Is My iPhone Hurting The Earth?

When it comes down to it, are we pushing the available power around instead of truly saving it?

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Of course we all know that power is the number one consideration in SoC design today but despite the fact that it is so well accepted and felt acutely by design and verification teams, we are still missing the boat as far as the bigger picture.

From the perspective of a wanna-be treehugger, I think we fall short in realizing the grand impact of all this focus on power savings.

The very addition of circuitry to manage power – particularly in our fancy-schmancy, dearly-loved handheld devices – causes an exponential amount of verification cycles to be run just to make sure they are going to work when they come out of the fab. An EDA exec who used to do design at AMD said 90% of the servers in the server farm there were used for verification – and we are talking about data centers of a significant size. The story is surely the same across the board and considering that I have yet to hear of datacenters being run purely on non-fossil-fuel-based power, the energy has to come from somewhere to run those servers.

Consider too an area that is tangentially connected: hybrid vehicles and electric cars. Who is paying to charge the electric cars? Here too we must consider the manufacturing cost of those vehicles, which is subsidized by our government, but can also extract a higher cost on the earth because of the inability to recycle batteries, and the more sophisticated design in the first place, which – of course – means it would have required more verification.

I would say we all are paying for the perceived feel-good benefit.

If human beings actually have anything to do with causing global warming or making it worse, shouldn’t we be considering the true impact of the focus on low power? ‘They’ say the biggest cause of global warming are fossil fuel based power plants, which still run most data centers the last time I checked.

Of course I’m not advocating not having these devices we love so much, because goodness knows I have more than one…ok, two… myself, but let’s open the dialog for ways the EDA industry can better address these issues. Maybe it’s a better way for EDA tools to compile and verify, maybe it is more efficient algorithms – whatever it is, surely there is room for discussion.

Chime in with your thoughts.