Running Cool

IBM is overhauling its design processes to focus on optimized power consumption and reduced heat dissipation.

In a move that will affect many of its product lines, IBM is implementing a company-wide initiative to optimize the energy efficiency of computing products--especially microprocessors. As a first step in the effort, the company is launching a low-power-computing research center at its research facilities in Austin, Texas. In addition to creating new chips designed for low power consumption and reduced heat dissipation, the new initiative will carry over to the designs of power-efficient servers, storage systems, PCs, and ThinkPad notebooks.

"Very quickly, energy and heat will go from being irritants to major product development limitations," says Mark Dean, an IBM Fellow and vice president of systems research. Dean is heading up the new initiative. "The demand for increasingly powerful systems is driving up the amount of heat within many new products," he adds. "If we dont address the power issue, products will become so hot that youll be able to cook with them rather than compute with them."

"Computers that are bigger, better, and faster tend to malfunction as hot microchips succumb to the rigors of temperature gradients within computer hardware," adds Jeff DuBois, an IBM spokesperson. DuBois says that IBMs new low-power initiative can lead to devices (from mainframes to handheld computers) that operate on one-tenth the power of current devices. Further details on new chip designs from IBM will be discussed at the upcoming Microprocessor Forum conference beginning October 17 in San Jose, California.

IBM isnt the only company concentrating on energy-efficient microchips. The trend is being driven by several chip makers as they move from .18-micron manufacturing processes to .13-micron processes. A .13-micron process reduces the die size of chips, minimizing power consumption and reducing heat dissipation. For example, VIA Technologies just introduced its new C3 processor, running at 866-MHz, which the company is billing as "the coolest running processor on the market today."