Sleeping circuits awaken hopes for notebook PC energy savings

Intel has promised radically improved performance and reduced power consumption for mobile devices with the release of a...

Intel has promised radically improved performance and reduced power consumption for mobile devices with the release of a mobile-specific processor in 2003, writes Daniel Thomas.

The processor, code-named Banias, is based on a specially engineered chipset - current mobile processors are simply stripped down versions of their desktop counterparts - and uses a number of techniques to improve performance while using less power.

Speaking at the Intel Developer Forum, Paul Otellini, Intel's executive vice-president, said Banias uses "aggressive clock gating" to reduce power consumption. This means the processor will identify internal chip circuits that are not required for specific code execution and send a signal to a special clock gating circuit which will then disable the internal clocks controlling these areas - thereby cutting unnecessary energy expenditure.

"Only the unit [within the chip] that needs to operate is operating to execute a specific instruction," explained Mooly Eden, general manager of Intel's Israeli operations, where Banias is being developed. "All the rest of the chip is sleeping. If we need the execution unit, it works. If we need the cache, it is working. All the rest are not consuming any power.

"If we take as an analogy a house: we switch off all the lights we do not need. The only difference between Banias and the house is that Banias does this automatically."

A few junctions nearer on Intel's mobile roadmap is the introduction of the mobile Pentium 4. Frank Spindler, general manager of Intel's mobile platforms group,

conducted the first technology demonstration of the chip at the conference, and discussed the potential for new features such as wireless Internet communications.

"We expect to see a variety of mainstream, full-size, and thin and light notebooks based on the mobile Pentium 4 processor in the first half of 2002," said Spindler.

Initially the mobile Pentium 4s will run at about 1GHz but a 2GHz version should hit the streets by the second half of 2002.

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