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AXI Vs AHB OR AHB Vs AXI Difference between AXI and AHB

-Aviral Mittal.
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This techerature compares AMBA AHB protocol to AMBA AXI protocol.

AHB : Advanced High performance Bus
AXI : Advanced Xtensible Bus:

AHB is ARM's most popular protocol, which was invented in an era, where the computing power of the Integrated
Circuits were very primitive as compared to what we have now (2019)
As the computing demands rise, AHB started to fall short in meeting the demands of the system which were ever
hungry for more bandwidths. AXI was then invented. One of the major problems with the AHB protocol is its
inability to support what are called 'outstanding' transactions. An outstanding transaction is simply the one, which
has been issued but its response is awaited. Yes, mostly it is related to 'read' transactions, as the 'write' transactions
can live without a response.
Though AHB does support 'split' transactions which one may argue that its what an outstanding transaction support
in AHB is, but it never took off, and neither did it served the purpose of 'outstanding' transactions.
Issuing several outstanding transactions, without receiving the response helps in increasing throughput as can be
seen from the diagram and related text below:
But let us consider the objective differences between the 2.
The following table highlights the differences betwween the 2, however this is by no means an exhaustive list of

Has 1 address channel, 1 read data channel, 1 write Has 1 read address channel, 1 write address
data channel channel, 1 read data channel, 1 write data
channel. 1 write response channel That is
altogether it has 5 parallel channels. (The first
AXI version had just 1 address channel)
Does not support outstanding reads, though with Has native support for multiple outstanding
writes, the master can issue multiple write transactions, transactions.
marking them as 'bufferable' so that if the interconnect
is able to respond immediately, the master would
consider the transaction over, and would issue
subsequent transactions immediately in the next clock
No concept of channels. AXI supports transaction IDs. The user may
issue multiple outstanding transactions per
transaction ID. A transaction ID can relate to
a data stream. Hence by issuing multiple
outstanding transactions per ID, AXI gives
the user the power to have 'channels' of data.
It does not support pipeline registers in its path, if user User can insert a pipeline register anywhere
is not able to meet timing requirements. in the path of any of the 5 channels, which
helps in timing closure and help achieve
higher operating frequency.
Due to its in-ability to support pipeline registers AXI enables higher frequency of operation
insertion, AHB limits the max freq for the design. This due to its support for 'pipe-line' register
can hit hard, on the SoCs which are big, and may have insertion.
long distances for the datapath to cover.
Number of wires are less Since AXI has 5 parallel channels running, it
has a lot of more wires, which may cause
congestion in layout.
Limited Throughput. Extremely high Throughput
No inherent support for side-band signals AXI 4 supports AxUSER bits, i.e. it has
support for side-band signals.
No QoS Support AXI 4 supports QoS
The 'INCR' type burst can have any length, but there is The length of the burst is always known right
no information available at the start of the burst, how at the start. This feature is supported by using
long it might be. AxLEN bits.
Strongly Ordered: Since there is at a time only 1 active Since it supports multiple outstanding
transactions, the transactions are strongly ordered in transactions, i.e. many transaction is issued at
the sense, that the responses received to any a time, the responses to different transactions
transaction(s) follow the same sequence as the can arrive out of order. However the
transactions were issued. responses to each 'channel' will still be
Low power dissipation Higher power dissipation.

AXI vs AHB : How-come AXI offers higher performance and throughput than AHB.
It can be observed from the above table it has been mentioned that AXI offers high throughput, i.e high
performance. However its rather uncommon to know the actual reasons
and circumstances in which AXI would offer performance boost.

The following section attempts to explain the actual reasons and the circumstances
in which AXI offers performance boost.

There are 2 basic reasons why AXI may be faster:

1. Simplex Vs Duplex Transfers

AXI has completely independent channels for read/write, which enables full duplex mode of data transportation.
That is to say read and writes can take place simultaneously, giving 2x boost over AHB in any circumstances.
However this will ONLY be possible when the slave is able to process 1 read and 1 write operation simultaneously
in 1 clock cycle. Which in many cases will be possible, e.g. if the slave is a dual port SRAM which can process 1
read and 1 write transaction simultaneously. Also in this example we are considering 1 Master and 1 Slave. But in
case of multiple slaves, the master can send read transaction to 1 slave and write to other slave, even if the slave(s)
cannot handle more than 1 transactions in single clock cycle.

To make more clarity, in a system where there is only 1 master and only 1 slave, the slave is unable to process read
and write in 1 single clock cycle simultaneously and both master and slave are in single synchronous clock domain
with no clock delay between the master and the slave there wont be any difference in performance between AXI
and AHB. The AXI will only consume more power and area.

2. When there are clock cycle delays between a Master and a responding slave.
-This is usually when the Master clock and slave clock is Async, and a there is a clock domain crossing bridge.
It can be observed in the diagram shown below, that that as the number of OTs (outstanding transaction) increase
in AXI, the efficiency increases. It can also be observed that with 1 OT, again, the performance will be
comparable, if we are doing only reads or only writes.
In AXI case, since the system is able to issue outstanding transactions (OT), i.e. able to issue addresses without
waiting for data to return, there is only a initial delay, and then the continuous flow of data follows.
In AHB this is not possible. The AHB cannot issue another transaction, without first receiving the response to its
only transaction, which it can issue at a time.

It is to be noted again, that if there are no clock delays between a master and a slave, and if we assume only 1
master and 1 slave in the system, then again the AXI performance will be equal to AHB performance, if we are
doing only reads or only writes.

The differences in the above table highlight, that AHB may be used in a completely synchronous system which are
contained in small silicon areas, e.g for small SoCs i.e IoT SoCs, Audio SoCs. It may also do well in synchronous
subsystem within a larger SoC. AHB is generally used in systems which do not have high throughput demands, or
in the systems where the frequency of operation is relatively lower i.e < 150 MHz.
However if the SoC is large, has multiple clock domains, or if a subsystem is large and has multiple clock domains
and the demand for throughput and bandwidths are high, the frequency of clock are higher e.g. 200+ MHz, then
AXI is the way to go.


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