The term state machine refers to a circuit that sequences through a set of predetermined states controlled by a clock and other input signals. So the counter circuits we have been studying so far in Chapter 7 are state machines. Generally, we use the term counter for sequential circuits that have a regular numeric count sequence. They may count up or count down, they may have a full 2N modules or they may have a <2N modulus, or they may recycle or stop automatically at some predetermined state. A counter, as its name implies, is used to count things. The things that are counted are actually called clock pulses, but the pulses may represent many kinds of events. The pulses may be the cycles of a signal for frequency division or they may be seconds, minutes, and hours of a day for a digital clock. They may indicate that an item has moved down the conveyer in a factory or that a car has passed a particular spot on the highway.

The term state machine is more often used to describe other kinds of sequential circuits. They may have an irregular counting pattern like our stepper motor control circuit in Section 7-10.The objective for that design was to drive a stepper motor so that it would rotate in precise angular steps. The control circuit had to produce the required specific sequence of states for that movement, rather than count numerically. There are also many applications where we do not care about the specific binary value for each state because we will use appropriate decoding logic to identify specific states of interest and to generate desired output signals. The general distinction between the two terms is that a counter is commonly used to count events, while a state machine is commonly used to control events. The correct descriptive term depends on how we wish to use the sequential circuit.

The block diagram shown in Figure 7-55 may represent a state machine or a counter. In Section 7-10 we found out that the classic sequential circuit design process was to figure out how many flip-flops would be needed and then determine the necessary combinational circuit to produce the desired sequence. The output produced by a counter or a state machine may come

directly from the flip-flop outputs or there may be some gating circuitry needed, as indicated in the block diagram. The two variations are described as either a Mealy model for a sequential circuit or a Moore model. In the Mealy model the output signals are also controlled by additional input signals, while the Moore model does not have any external controls for the generated output signals. The Moore output is a function only of the current flip flop state. An example of a Moore-type design would be the decoded MOD-5 circuit in Section 7-13. On the other hand, the BCD counter design in the same section would be a Mealy-type design because of the external input (enable) that controls the terminal state decoding output (tc). One significant consequence of this subtle design variation is that Moore-type circuit outputs will be completely synchronous to the circuit’s clock, while outputs produced by a Mealy-type circuit can change asynchronously. The enable input is not synchronized to the system clock in our MOD-10 design.

HDLs, of course, can make state machines easy and intuitive to describe. As an oversimplified example that everyone can relate to, the following hardware description deals with four states through which a typical washing machine might progress. Although a real washing machine is more complex than this example, it will serve to demonstrate the techniques. This washing machine is idle until the start button is pressed, then it fills with water until the tub is full, then it runs the agitator until a timer expires, and finally it spins the tub until the water is spun out, at which time it goes back to idle. The point of this example focuses on the use of a set of named states for which no binary values are defined. The name of the counter variable is wash, which can be in any of the named states: idle, fill, agitate, or spin.

Simulate the HDL traffic light controller design presented in Section 7-14.

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