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6/12/2008
02:20 PM
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Intel Attacks Energy Waste

The company is collaborating with industry groups and vendors to build standards around advanced power management technologies.

Despite all the energy-saving advancements in computers, Intel researchers believe they can do a lot more, particularly in controlling when CPUs and chipsets are powered up and when they can remain idle.

On Wednesday, Intel held an open house for its labs at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., showing off dozens of research projects and concepts that may someday blossom into technology that finds its way to products.

The area of research that's closest to being productized is power management. Intel calls the technique "platform power management," which involves technology that continually monitors changes in a computer's operation and intelligently reduces power, or turns it off altogether, when a CPU or modules within a chipset are not needed.

Today, there are lots of events that occur independently in a computer when it's not in use. For example, while a person is reading an e-mail or a Web page or talking to a friend, the operating system and chipset are constantly polling other components on the motherboard, as well as peripherals such as wireless interfaces, hard drives, USB ports, and hard drives, to see if anything has changed.

An easy example is the display. The screen image is refreshed regularly, even when nothing has changed. Rather than power up the processor or chipset for such a chore, Intel advocates having the static image stored in memory on the device, so the rest of the computer can remain idle until something actually changes.

The same concept can apply to all other peripherals. Technology can be added that tells the OS and microprocessor that nothing has changed and there's no need to wake up.

Intel is currently working with industry forums, display vendors, OS vendors, and others in the industry to build standards for incorporating this type of intelligence in devices. "Many different forums and vendors have to drive it," Greg Allison, business development manager for the project, said.

Intel sees advancements in platform power management being applied in all areas of computing, from mobile devices and notebooks to desktops and servers, Allison said. The technology associated with the initiative could someday reduce power consumption in systems by up to 50%.

The same using-only-what's-needed concept is being applied to the wireless modules Intel builds into chipsets for receiving and transmitting packets of data. Because there are time gaps between packets, a mechanism built into a network interface card could tell the communication module to go to sleep during those gaps, thereby cutting energy consumption.

The time between packets can vary from milliseconds to seconds, depending on the traffic, researchers said. Power consumption can be reduced by half when watching YouTube videos or Web browsing, or by as much as 80% when using Internet telephony.

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