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Power Hardware

Researchers Design Microchip Ten Times More Efficient 113

WirePosted writes to mention that a new highly efficient microchip has been announced by researchers from MIT and Texas Instruments. The new chip touts up to 10 times more energy efficiency than current generation chips. "One key to the new chip design, Chandrakasan says, was to build a high-efficiency DC-to-DC converter--which reduces the voltage to the lower level--right on the same chip, reducing the number of separate components. The redesigned memory and logic, along with the DC-to-DC converter, are all integrated to realize a complete system-on-a-chip solution."
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Researchers Design Microchip Ten Times More Efficient

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  • Dup? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bob-taro ( 996889 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:21PM (#22776342)

    I thought this sounded familiar. []

  • Cutting to the chase (Score:5, Informative)

    by objekt ( 232270 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:22PM (#22776352) Homepage
    Just like all these articles on breakthroughs in energy efficient technology, there's only one thing I'm interested in.

    from TFA:

    So far the new chip is at the proof of concept stage. Commercial applications could become available "in five years, maybe even sooner, in a number of exciting areas," Chandrakasan says.
  • by Terje Mathisen ( 128806 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:41PM (#22776560)
    As the MIT report states, the key was to make the chip operate at 0.3 V instead of ca 1.0V

    Since power usage is (roughly!) proportional to voltage squared, getting the chip to run at less than one third the usual voltage will indeed give an order of magnitude reduction in power usage.

    From the report:

    One of the biggest problems the team had to overcome was the variability that occurs in typical chip manufacturing. At lower voltage levels, variations and imperfections in the silicon chip become more problematic. "Designing the chip to minimize its vulnerability to such variations is a big part of our strategy," Chandrakasan says.
    I.e. current state of the art transistors does not work reliably at such voltage levels, I'm guessing that they have to give up significant parts of the theoretical power reduction in order to make it work at all.

  • by Henneshoe ( 987210 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:48PM (#22776606)
    Sense the research was sponsored by TI, I am sure this technology will find its way into all sorts of embedded devices. Think everything from 32-bit uCs to Opamps. If it really does increase power efficency 10 fold, it wouldn't supprise me to see AMD and/or Intel license the technology from them for high speed uPs.
  • by Gewalt ( 1200451 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:48PM (#22776610)
    Not really.... Design is usually more expensive than production. Production cost is pretty much insignificant. (Except memory)
  • by Phat_Tony ( 661117 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @03:53PM (#22776664)
    Transmetta had radically better power consumption for a while and might have some day come to dominate the portables market, had they retained an advantage like the one they had at their debut. Transemetta's problem was underestimating how rapidly Intel could improve the power efficiency of their chips. In response to Transmetta, Intel suddenly got serious about power consumption and got competitive so fast it left Transmetta with little to differentiate their chips from the competition.

    Like anything, the commercial viability of this doesn't just depend on how much better it is than what's already out there, but on how long it'll take their competitors to catch up.

    Transmetta didn't do so well, but the real winner of Transmetta's actions was the consumer. Transmetta drove Intel and AMD to improve efficiency much more rapidly than they had been. Let's hope this new technology makes it into production and does the same.
  • Since they save power in the usual way (by reducing voltage) they're probably slower than stock chips.

    Yes, I do recall that the Transmeta chips were a fair amount slower than the Intel / AMD chips that were out at the same time, though in some regards one could say they made up for it with far better battery life in laptops.

    This doesn't matter in a lot of imbedded applications but it won't attract the gamer crowd.

    I can't speak for everyone, but I wasn't planning to run duke nukem forever on a low-power system... But I can think of plenty of typical household applications that would be well suited to a cpu that consumes less power.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 17, 2008 @04:09PM (#22776834)
    What kills me is that people talk about "body heat powered" and "implantable". You need a temperature differential to generate power - I suspect that there is the same differential inside the body as there is in a glass of room-temperature water. You'd need an external radiator (like implants in your ears), which isn't nearly as attractive as something that just goes in your body.
  • by Jerry Coffin ( 824726 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @04:22PM (#22776968)

    This seems to be a complete other kind of advancement than regular chip evolution we've seen so far.

    There's not enough in TFA to say for sure, but I'd guess rather the opposite. The main thing they mention is a lower power supply voltage. Power supply voltages have been dropping steadily for a long time. Once upon a time, the most common logic family was the 7400 series, which all used 5 volt power supplies. Somewhat later 3.3 volt CMOS logic was introduced. Most CPUs, memory, etc., now use somewhere between 1 and 2 volts.

    For the most part, you get a trade-off between voltage and speed -- with a higher voltage, you can charge up a more reactive load more quickly, giving faster rise and fall times. That translates directly to higher bus speed.

    At the same time, the power you use is the product of the voltage and the current, so as you raise the voltage you raise the power usage. Worse, the current you drive through a given impedance also rises linearly with the voltage -- so the power usage is proportional to the square of the voltage.

    That (probably) explains to a large degree how/why they've reduced the power usage by a ration of 10:1 by reducing the voltage by a ratio of something like 4:1 (in theory, a 10:1 power reduction should imply a voltage reduction by the square root of 10, roughly 3.16).

    In any case, however, nothing in the article really suggests that they've departed a great deal from the path everybody's been following for quite a while. Of course, they may have done something truly radical here -- but based on what they've said, that isn't necessarily the case.
  • by jbengt ( 874751 ) on Monday March 17, 2008 @10:09PM (#22779628)
    (preview is my friend, preview is my friend, preview is my friend . . . )
    Power is power, electrical or horse.
    Intel core 2 duo => approx 35 watts = 0.047 HP,+/-

"An open mind has but one disadvantage: it collects dirt." -- a saying at RPI