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Energy-saving PCs consume 80% less power

Posted: 28 Apr 2009     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:sleep mode  plug-and-play hardware  low-power computer  computer systems 

Personal computers may soon save large amounts of energy by "sleep talking." Computer scientists at UC San Diego and Microsoft Research have created a plug-and-play hardware prototype for PCs that induces a new energy saving state known as "sleep talking."

Normally PCs can be in either awake mode—where they consume power even if they are not being used, or in a low power sleep mode—where they save substantial power but are essentially inactive and unresponsive to network traffic. The new sleep talking state provides much of the energy savings of sleep mode and some of the network-and-Internet-connected convenience of awake mode.

UC San Diego computer science Ph.D. student Yuvraj Agarwal presented this work at the USENIX Symposium on Networked Systems Design and Implementation (NSDI 2009). Computer scientists at UC San Diego and Microsoft Research in Redmond, Washington and Cambridge, UK collaborated on this project and the NSDI 2009 paper, "Somniloquy: Augmenting Network Interfaces to Reduce PC Energy Usage."

"Large numbers of people keep their PCs in awake mode even though the PCs are relatively idle for long blocks of time because they want to stay connected to an internal network or the Internet or both," said Agarwal. "I realised that most of the tasks that people keep their computers on for—like ensuring remote access and availability for virus scans and backup, maintaining presence on instant messaging (IM) networks, being available for incoming voice-over-IP (VoIP) calls, and file sharing and downloading—can be achieved at much lower power-use levels than regular awake mode," said Agarwal.

Following this realisation, the team built a small USB-connected hardware and software plug-in system that allows a PC to remain in sleep mode while continuing to maintain network presence and run well-defined application functions. It supports instant messaging applications, VoIP, large background web downloads, peer-to-peer file sharing networks such as BitTorrent, and remote access. The computer scientists say their system is easily extensible to support other applications.

Somniloquy prototype

Somniloquy prototype

The computer scientists named their system Somniloquy, which means "the act or habit of talking in one's sleep." In fact, the system allows a PC to appear to "say" to other hosts on the network, "I'm awake and I can perform non-power-intensive tasks"—even though the PC is in sleep mode. If more computational muscle or resources present on the PC such as stored files are required, Somniloquy wakes up the PC.

The goal of Somniloquy is to encourage people to put their PCs in sleep mode more often, for example when they are not being used for computationally demanding tasks. "Reducing energy consumed by wall-powered devices, especially computing equipment, offers a huge opportunity to save money and reduce greenhouse gasses," said Agarwal.

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