Startup Pitches Tech to Power Down Chips

 
 
By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2006-05-08
 
 
 

Chip startup Multigig said that its got an answer to rising data center power bills.

The 12-employee, Scotts Valley, Calif., company, which emerged from secrecy on May 8, has created new processor clock technology that it says can halve processor power consumption by recycling most of the electricity used to regulate processor clocks.

The technology, which Multigig is offering up to interested parties to license, is arriving at a time when concerns about the electrical consumption of computers is on the rise among many large businesses.

Meanwhile, a number of well-known companies, including Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, Hewlett-Packard have joined the Green Grid Alliance, for example, to foster the development of data centers that use less electricity.

"The clock is consuming well over half the power in a microprocessor," said Haris Basit, chief operating officer at Multigig.

"Thats mainly because the charge [used in a clock signal] is being taken from the power supply, used once and stuffed into the [electrical] ground. What we do is recycle that charge, so we save a lot of energy."

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Whereas todays chips use a series of PLLs (phase locked loops) and inverters to arrive at a frequency and distribute it internally—and its the distribution of the clock that uses energy—Multigig deploys a grid of self-oscillating circuits, made up of transmission lines in the form of a square.

It then forms the squares into a grid, allowing them to work in concert to regulate clock speed. Although it still works with an external PLL to set chip speed, the grid approach uses less power because it changes the way the clock signals are distributed.

"Now you have an entire grid, like graph paper, where each square has a pulse traveling around, each at same frequency…in many little rotations all over the chip," Basit said.

The approach saves power as the largest loss now comes from the resistance of the wires used to form the squares, he said.

The technology works the best in higher-performance chips such as graphics processors, which tend to run flat-out to tackle a job.

"A server version of a microprocessor would benefit more than something like a notebook processor," Basit said.

Based on its claims—Multigig claims its working with brand-name chip makers that are, at a minimum, evaluating its technology—the company appears to have a bright future.

Companies such as Advanced Micro Devices and Intel have been going to great lengths to hold down power consumption in their latest processors while also boosting performance.

Given that chip power consumption normally increases linearly as clock speeds move higher, Intel, for one, redesigned its forthcoming Core Architecture chips to run at lower speeds, but to get more work done per clock cycle.

The measure allowed it to up performance while also cutting power consumption.

But, "In our case, it doesnt work that way. Our relationship to frequency is not as close," Basit said.

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Thus, if a chip maker were to successfully implement Multigigs technology, the company says chips could be made to use even less power or to run faster while keeping their power.

Still, if it were licensed by a big-name company, Multigig technology would take time to make its way into products like server processors.

"It will be a while, because theres a lot of design flow that needs to be tinkered with" in building a new chip, Basit said.

Although Multigig technology may show up as soon as the end of 2006 in somewhat simpler types of chips, such as those that handle the conversion of analog signals to digital signals, he said.

To that end, Multigig will offer its own analog-to-digital converters, as well as timing devices that help to generate frequencies for wireless networks, among other things, Basit said.

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