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Intel shows off low-power chips at ISSCC

Intel shows off low-power chips at ISSCC

Intel's ISSCC presentations include a chip capable of running at just 280mV and a new variable-precision floating-point engine.

Intel has announced development of an ulta-low voltage processor which is capable of operating at voltages as low as 280mV, claiming the feat will help it create future chips with a five-fold increase in energy efficiency.

Announced ahead of the International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, the chip is unlikely to win any performance awards. Based on a 32nm implementation of the original Pentium architecture, the prototype chip boasts a dynamic range reaching from 3MHz to 915MHz.

The result is the Intel Near Voltage Threshold Processor, which can tick over at a low speed while drawing just 280mV. When in 'turbo' mode, at these speeds something of a relative concept considering the top speed of the NVT process is under a gigahertz, the chip runs on just 1.2V.

Intel also announced a new design method for floating-point processing, which allows the prototype processor to vary the precision of its calculations dynamically. The result, Intel claims, is a boost in energy efficiency of around sevenfold over traditional implementations. According to Intel's planned presentation, the variable-precision floating point fused-multiply add unit hits 52 to 162 gigaflops per watt at 1.45GHz. The technology will be used in Intel's future graphics products, the company confirmed, along with a vertex and pixel shading lighting accelerator capable of processing 2.05 gigavertices a second while drawing just 151mW.

The announcements come as Intel looks to lead the way into 'exascale' computing: processing at an exaflop level, rather than the gigaflop or teraflop levels of current systems. To reach that goal, the company is attempting to create processor designs that boast increases in energy efficiency of between fifty and a hundred times that of current chips.

Much of the company's technology in this regard is limited to the supercomputing market. The Many Integrated Cores (MIC) cards, Knights Ferry and Knights Bridge, as an example are fifty-core highly-parallel processors that are unlikely to find their way into the average gaming rig.

While the technology is being developed for supercomputing applications, however, it will trickle down to the consumer level over time. Intel has already declared war on ARM in the tablet and smartphone space with a system-on-chip (SoC) variant of its Atom processor family with in-built Wi-Fi connectivity. Building in a five-fold increase in energy efficiency would certainly help encourage device makers to make the leap from the ARM instruction set architecture to x86.

Intel's work also holds the promise of cooler, faster chips on the desktop. As the number of transistors on a processor increases, so too does the risk of current leakage and heat dissipation issues. A vast increase in energy efficiency will certainly help the company in those regards until a practical alternative to silicon can be found and proved to work on a commercial scale.

Sadly, the company has yet to offer a hint as to when the technologies shown of at ISSCC will be making their way to the production lines, instead preferring to talk up its Ivy Bridge processor family featuring tri-gate transistor technology.

4 Comments

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Paradigm Shifter 20th February 2012, 14:01 Quote
Intel demoing a low-power CPU? I'm having de ja vu... :D

Also... original Pentium architecture... wonder if it has the division bug? :D ;)

This is great, depending on what core voltage gets what frequency. If it ticks over at 3MHz at 0.28V, fine... but if it needs 1.2V to hit any speed faster than a a few hundred MHz, it's not so great.

That said, I'm sure I've seen people undervolting their first gen Core i7s to incredibly low levels... and doesn't that chip run at 1600MHz @ 0.9-something volts when idle? And they're 45nm chips!
damien c 20th February 2012, 14:11 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Paradigm Shifter
Intel demoing a low-power CPU? I'm having de ja vu... :D

Also... original Pentium architecture... wonder if it has the division bug? :D ;)

This is great, depending on what core voltage gets what frequency. If it ticks over at 3MHz at 0.28V, fine... but if it needs 1.2V to hit any speed faster than a a few hundred MHz, it's not so great.

That said, I'm sure I've seen people undervolting their first gen Core i7s to incredibly low levels... and doesn't that chip run at 1600MHz @ 0.9-something volts when idle? And they're 45nm chips!

I thought I had seen something about a solar power chip, from Intel in the past and was about to try and find it to link to it but you got there before me.

Would be nice to see 5ghz+ using less than 1v though.
jakobfrimmel 20th February 2012, 14:20 Quote
now imagine millions of these all working together 0.o?!
The Bodger 20th February 2012, 15:21 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by bit-tech article
The result is the Intel Near Voltage Threshold Processor, which can tick over at a low speed while drawing just 280mV

This looks to be a bit jumbled; the chip doesn't 'draw' 280mV (millivolts), it runs from a supply of 280mV. The term draw is usually used for Power consumption figures.

Regarding Power consumption figures, they are very impressive looking; having checked the Intel press release, Intel claim that when idling at it minimum supply voltage, the chip uses a mind - bogglingly low 2mW of power! For something that could probably run a desktop operating system, I have to admit it looks impressive.

Edit: I appear to have got the power consumption info from an earlier release from Intel, relating back to the part in the previous bit-tech article pointed to by Paradigm Shifter.
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