Andrew Chien, who runs Intel’s Future Technologies group, talked about energy. Specifically, he talked about the Smart Grid, which adds intelligence, communication, and energy storage into the power grid. The net result can be more efficient delivery of power where it’s needed. Of course, the Smart Grid will benefit Intel, since it’s nothing more than a gigantic information technology project.
Smart grids imply things like smart buildings, too. There are huge efficiencies that could be gained merely by making existing appliances and home electronics more efficient. The technology for smart grids is scalable down to individual homes. Intel showed a simple monitoring device that could attach to your home wiring and recognize an individual device or appliance by identifying the pattern of its actual power ramp as it starts up. This can give a homeowner the data needed in order to intelligently target where improvements can be most effective in reducing power consumption.
Perhaps more interesting to PC users was Wen-Hann Wang's discussion of the company’s overall approach to power management, including some interesting peeks at new developments.
Resilient Circuits. Modern CPUs often have limits placed on them by guard bands, which can restrict the performance of the CPU, but prevent rare error conditions when a circuit is overdriven. Resilient circuits build in error monitoring to detect those instances, and if spotted, can slow the circuit down or reduce voltage. The net result is either an improvement in overall throughput or a reduction in overall power usage. Early tests show throughput increases of up to 21% or power reductions of 37% by removing guard bands and implementing resilient circuits.
Super Capacitor Augmentation. Today’s mobile PCs require substantial batteries that can deliver high levels of current on demand. Similarly, the power bricks that attach to wall power must deliver relatively high current loads. What’s interesting is that those high current loads are really only needed during very short, transient peaks of system performance.
If you build capacitors into the battery and power bricks, the size of those batteries and power bricks can be substantially smaller and lighter. Interestingly, the actual energy stored in the battery can be increased, but the battery is lighter due to removing the need to deliver beefy amounts of transient power.
Low-Power Network Agent. Users increasingly want access to the data on their home PCs. If you imagine thousands of people leaving their PCs on, even in a fairly low-power state, that’s potentially millions of kilowatt-hours of power wasted when no one actually needs access to those powered up PCs.
Imagine now a very low-power network agent that can be “told” through a script what types of access are important or not, and also have some limited storage. If a user simply sends data to the PC to be uploaded, the network agent can temporarily store it. If an urgent request to retrieve data from the PC is sent, the network agent can wake up the PC and deliver the data. Since the PC is off most of the time, substantial power savings can be realized.