Design for test (DFT) is a methodology for silicon integrated-circuit chips to enable devices to be tested during and after manufacture. Such testability permits the detection of faults due to problems in the manufacturing processes that would adversely affect the functional behaviour of the device. This note explains the concepts of a particular DFT methodology called scan test, which modifies the logic of a design in such a way that the functional behaviour is preserved but classes of faults become detectable.

Scan chains

A chip can be viewed as a set of input ports that feed into a series of combinatorial and sequential cells, and arrive at a set of output ports. To test that the function of the chip is correct, it would suffice to check that a particular output is generated for a particular input, or sequence of inputs and outputs. However, if the intervening logic contains sequential elements, is computationally difficult to setup inputs each clock cycle to observe desired values on all outputs. Doing so requires sequencing of state transitions through the logic, but the size of the state space grows exponentially with the number of states.

Conceptually, a silicon chip is a set of input ports driving logic with sequential elements, in turn driving output ports.

To avoid an intractable state space, the design is changed so that inputs and observable outputs are separated only by combinatorial logic. This is done by adding new controllable primary inputs and observable outputs, called scan chains. A scan chain adds three ports to the chip: a scan chain input, scan_in, a scan chain output scan_out and an enable scan_enable. All registers are converted by adding a multiplexer on the D pin, with one input connected to the data signal. The first scan-chain register has it’s other multiplexer input connected to scan_in. Subsequent scan registers take their other multiplexer inputs from the output of the previous register in the chain. The final register in the chain drives scan_out from it’s D pin. All multiplexers are controlled by scan_enable.

A standard flip flop (left) and a scanned flip flop with scan-in and scan-enable inputs (right).
Scan chain topology providing a set of controllable primary inputs and a set of observable outputs.

When scan_enable is pulled high, and the clock pulsed, data is shifted into each register in the chain. Each bit of a chain of N registers can be set in N clock cycles. When pulled low, the chip is in normal functional mode. These inputs allow a simple test procedure to be implemented:

  1. Set scan_enable high (scan mode).
  2. Shift in N bits of input data.
  3. Set scan_enable low (functional mode).
  4. Tick the clock once to propagate input vector though combinatorial logic into outputs.
  5. Set scan_enable high (scan mode).
  6. Shift out N bits of output data.
  7. Check that the output data equals the input data transformed by the same logic function.

Since typical tests will contain large numbers of patterns, the time to test one pattern is critical. It is determined by the length of the chain, to shift in and out data. To reduce test time, additional scan chains can be introduced to allow shifting to be performed in parallel. Each chain adds scan_in and scan_out ports to the chip. The number of scan chains is chosen to trade off the physical requirements of the additional ports and routing with test time and coverage. To avoid many additional ports at the top level, a set of parallel scan chains can be driven by DFT logic that supplies compressed patterns to the inputs and compresses results from the outputs.

Parallel scan chains to reduce test time.

Wrapper chains

Typically, a chip is too complex to test with a single set of scan chains. Even with only combinatorial logic between primary inputs and observable outputs, it becomes computationally difficult to analyse to generate patterns that can effectively exercise it to achieve good coverage and fault isolation. Instead, a chip is divided into sub components, each of which is amenable to testing (an approach known as hierarchical DFT). The components are referred to as test cores and typically naturally correspond to functional blocks of the chip design.

It is necessary for a test core to be isolated from the rest of the design. At a chip-level primary inputs are controllable in that their values are always known. However, the values of an input to a test core are unknown and likely to be Xs. If X values propagate into a test core, coverage can be reduced, or worse, the testing methodology may be invalidated altogether. Isolation is achieved with wrapper chains that are inserted between the IO ports and the core logic of the design. A bypass multiplexer is inserted on the output of the wrapper scan register to control whether the input or output is used or driven respectively. If the input or output is directly connected to a register, then a bypass is not necessary.

Wrapper flops inserted on input and output ports.
A test core isolated with input and output wrapper chains. One or more additional scan chains may be connected to sequential elements of the core logic.

An input wrapper chain is the chain of registers that capture the primary inputs to the core, with their D inputs corresponding to each input of the test core. Some inputs may be omitted from the wrapper chain, such as clock, reset and test-related signals. Input wrapper chains are different to regular scan chains only in the way that their scan_enable is controlled. During test mode, the scan enable of the input wrapper is held high when the regular scan_enable is low and all other registers are in functional mode. The effect of this is that the input wrapper chain continues to shift in known values, rather than Xs from outside of the test core. When the input wrapper registers are not shared with any other test core, the captured values can be shifted out with the other test pattern results to ensure all of the registers are functioning correctly.

An output wrapper chain behaves exactly as an internal scan chain during test mode. However, when they are shared with an adjacent test core, their scan_enable is controlled differently since they will function as an input wrapper chain for that core, with the behaviour described above.

Test core B shares core B’s output wrapper chain, using it as an input wrapper chain in test mode.

X bounding

It may not be possible to add all registers into the scan chains for a design. In this case, to prevent Xs from propagating into the logic during test, all sources of Xs must be masked with known values. This is done by inserting a multiplexer to take the Q pin as input, with the other input as an alternative known value, typically from a register on a scan chain. The multiplexer is controlled by an xbnd_enable signal, which when set high will prevent X propagation during test mode, and otherwise maintains the functional behaviour of the circuit.

A X-source flop with bypass multiplexing of a known value.

References / further reading


Thanks to Evan Griffiths for his detailed explanations of DFT insertion, upon which this note is based.