Feeds

Intel Labs unveils PC power plans

'Humongous' savings, tiny batteries

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

Engineers at Intel Labs are toiling away at a "holistic approach" to energy savings that could result in lower-power processors, shrunken power bricks and batteries and worldwide power bills shrinking by billions of dollars.

At a gathering of reporters Thursday in San Francisco, the director of circuits and system research at Intel Labs, Wen-Hann Wang, detailed the efforts of his small band of "world-class" engineers by dividing their focus into three areas: circuits, architecture, and platform.

Circuits: smaller and more resilient

The primary method of increasing a microprocessor's power efficiency has traditionally been to reduce its process size. At 32 nanometers, for example, Intel's recently released "Westmere" Core i7/5/3 processors have a transistor-to-transistor distance that's over 300 times smaller than the 10 micrometer process size of the company's 1971 groundbreaker, the 4004. And that power-saving shrinkage will continue: 22nm processors are expected to begin appearing next year.

But there's more to energy efficiency than mere process shrinkage. For example, Intel's high-k metal gate technology, first announced in late 2003 and first appearing in the 45nm Penryn line in 2007, launched in November 2007, not only allowed for further process shrinkage but also permitted lower threshold voltages.

Low threshold voltages - the minimum amount of juice a processor needs to come alive - are key to energy efficiency. At those low voltages, however, a processor's compute performance is also low - but as Wang pointed out: "Sometimes you don't need a lot of performance, like when you're doing email and a few applications."

Wang's team has a prototype "near threshold voltage" chip that can operate in a wide range of voltages, with compute power increasing as total voltage increases. And when operating near the threshold voltage, they claim to be able to increase energy efficiency by up to 800 per cent.

Unfortunately, when running a chip very near its threshold voltage, the signal-to-noise ratio is tight and errors can creep into the compute stream. In addition, a chip running on the margin will be highly susceptible to voltage droops. Add to that a number of other uncertainties that are present in even higher-voltage, higher compute-power situations, and things get dicey.

To the rescue come "resilient circuits," which Intel detailed at last month's International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), and which The Reg covered in some depth here. Wang characterized the philosophy behind resilient circuits by channelling both Meher Baba and Bobby McFerrin: "Don't worry, be happy."

Intel resilient circuits

As an added bonus, resilient circuits remove performance-robbing "guardbands"

Simply put, resilient circuits allow processors to keep tabs on themselves and their error rates, and to swiftly rerun tasks that have generated errors due to variations in supply voltage, temperature changes, or because of transistors that are pooping out due to old age. The compute pipeline can also be momentarily slowed to reduce error rates.

According to Wang, Intel's prototype resilient-circuit silicon can achieve a 37 per cent power savings when compared to conventional circuits, or - when cranked up to higher voltages - can improve throughput by up to 21 per cent.

As an added bonus, adding those extra checks and balances to ensure resiliency has only a nominal effect upon the overall transistor and power budget: "It depends on how agressively you want to correct errors, so there's a range," Wang told The Reg. He claimed the overhead to be between three and five per cent: "It depends on how happy you want to be."

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

More from The Register

next story
Ex-US Navy fighter pilot MIT prof: Drones beat humans - I should know
'Missy' Cummings on UAVs, smartcars and dying from boredom
Xperia Z3: Crikey, Sony – ANOTHER flagship phondleslab?
The Fourth Amendment... and it IS better
Don't wait for that big iPad, order a NEXUS 9 instead, industry little bird says
Google said to debut next big slab, Android L ahead of Apple event
Microsoft to enter the STRUGGLE of the HUMAN WRIST
It's not just a thumb war, it's total digit war
Netscape Navigator - the browser that started it all - turns 20
It was 20 years ago today, Marc Andreeesen taught the band to play
A drone of one's own: Reg buyers' guide for UAV fanciers
Hardware: Check. Software: Huh? Licence: Licence...?
The Apple launch AS IT HAPPENED: Totally SERIOUS coverage, not for haters
Fandroids, Windows Phone fringe-oids – you wouldn't understand
Apple SILENCES Bose, YANKS headphones from stores
The, er, Beats go on after noise-cancelling spat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Cloud and hybrid-cloud data protection for VMware
Learn how quick and easy it is to configure backups and perform restores for VMware environments.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.