CMOS voltage regulator to reduce CPU power consumption by up to 35 percent

San Francisco (CA) - In an effort to fine-tune power management, Intel discovered that accelerated voltage regulation could save considerable amounts of power and deliver up to 40 minutes more computing time, when applied to the standards of today's notebooks. Today, the company unveiled its "CMOS voltage regulator," and promised to make the technology available within a few years.

With all announcements for the immediate future out of the way, Intel typically dedicates the third day of its Developers' Forum to provide a "blue-sky" outlook, featuring how computing may change five or ten years down the road. In a keynote for Thursday's session, Justin Rattner, senior fellow and director of the firm's corporate technology group, focused on the topic of a "user-aware platform," which brings together devices that support the user, rather than the other way around.

Once again, "power efficiency" was the catch-phrase of the day, with Rattner offering a longer range view on how Intel plans to drive down power consumption. One of the company's new strategies is accelerated voltage regulation. Compared to today's coarse-grained power management that often disallows adjustments in voltage during fast-changing workloads, this new technology, according to Rattner, will enable voltage level adjustments in a fraction of a microsecond.

To accomplish this, Intel promises to throw out the voltage regulators scattered around today's motherboards, and in its place, integrate a new CMOS voltage regulator inside a single package, located close or even inside the CPU. Faster voltage regulation means increased response time, and less power wasted by each core.

Operating at an approximate frequency of 100 MHz, the new CMOS voltage regulator will be capable of reaching 85% efficiency, which translates into a 30 to 35% reduction in power consumption. If AVR were available today, said Rattner, it alone could provide the user with 20 to 40 minutes more computing time.

In his demonstration, Rattner showed a system equipped with an ultra-low-voltage (ULV) Pentium M 738 and an 855GM chipset - components which are available today. However, Rattner acknowledged the market will have to wait "several more years" until its CMOS voltage regulator becomes commercially available.

Later, Rattner showed some other features of Intel's "user aware computing" initiative, designed to make people's everyday computing lives easier without it dominating their busy schedules. One demo featured an image filter that allows users to create visual filters on the fly, in order to for them to locate specific images or photographs in their digital library. Also, the company is investing in new anti-virus technologies. Rattner believes the tools used to battle worms and viruses no longer need to be centered around descriptions and signatures, but can instead rely solely upon heuristics - logic that is capable of judging a virus by its behavior.

"We were surprised how well this system works," Rattner bragged. "We ran 8000 hours of worm attacks with known viruses and synthetic ones we created in our lab. Every virus was caught and we achieved a perfect false-positive scenario."

Rattner also touched on new developments in Intel's Wi-Fi Positioning System (WPS) research, which has been going on for some time. Intel is now testing a "time of arrival" concept, similar to sonar. Data packets are sent between the client and an access point; by measuring the time required for packets to travel between two points, Intel claims it can calculate the distance between a Wi-Fi access point and a client device. Rattner said that positioning could become as accurate as to within three feet.

WPS technology is intended to be complementary to GPS, and could be deployed everyplace GPS isn't - for example, inside buildings. Possible applications include asset management for tracking down critical items in large buildings. There's also a security application for WPS, Rattner said: If a network client is determined to reside outside a certain perimeter, access to the network by any device claiming to be that client, can be denied.