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6/7/2011
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Startup Aims To Cut Chip Power Needs In Half

SuVolta’s new processor designs call for 50% power savings compared to traditional chips, with an eye toward phones, tablets, and laptops.

Start-up SuVolta came out of stealth mode Monday to announce a new microprocessor design that reduces power consumption by up to 50% or more while maintaining the same performance levels of conventional microprocessors.

The SuVolta PowerShrink platform minimizes the electrical variation of the millions of transistors on a chip. When processors are made smaller, the transistors require different voltage levels, which cause power leakage and reduced power efficiency. Yet with the SuVolta PowerShrink, manufacturers can regulate the voltage levels by reorienting the channels between chip transistors, which reduces power leaks, said Bruce McWilliams, CEO of SuVolta, in an interview.

"What we developed is a new way to make that transistor channel that fixes the problem of voltage and controls power leakage," McWilliams said. "The reason it is such a big deal is the way we fixed it creates a two times reduction of power but maintains the same processing speed."

If SuVolta's claims are true, this could be a significant technology achievement in semiconductors that are used in phones, tablets, and portable PCs since it would help extend battery life. The reason chips using ARM-based architecture have dominated the mobile phone and tablet markets is due to their relatively low power consumption and strong performance.

SuVolta will sell a PowerShrink license to semiconductor companies. Its first customer is Fujistu Semiconductor, who SuVolta partnered with to develop the technology at 65 nanometers. Both companies say they have verified substantial reductions in threshold voltage (VT) variation and have confirmed device functionality.

"I think you're going to see many companies follow in Fujitsu's footsteps," McWilliams said. "You'll see more of the semiconductor ecosystem companies, including fabless semiconductor companies, working with us because we enable enormous value to all of them, because power is central to their needs. You'll most likely see more announcements from us coming soon."

ARM would certainly be a great customer for SuVolta, but McWilliams wouldn't discuss whether SuVolta has been in negotiations with ARM. He did hint, however, that a SuVolta release that quotes an ARM official could be justifiable cause for speculation of future releases.

"SuVolta's innovative PowerShrink platform offers a promising approach to extending the scaling of CMOS transistor technology," said Krisztian Flautner VP of research and development at ARM, in a SuVolta release. "The results could significantly lower power consumption in future high-performance, low-power chips."

In another quote in the release, Pieter Vorenkamp, Broadcom's senior VP of operations engineering, said that the PowerShrink will have a "dramatic impact on the industry" because of the promise of reduced power consumption.

Power consumption has been a hot topic for semiconductor companies looking to place their chips in mobile devices. Intel announced its Tri-Gate processor in May, as a new 3-D microprocessor technology that allows devices with the chip to have lower active state power consumption, lower off-state power consumption, and higher performance.

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