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Synchronous counters


    A synchronous counter, in contrast to an asynchronous counter, is one whose output bits change state simultaneously, with no ripple. The only way we can build such a counter circuit from J-K flip-flops is to connect all the clock inputs together, so that each and every flip-flop receives the exact same clock pulse at the exact same time:


Synchronous Counters

    Now, the question is, what do we do with the J and K inputs? We know that we still have to maintain the same divide-by-two frequency pattern in order to count in a binary sequence, and that this pattern is best achieved utilizing the "toggle" mode of the flip-flop, so the fact that the J and K inputs must both be (at times) "high" is clear. However, if we simply connect all the J and K inputs to the positive rail of the power supply as we did in the asynchronous circuit, this would clearly not work because all the flip-flops would toggle at the same time: with each and every clock pulse!

Synchronous-Counters-01

    Let's examine the four-bit binary counting sequence again, and see if there are any other patterns that predict the toggling of a bit. Asynchronous counter circuit design is based on the fact that each bit toggle happens at the same time that the preceding bit toggles from a "high" to a "low" (from 1 to 0). Since we cannot clock the toggling of a bit based on the toggling of a previous bit in a synchronous counter circuit (to do so would create a ripple effect) we must find some other pattern in the counting sequence that can be used to trigger a bit toggle:

    Examining the four-bit binary count sequence, another predictive pattern can be seen. Notice that just before a bit toggles, all preceding bits are "high:"

Synchronous-Counters-Binary


    This pattern is also something we can exploit in designing a counter circuit. If we enable each J-K flip-flop to toggle based on whether or not all preceding flip-flop outputs (Q) are "high," we can obtain the same counting sequence as the asynchronous circuit without the ripple effect, since each flip-flop in this circuit will be clocked at exactly the same time:

Synchronous Counters 4-bit

    The result is a four-bit synchronous "up" counter. Each of the higher-order flip-flops are made ready to toggle (both J and K inputs "high") if the Q outputs of all previous flip-flops are "high." Otherwise, the J and K inputs for that flip-flop will both be "low," placing it into the "latch" mode where it will maintain its present output state at the next clock pulse. Since the first (LSB) flip-flop needs to toggle at every clock pulse, its J and K inputs are connected to Vcc or Vdd, where they will be "high" all the time. The next flip-flop need only "recognize" that the first flip-flop's Q output is high to be made ready to toggle, so no AND gate is needed. However, the remaining flip-flops should be made ready to toggle only when all lower-order output bits are "high," thus the need for AND gates.

    To make a synchronous "down" counter, we need to build the circuit to recognize the appropriate bit patterns predicting each toggle state while counting down. Not surprisingly, when we examine the four-bit binary count sequence, we see that all preceding bits are "low" prior to a toggle (following the sequence from bottom to top):

Synchronous-Counters-Binary-01

    Since each J-K flip-flop comes equipped with a Q' output as well as a Q output, we can use the Q' outputs to enable the toggle mode on each succeeding flip-flop, being that each Q' will be "high" every time that the respective Q is "low:"

Synchronous Counters Down

    Taking this idea one step further, we can build a counter circuit with selectable between "up" and "down" count modes by having dual lines of AND gates detecting the appropriate bit conditions for an "up" and a "down" counting sequence, respectively, then use OR gates to combine the AND gate outputs to the J and K inputs of each succeeding flip-flop:

Synchronous Counters Up Down