Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Increasing processor efficiency by 'shutting off the lights'

Plug-and-play multi-core voltage regulator could lead to 'smarter' smartphones, slimmer laptops and energy-friendly data centers

There was a time when a laptop could weigh 10 pounds and still sell—a time when a cell phone was larger than a pocket—and a time when an iPod only played music.

Today's consumers expect mobile devices that are increasingly small, yet ever-more powerful. All the bells and whistles, however, suck up energy, and a phone that lasts only 4 hours because it's also a GPS device is only so much use.

To promote energy-efficient multitasking, Harvard graduate student Wonyoung Kim has developed and demonstrated a new device with the potential to reduce the power usage of modern processing chips.

The advance could allow the creation of "smarter" smartphones, slimmer laptops, and more energy-friendly data centers.

Kim's on-chip, multi-core voltage regulator (MCVR) addresses what amounts to a mismatch between power supply and demand.

"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. "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."

Kim's research at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) showed in 2008 that fine-grain voltage control was a theoretical possibility. This month, he presented a paper at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) showing that the MCVR could actually be implemented in hardware.

Essentially a DC-DC converter, the MCVR can take a 2.4-volt input and scale it down to voltages ranging from 0.4 to 1.4V. Built for speed, it can increase or decrease the output by 1V in under 20 nanoseconds.

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 a longer battery life (or, in the case of stationary data centers, lower energy bills), while providing the same performance.

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.

Kim has obtained a provisional patent for the MCVR with his Ph.D. co-advisers at SEAS, Gu-Yeon Wei, Gordon McKay Professor of Electrical Engineering, and David Brooks, Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science, who are coauthors on the paper he presented this week.

"Wonyoung Kim's research takes an important step towards a higher level of integration for future chips," says Wei. "Systems today rely on off-chip, board-level voltage regulators that are bulky and slow. Integrating the voltage regulator along with the IC chip to which it supplies power not only reduces broad-level size and cost, but also opens up exciting opportunities to improve energy efficiency."

"Kim's three-level design overcomes issues that hamper traditional buck and switch-capacitor converters by merging good attributes of both into a single structure," adds Brooks. "We believe research on integrated voltage regulators like Kim's will be an essential component of future computing devices where energy-efficient performance and low cost are in demand."

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. In stationary scenarios, the rising cost of powering servers of ever-increasing speed and capacity could be reduced.

"This is a plug-and-play device in the sense that it can be easily incorporated into the design of processor chips," says Kim. "Including the MCVR on a chip would add about 10 percent to the manufacturing cost, but with the potential for 20 percent or more in power savings."

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation's Division of Computer and Network Systems and Division of Computing and Communication Foundations.

Caroline Perry | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Power and Electrical Engineering:

nachricht Did you know that specialty light sources are being used for water analysis?
22.03.2018 | Heraeus Noblelight GmbH

nachricht Neutrons pave the way to accelerated production of lithium-ion cells
20.03.2018 | Technische Universität München

All articles from Power and Electrical Engineering >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>