Better to know some
... than all
In the previous section, we saw a circuit using one J-K flip-flop that counted backward in a two-bit binary sequence, from 11 to 10 to 01 to 00. Since it would be desirable to have a circuit that could count forward and not just backward, it would be worthwhile to examine a forward count sequence again and look for more patterns that might indicate how to build such a circuit.
Since we know that binary count sequences follow a pattern of octave (factor of 2) frequency division, and that J-K flip-flop multivibrators set up for the "toggle" mode are capable of performing this type of frequency division, we can envision a circuit made up of several J-K flip-flops, cascaded to produce four bits of output. The main problem facing us is to determine how to connect these flip-flops together so that they toggle at the right times to produce the proper binary sequence. Examine the following binary count sequence, paying attention to patterns preceding the "toggling" of a bit between 0 and 1:
Note that each bit in this four-bit sequence toggles when the bit before it (the bit having a lesser significance, or place-weight), toggles in a particular direction: from 1 to 0. Small arrows indicate those points in the sequence where a bit toggles, the head of the arrow pointing to the previous bit transitioning from a "high" (1) state to a "low" (0) state:
Starting with four J-K flip-flops connected in such a way to always be in the "toggle" mode, we need to determine how to connect the clock inputs in such a way so that each succeeding bit toggles when the bit before it transitions from 1 to 0. The Q outputs of each flip-flop will serve as the respective binary bits of the final, four-bit count:
If we used flip-flops with negative-edge triggering (bubble symbols on the clock inputs), we could simply connect the clock input of each flip-flop to the Q output of the flip-flop before it, so that when the bit before it changes from a 1 to a 0, the "falling edge" of that signal would "clock" the next flip-flop to toggle the next bit:
This circuit would yield the following output waveforms, when "clocked" by a repetitive source of pulses from an oscillator:
The first flip-flop (the one with the Q0 output), has a positive-edge triggered clock input, so it toggles with each rising edge of the clock signal. Notice how the clock signal in this example has a duty cycle less than 50%. I've shown the signal in this manner for the purpose of demonstrating how the clock signal need not be symmetrical to obtain reliable, "clean" output bits in our four-bit binary sequence. In the very first flip-flop circuit shown in this chapter, I used the clock signal itself as one of the output bits. This is a bad practice in counter design, though, because it necessitates the use of a square wave signal with a 50% duty cycle ("high" time = "low" time) in order to obtain a count sequence where each and every step pauses for the same amount of time. Using one J-K flip-flop for each output bit, however, relieves us of the necessity of having a symmetrical clock signal, allowing the use of practically any variety of high/low waveform to increment the count sequence.
As indicated by all the other arrows in the pulse diagram, each succeeding output bit is toggled by the action of the preceding bit transitioning from "high" (1) to "low" (0). This is the pattern necessary to generate an "up" count sequence.
A less obvious solution for generating an "up" sequence using positive-edge triggered flip-flops is to "clock" each flip-flop using the Q' output of the preceding flip-flop rather than the Q output. Since the Q' output will always be the exact opposite state of the Q output on a J-K flip-flop (no invalid states with this type of flip-flop), a high-to-low transition on the Q output will be accompanied by a low-to-high transition on the Q' output. In other words, each time the Q output of a flip-flop transitions from 1 to 0, the Q' output of the same flip-flop will transition from 0 to 1, providing the positive-going clock pulse we would need to toggle a positive-edge triggered flip-flop at the right moment:
One way we could expand the capabilities of either of these two counter circuits is to regard the Q' outputs as another set of four binary bits. If we examine the pulse diagram for such a circuit, we see that the Q' outputs generate a down-counting sequence, while the Q outputs generate an up-counting sequence:
Unfortunately, all of the counter circuits shown thusfar share a common problem: the ripple effect. This effect is seen in certain types of binary adder and data conversion circuits, and is due to accumulative propagation delays between cascaded gates. When the Q output of a flip-flop transitions from 1 to 0, it commands the next flip-flop to toggle. If the next flip-flop toggle is a transition from 1 to 0, it will command the flip-flop after it to toggle as well, and so on. However, since there is always some small amount of propagation delay between the command to toggle (the clock pulse) and the actual toggle response (Q and Q' outputs changing states), any subsequent flip-flops to be toggled will toggle some time after the first flip-flop has toggled. Thus, when multiple bits toggle in a binary count sequence, they will not all toggle at exactly the same time.