Intelís Latest Chips: Itís All About (Low) Power - The Soul of a New Machine
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In the meantime, however, consumer electronic devices, and chips, are continuing to advance. On the horizon is a ďhandtopĒ computer. It features a form factor slightly larger than a PDA and is supposed to offer integrated wireless connectivity. Bill Gates showed off the first handtop prototype at WinHEC in Seattle last spring. The first models could be on the market before June of next year. Theyíre supposed to be able to run all day on battery power. If batteries with longer lives in such a small form factor are not available by then, something has to give Ė which is why Intel is working so hard on chips that draw as little power as possible.
There is room for improvement here. One area Intel has been working on is transistor design. Electricity leaks from transistors even when they are in their ďoffĒ state. This wasted electricity decreases battery life. Mark Bohr, senior fellow and director of Intel Process Architecture and Integration, has some good news in that area. ďTest chips made on Intelís ultra-low power 65nm process technology have shown transistor leakage reduction roughly 1000 times from our standard process. This translates into significant power savings for people who will use devices based on this technology.Ē
Itís hard to say exactly how much improvement, measured in battery life, the average consumer will see. It is true that ďWith the number of transistors on some chips exceeding one billion, it is clear that improvements made for individual transistors will multiply into huge benefits for the entire device,Ē as Bohr asserts. However, new chips will also contain more transistors than the older chips. Current transistors measure 50nm in gate length; the transistors Intel will produce with the 65nm process will measure only 35nm. Granted, they will be leaking far less electricity than their larger counterparts, but more transistors will still draw a good bit of power. Otellini promised that, in about five years, we would see chips that consume one tenth the power of the current crop, while chip performance itself improves by another factor of ten.
Itís not just the transistors that are giving these chips their improved performance and reduced power consumption; itís the silicon. First used on its 90nm architecture chips, Intel is continuing to develop its strained silicon. Strained silicon improves the drive current in chips, making them operate faster for the same power level Ė thus improving performance while decreasing power consumption. The first generation of strained silicon improved performance by 10-25 percent while increasing cost of production only two percent.
As you would expect, the new chips will offer two cores and support 64-bit instructions. Initially, however, they will not support hyperthreading.
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