News Column

Patent Issued for Period Signal Generation Circuits

September 3, 2014



By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Electronics Newsweekly -- A patent by the inventor Kim, Dong Kyun (Cheongju-si, KR), filed on December 14, 2012, was published online on August 19, 2014, according to news reporting originating from Alexandria, Virginia, by VerticalNews correspondents.

Patent number 8811099 is assigned to SK Hynix Inc. (Icheon, KR).

The following quote was obtained by the news editors from the background information supplied by the inventors: "In general, semiconductor memory devices may be categorized as either volatile or nonvolatile memory devices. While the volatile memory devices lose their stored data when power is interrupted, the nonvolatile memory devices retain their stored data even when power is interrupted. Volatile memory devices include dynamic random access memory (DRAM) devices and static random access memory (SRAM) devices. A unit cell of the SRAM devices may include a flip flop circuit (e.g., two cross-coupled inverters) and two switching elements. Thus, the SRAM cells may stably store their data as long as power is supplied. Meanwhile, a unit cell of the DRAM devices may include a cell transistor acing as a switching element and a cell capacitor acting as a data storage element. If the cell transistor is turned on, the cell capacitor will be charged through the cell transistor to store a data bit in the capacitor.

"In the DRAM devices, leakage currents may occur through the cell transistors even though the cell transistors are turned off. Thus, the data (e.g., charges) stored in the capacitors may be lost as the time elapses. Thus, the cell capacitors need to be periodically recharged to retain their stored data.

"The refresh operation may be categorized as either an auto-refresh operation or a self-refresh operation. The auto-refresh operation may be executed by refresh commands outputted from a memory controller, and the self-refresh operation may be executed by self-refresh signals which are internally generated in the DRAM devices.

"The self-refresh operation may be periodically executed according to a refresh cycle time determined in the DRAM devices. The refresh cycle time may be determined by a data retention time corresponding to a maximum time that the cell capacitors can retain a minimum charge which is required to read a correct logic data. The data retention time may be influenced by leakage current characteristics of the cell transistors and the leakage current characteristics of the cell transistors may vary according to an internal temperature of the DRAM devices. Thus, the data retention time may be affected by the internal temperature of the DRAM devices.

"As leakage currents increase with an increase of the internal temperature of the DRAM devices, the data retention time decreases with the increase of the internal temperature, and vice versa. Thus, a refresh circuit should be designed such that the refresh cycle time varies according to an internal temperature of the DRAM devices. That is, the refresh cycle time should be reduced to ensure successful operations of the DRAM device as the internal temperature of the DRAM device increases. On the other hand, the refresh cycle time should be increased to reduce the power consumption of the DRAM device as the internal temperature of the DRAM device decreases. Conventional DRAM devices include period signal generation circuits to control the refresh cycle time according to the internal temperature thereof.

"FIG. 1 is a block diagram illustrating a conventional period signal generation circuit.

"As illustrated in FIG. 1, the conventional period signal generation circuit includes a first oscillator 11, a second oscillator 12, a temperature sensor 13 and a selection output unit 14. The first oscillator 11 generates a first oscillating signal OSC1 having a steady period (e.g., a constant cycle time) regardless of an internal temperature of the period signal generation circuit. The second oscillator 12 generates a second oscillating signal OSC2 whose period varies according to the internal temperature. The temperature sensor 13 generates a temperature signal TS which transitions from one level to another level at a predetermined temperature. The selection output unit 14 receives the first and second oscillating signals OSC1 and OSC2 in response to the temperature signal TS and outputs a period signal PSRF. The selection output unit 14 outputs the first oscillating signal OSC1 as the period signal PSRF when the temperature signal TS is generated at a temperature below the predetermined temperature. On the other hand, the selection output unit 14 outputs the second oscillating signal OSC2 as the period signal PSRF when the temperature signal TS is generated at a temperature over the predetermined temperature.

"As described above, the period signal PSRF outputted from the conventional period signal generation circuit uses the first oscillating signal OSC1 at a temperature below the predetermined temperature, and the second oscillating signal OSC2 at a temperature over the predetermined temperature. Thus, if a refresh cycle time is determined by the period signal PSRF, the refresh cycle time may be uniform or constant at a temperature below the predetermined temperature and the refresh cycle time may vary with a temperature when the temperature is higher than the predetermined temperature.

"The selection output unit 14 may function as a comparator. That is, the selection output unit 14 may compare the period of the first oscillating signal OSC1 with the period of the second oscillating signal OSC2 in response to the temperature signal TS and may output any one of the first and second oscillating signals OSC1 and OSC2 as the period signal PSRF. Thus, the conventional period signal generation circuit requires two oscillators continuously generating oscillating signals with different characteristics. Moreover, when a difference between the periods of the first and second oscillating signals OSC1 and OSC2 is small, the selection output unit 14 acting as a comparator may malfunction and output a wrong oscillating signal."

In addition to the background information obtained for this patent, VerticalNews journalists also obtained the inventor's summary information for this patent: "An embodiment of the present invention relates to a period signal generation circuit includes a control node, a period signal generator, a discharge controller, and a tester. The period signal generator is configured to generate a period signal by alternately charging and discharging the control node according to a potential level of the control node. The discharge controller is configured to discharge a first current having a substantially constant value from the control node in response to a temperature signal and discharge a second current varying according to an internal temperature thereof from the control node in response to the temperature signal. The tester is configured to control a charging speed or a discharging speed, or both, of the control node.

"In an embodiment, the period signal generation circuit is part of a semiconductor memory device and the period signal is used to refresh memory cells in the semiconductor memory device. The semiconductor memory device is provided in a package and the internal temperature corresponds to a temperature within the package.

"In an embodiment, a period signal generation circuit includes a period signal generator configured to generate a period signal by alternately charging and discharging a control node according to a level of the control node, a discharge controller configured to discharge a first current having a constant value from the control node in response to a temperature signal and discharge a second current varying according to an internal temperature thereof from the control node in response to the temperature signal, and a tester configured to control a charging speed and a discharging speed of the control node.

"In another embodiment, a period signal generation circuit includes a period signal generator configured to generate a period signal by alternately charging and discharging a control node according to a level of the control node, a discharge controller configured to generate a first current and a second current discharged from the control node, and a tester configured to control a charging speed and a discharging speed of the control node. A total current of the first and second currents is substantially constant when an internal temperature of the discharge controller is below a predetermined temperature, and the total current of the first and second currents varies with the internal temperature when the internal temperature is equal to or over the predetermined temperature."

URL and more information on this patent, see: Kim, Dong Kyun. Period Signal Generation Circuits. U.S. Patent Number 8811099, filed December 14, 2012, and published online on August 19, 2014. Patent URL: http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=8811099.PN.&OS=PN/8811099RS=PN/8811099

Keywords for this news article include: Electronics, SK Hynix Inc., Semiconductor, Random Access Memory.

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Source: Electronics Newsweekly


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