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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: February 2019

21 - System-level design

from Part VI - System design


After reading to this point in the book, you now have the skills to design complex combinational and sequential logic modules. However, if someone were to ask you to design a DVD player, a computer system, or an Internet router you would realize that each of these is not a single finite-state machine (or even a single datapath with associated finite-state controller). Rather, a typical system is a collection of modules, each of which may include several datapaths and finite-state controllers. These systems must first be decomposed into simple modules before the design and analysis skills you have learned in the previous chapters can be applied. However, the problem remains that of how to partition the system to this level where the design becomes manageable. This system-level design is one of the most interesting and challenging aspects of digital systems.


The design of a system involves the following steps.

Specification The most important step in designing any system is deciding – and clearly specifying in writing – what you are going to build. We discuss specifications in more detail in Section 21.2.

Partitioning Once the system has been specified, the main task in system design is dividing the system into manageable subsystems or modules. This is a process of divide and conquer. The overall system is divided into subsystems that can then be designed (conquered) separately. At each stage, the subsystems should be specified to the same level of detail as the overall system was during our first step. As described in Section 21.3, we can partition a system by state, task, or interface.

Interface specification It is particularly important that the interfaces between subsystems be described in detail. With good interface specifications, individual modules can be developed and verified independently. When possible, interfaces should be independent of module internals – allowing modules to be modified without affecting the interface, or the design of neighboring modules.

Timing design Early in the design of a system, it is important to describe the timing and sequencing of operations. In particular, as work flows between modules, the sequencing of which module does a particular task on a particular cycle must be worked out to ensure that the right data come together at the correct place and time. This timing design also drives the performance tuning step described below.