Startup Pitches Power Savings

Technology tunes chips' clock speed

Chip startup multigig says its got an answer to rising data center power bills.

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

The technology, which Multi-gig is offering up for interested parties to license, arrives at a time when concerns about computers electrical consumption are on the rise for many large businesses.

Whereas todays chips use a series of PLLs (phase-locked loops) and inverters to arrive at a frequency and distribute it internally, Multigig deploys a grid of self-oscillating circuits, each made up of transmission lines in the form of a square. The grid allows the circuits to work in concert to regulate clock speed. Although the grid approach still uses an external PLL to set chip speed, it uses less power because of the way the clock signals are distributed.

Multigigs grid approach, called RotaryWave, still sets a chips clock speed on the signal from an external PLL, but it uses less power because it changes the way in which those clock signals are distributed inside each chip.

Changing the approach saves power because, by recycling electricity, it then has to add only enough power to overcome losses from resistance in the wires used to form each square, said Haris Basit, chief operating officer of Multigig, in Scotts Valley, Calif.

Multi-gig appears to have a bright future, as company officials said Multigig is working with brand-name chip makers that are, at a minimum, evaluating its technology.

Companies have been going to great lengths to hold down power consumption in their latest processors while also boosting performance.

Chip power consumption normally increases as clock speeds move higher. Intel, for example, redesigned its forthcoming Core Architecture chips to run at lower speeds while getting more work done per clock cycle.

For Multigig, however, "it doesnt work that way. Our relationship to frequency is not as close," Basit said.

Thus, if a chip maker were to successfully implement Multi-gigs technology, officials said, chips could be made to use even less power or to run faster while keeping their power.

Still, even if it were licensed by a big-name company, Multi-gig technology would take time to make its way into products like server processors, given the design tinkering that would need to take place, Basit said.

Timing Is Everything

Multigig officials say its RotaryWave processor clock technology could someday be used to cut processor power consumption in half. The technologys benefits include:

* Recycling RotaryWave reuses electrical clock timing signals instead of discharging them. Thus, existing chips can be made to use less power, and new ones could be made faster without associated power gains.

* Lockdown RotaryWave clocks are able to self-synchronize, meaning a grid of the clocks can stay in sync without additional signaling, which would use power.

* Easygoing RotaryWave is compatible with major chip manufacturing technologies including CMOS, used to make processors, and with SiGe (silicon germanium) BiCMOS for communications chips. It also tolerates electrical noise from power supplies and other sources.