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Getting Smart About Power Protection

Tom's Hardware Visits Intel's Motherboard Team

Can A Motherboard Be Smart About Power?

Intel’s first-generation power supervisor technology is implemented on the DP67BG motherboard. That board has surge protection (a feature you’d probably expect from a power supply, but won’t always find), safeguarding it from dangerous inrush current, plus over and undervoltage. For now, it’s just on the P67-based platform, but Brian says it’ll be on all future boards, including the next-gen platforms. Additionally, it’ll include standby protection in the event of a quick surge.

Now, the implication there is that if you’re fast enough, you can protect against ESD events using technology like this. It didn’t sound like Intel’s power supervisor is quite to that point yet. However, Brian did mention he has a two-year roadmap, and that the feature’s third generation works toward it, along with power sequencing.

Exploring The Benefits Of Dynamic Phase-Shedding

“Essentially, if you have a power supply—and it could be the worst power supply in the world—and you plug it into the board, and let’s say your 5 V rail is all over the place, 12 V is trying to come up, and 3.3 V, can’t find it, this device will wait for all rails to hit the board before it initiates a power-good to the board, and then it’ll drive the rails. So, 30-40% of the time when we see returns, they’re for compatibility issues—there are just so many power supplies out there. This tries to put that to bed by making stuff that was out of spec work within the spec.”

Brian already had prototypes up in the lab, which were being tested with some supplies from Europe, Asia, and Brazil that previously wouldn’t boot at all, but were running just fine with the third-gen power supervisor tech.

He also told us that upcoming boards are going to have LEDs that look a lot like MSI’s active phase switching indicators. The entire lineup does already employ dynamic phase shedding, which only uses the number of power phases required by the processor at any given time. But those will be the first Intel boards able to visualize when phases are dropped to a trickle in order to save power.

Lessons Learned

It was great to get an opportunity to film in Intel’s facility, see what the company is doing to improve its motherboards, freely ask questions of the guys responsible for actually building the boards, and get a sneak peak at projects in progress.

My hope is that Tom’s Hardware can do more of this sort of coverage, get access to the minds behind the products you encounter on store shelves. This time I asked questions as Intel’s Brian Forbes covered the bases. Next time, I’d like to present some of what you’d like to explore. Follow me on Twitter; as we plan more vendor interaction, I’ll tweet a prompt, give you some time to ask anything you’d like addressed, and show up with what I hope to be a thoughtful list.

Special thanks to Intel for opening its doors, and Brian Forbes for spending time with us.

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