation results are summarized in Table II.
pull-down network with the same transistor width instead of Power consumption listed in Table II is evaluated at the max-
ratioed design. We also enlarge the width of these transistors imum clock frequency. It shows that the proposed comparator
up to 5 m to reduce the pull-down delay. For example, the is 16% faster and consumes 79% less power as compared with
channel width of the transistors – in Fig. 7 are all 5 m. Wang et al.’s comparator [3]. For the new design, it is possible
The design is implemented based on a 3-V 0.6- m CMOS to trade the layout area and the power consumption for more
technology [10], which is the same as that used in the ANT speed advantages.
comparator [3]. The 64-b comparator based on Wang et al.’s The proposed 64-b comparator has been fabricated for per-
approach is also resimulated with the transistor sizes reported formance verification. Fig. 10 shows the test chip architecture
in [3]. However, for comparison purpose, the performance used to measure the delay time of the dynamic circuit .
comparison is based on the results of post-layout simulations This measurement method is commonly used in measuring
running at 3-V supply voltage. The layouts of both designs are delay time of dynamic circuits [13], [14]. The input clock signal
shown in Fig. 8, and the complexity information is listed in goes through the clock buffer first, and then proceeds in two
Table I. We found the transistor count of the new design is less paths. One goes through the comparator core, output buffer, and
than that required in the conventional design, while the layout reaches output pad. The other one only goes through the output
area of the new design is only nearly half of the conventional buffer to reach the output pad. Obviously, the only difference
design. This is mainly because the transistor size used in the between these two paths is the comparator core. Therefore,
new design is typically much smaller than that used in the we can measure the time between clock output signal Clk
previous design. and comparator output and get the delay time .
Before reporting the timing information, timing characteri- The photograph of the test chip is shown in Fig. 11(a) and
zation methods for both designs will be described. For the new measured waveforms with 160- and 50-MHz clocks are shown

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HUANG AND WANG: HIGH-PERFORMANCE AND POWER-EFFICIENT CMOS COMPARATORS 261

Fig. 9. Timing chart of the critical path of PEB8b.

Fig. 10. Test chip architecture.

in Fig. 11(b) and (c), respectively. Measured chip features and circuit technique to result in a compact comparator with high
post-layout simulation results are summarized in Table III. The performance. In implementation, the priority-encoding function
measured waveforms indicate that the delay time of the and the subsequent AND function are merged as an MDM, which
dynamic gate in the 8-b macro is 2.2 ns no matter which clock is realized in the MODL. Such a design not only improves the
rate is used, which completely matches with the simulation operating speed due to the reduced logic depth, but also makes
result. We cannot measure directly on the chip because the circuit compact and power efficient because fewer transis-
it is the set-up time in nature. However, according to the above tors are used. To efficiently shorten the critical path that lies in
measurement result, we have confidence that the experimental the MDM, multilevel look-ahead technique is adopted. To en-
result is very close to the simulation result. The maximal hance the operating speed further, the circuit is realized with a
operating frequency is measured around 180 MHz (not shown), latch-based two-stage pipelined structure, and the logic func-
which again agrees with the simulation. The measured power tions are partitioned into two parts, with each part executed in
consumption is also very close to the simulated result. half of the clock cycle in a delay-balanced manner. Post-layout
simulation results show that a 64-b comparator designed with
VI. CONCLUSION the proposed techniques in a 3-V 0.6- m CMOS technology is
16% faster, 50% smaller, and 79% more power efficient as com-
Design techniques for high-performance and power-efficient pared with the fastest conventional design. Measurement results
CMOS comparators are proposed. The design is based on the of the test chip confirm with simulation results and prove the
priority-encoding algorithm and utilizes the dynamic CMOS feasibility of the proposed techniques.

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262 IEEE JOURNAL OF SOLID-STATE CIRCUITS, VOL. 38, NO. 2, FEBRUARY 2003

tion Center, Taiwan, for supporting the fabrication of the test


chip.

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Chung-Hsun Huang (S’00) was born in Taiwan,


R.O.C., in 1977. He received the B.S. and M.S.
degrees in electrical engineering from National
Chung-Cheng University, Chia-Yi, Taiwan, in 1999
and 2000, respectively. He is currently working
toward the Ph.D. degree at the Institute of Electrical
Engineering, National Chung-Cheng University.
His research interests include high-speed and
(c) low-power digital integrated circuits, microprocessor
design, SOC design methodology, and high-speed
Fig. 11. (a) Photograph of the fabricated chip. (b) Measured waveforms with analog-to-digital converter design.
160-MHz clock. (c) Measured waveforms with 50-MHz clock.

TABLE III Jinn-Shyan Wang (S’85–M’88) was born in


EXPERIMENTAL AND POST-LAYOUT SIMULATION RESULTS Taiwan, R.O.C., in 1959. He received the B.S.
degree in electrical engineering from the National
Cheng-Kung University, Tainan, Taiwan, in 1982
and the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the Institute
of Electronics, National Chiao-Tung University,
Hsinchu, Taiwan, in 1984 and 1988, respectively.
He was with Industrial Technology Research In-
stitute (ITRI) from 1988 to 1995, engaged in ASIC
circuit and system design, and became the Manager
ACKNOWLEDGMENT of the Department of VLSI Design. He joined the De-
partment of Electrical Engineering, National Chung-Cheng University, Chia-Yi,
The authors would like to thank Prof. C. Yeh of the De- Taiwan, in 1995, where he is currently a full Professor. His research interests are
partment of Electrical Engineering, National Chung Cheng in low-power and high-speed digital integrated circuits and systems, analog inte-
grated circuits, IP and SOC design, and CMOS image sensors. He has published
University, for improving the language and presentation of this over 20 journal papers and 40 conference papers and holds over 20 patents on
paper. They would also like to thank to the Chip Implementa- VLSI circuits and architectures.

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