'Smarter' smartphones and slimmer laptops

Coming soon

The discovery could pave the way for the creation of ‘smarter’ smartphones, slimmer laptops, and more energy-friendly data centres.

Wonyoung 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. If you’re just looking at photos, you don’t need to power the audio processor or the HD video processor,” he said.

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.  The MCVR, essentially a DC-DC converter, can increase or decrease the output by 1V in less than 20 nanoseconds.

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

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

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

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