Intel’s Power Play

Processor giant adds power management advances that will significantly improve battery life and standby time.

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By Bhanu Kapoor
With the Ivy Bridge processor, Intel claims half the power at the same performance level or double the performance with the same power consumption as the Sandy Bridge processor.

The implications of 2X performance-per-watt improvement will be significant for server, desktop, laptop, tablet, and smart phone applications. You can be operating at the same frequency while either cutting the power consumption in half, or doubling the number of transistors leading to different types of performance and feature improvements.

The feature size reduction from 32nm for Sandy Bridge to 22nm for Ivy Bridge also gives you a more than 2X reduction is devices size. Ivy Bridge uses Intel’s 22nm 3D tri-gate transistors, which are also stacked on top of each other, allowing additional features for processors by placing transistors both horizontally and vertically. With a new 22nm process technology, Ivy Bridge represents a Tick in Intel’s processor roadmap. A Tick represents process technology advances and a Tock represents architectural advances. At 32nm, Intel’s second-generation HKMG process technology (the rest of the industry is coming out with its first-generation HKMG technology), Westmere and Sandy Bridge were the Tick and the Tock. At 45nm, Intel’s first-generation HKMG process technology, Penryn and Nehalem processors represented the Tick and the Tock processors.

The 2X performance-per-watt improvement allows Intel to increase the number of cores, improve HD graphics functionality with more samplers and shaders, or simply add graphics capability to processor versions that didn’t have it earlier. On the power-sensitive mobile devices, it allows Intel to cut down on power while extending battery life.

There are some additional non-Intel power advances that coming into play with the systems using the next generation of processors, as well. The computing devices will start using DDR3L standard for memory, which gives a 15% to 20% power reduction in memory devices. DDR3L memories operate at 1.35 volts compared to DDR3 devices, which operate at 1.5 volts.

Self-refreshing displays (LG’s Shuriken) also will reduce power consumption in the devices by relieving the CPU and GPU at times. These displays include a small embedded-memory buffer that holds the current display frame, relieving the GPU and CPU from refreshing when the display is static.

Intel’s Haswell processor, its Tock processor at 22nm, will include a system-level power management framework that will allow a 20X reduction in some aspects of power consumption. That equates to a full-day laptop and up to 10 days in standby mode. We’ll have more on this later.

–Bhanu Kapoor is the president of Mimasic, a low-power consultancy.


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