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Plug-n-play MCVR delivers 'smart' energy savings

Posted: 02 Mar 2011     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:plug-and-play MCVR  processing chips  DC-DC converter 

Harvard graduate student Wonyoung Kim demonstrated a new device with the potential to reduce the power usage of modern processing chips with energy-efficient multi-tasking.

The advance could allow the creation of "smarter" smartphones, slimmer laptops, and more energy-friendly data centres. Kim's on-chip, multi-core voltage regulator (MCVR) addresses what amounts to a mismatch between power supply and demand.

Kim's research at Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) showed in 2008 that fine-grain voltage control was a theoretical possibility.

At the recently held Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC), Kim presented a paper showing that the multi-core voltage regulator (MCVR) could actually be implemented in hardware. Essentially a DC-DC converter, the MCVR can take a 2.4V input and scale it down to voltages ranging from 0.4 to 1.4V. Built for speed, it can increase or decrease the output by 1V in under 20ns.

The MCVR also uses an algorithm to recognise parts of the processor that are not in use and cuts power to them, saving energy. Kim says it results in a longer battery life (or, in the case of stationary data centres, lower energy bills), while providing the same performance.

The on-chip design means that the power supply can be managed not just for each processor chip, but for each individual core on the chip. The short distance that signals then have to travel between the voltage regulator and the cores allows power scaling to happen quickly, in a matter of nanoseconds rather than microseconds, further improving efficiency.

Voltage scaling

Figure 1: The multi-core voltage regulator responds almost instantaneously to changes in power demand from each core of the processor. As a result, the power supply matches the demand more closely, conserving energy. Image courtesy of Wonyoung Kim, Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

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