Chip could open way to lighter laptops, smarter phones

Monday, February 28, 2011

WASHINGTON - There was a time when a laptop weighing five kg was sold, a mobile phone was larger than a pocket and an iPod played only music. But now a new chip may lead to “smarter” smartphones, lighter laptops, and more energy-friendly data centres.

Harvard graduate student Wonyoung Kim’s on-chip, multi-core voltage regulator (MCVR), addresses what amounts to a mismatch between power supply and demand and help reduce power consumption.

“If you’re listening to music on your MP3 player, you don’t need to send power to the image and graphics processors at the same time,” Kim says, according to a Harvard University statement.

“If you’re just looking at photos, you don’t need to power the audio processor or the HD video processor. It’s like shutting off the lights when you leave the room.”

The on-chip design means that the power supply can be managed not just for each processor chip, but for each individual core on the chip.

The short distance that signals then have to travel between the voltage regulator and the cores allows power scaling to happen quickly - in a matter of nanoseconds rather than microseconds - further improving efficiency.

The MCVR also uses an algorithm to recognize parts of the processor that are not in use and cuts power to them, saving energy. Kim says it results in longer battery life, while providing the same performance.

Although Kim estimates that the greatest demand for the MCVR right now could be in the market for mobile phones, the device would also have applications in other computing scenarios.

Used in laptops, the MCVR might reduce the heat output of the processor, which is currently one barrier to making slimmer notebooks.

Filed under: Science and Technology

will not be displayed