Those Rolling Blackouts Give Us Pause

By Francis Chu  |  Posted 2001-02-12

Until the recent energy crisis in California, no one really paid much attention to how much power was being used to keep racks full of Wintel servers running in server farms and data centers. We were more interested in packing as many multiprocessor boxes as possible into a rack and seeing how many transactions they could churn out in a second. But with rolling blackouts hitting Silicon Valley and energy in short supply, maybe its time we started thinking about the need for power-efficient computer systems.

Even before the energy crisis hit the Pacific Northwest, we saw some intense competition in the notebook space between Transmeta and Intel over which company has the most power-efficient processors.

Although initially not a threat to Intel in terms of market share, the employment of Transmetas Crusoe processors in notebook lines from vendors such as Sony and Fujitsu caused Intel to retaliate with the release of low-power processors last year.

Last month, Intel struck back again with the release of the ultra-low-power 500MHz mobile Pentium III processor, claiming it is the most power-efficient chip ever built, able to run at less than one volt of power.

However, looking more closely at the specs, it becomes apparent that the Intel chip can run at less than a volt only when running at a relatively low 300MHz. This is because Intel is bounded by the Pentium III architecture. We expect to see more power-efficient processors coming out later this year, using such advances as the 0.13-micron manufacturing process and copper circuitry.

Recently, startup companies, including RLX Technologies and, have begun to release energy-efficient Web servers using Crusoe processors. These servers are more compact than Wintel servers because less space is needed for cooling; the Crusoe processor operates at a lower temperature than do Intel chips.

The power- and space-efficient server is a good idea, but it probably will not see much implementation in the enterprise world due to the lack of multiprocessing support and to performance problems in the Crusoe processor.

But who knows? As we have seen in the market for mobile PCs, competition might prompt Intel to come out with energy-efficient Xeon processors for the server market.

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