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Innovative on/off transceivers slash up to 80% power usage

Posted: 01 Apr 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Semiconductor Research  transceiver  data centre  Moore's Law 

Semiconductor Research Corp. scientists have claimed to have made remarkable progress in reducing serial link power by as much as 80 per cent. According to them, the innovation at the University of Illinois (Urbana) is a novel on/off transceiver to be used on chips, between chips, between boards and between servers at data centres.

The researchers estimate the technique can cut power up to 44 times for communications, extending Moore's Law by increasing computational capacity without increasing power. "While this technique isn't designed to push processors to go faster, it does, in the context of a data centre, allow for power saved in the link budget to be used elsewhere," said David Yeh, SRC director of Integrated Circuits and Systems Sciences.

Today on-chip serial links consume about 20 per cent of a microprocessor's power and about 7 per cent of the total power budget of a data centre. By using transceivers that only consume power when being used, a vast amount can be saved from their standby consumption.

The reason the links are always on today is to maximise speed. The innovative architecture reduces their power-up time enough to make it worth turning them off when not in use. The team estimates that data centres alone would save $870 million per year by switching to their transceiver architecture.

On/off transceivers on chip

By using on/off transceivers this chip could use 80 per cent less power for communications and signaling. (Source: SRC)

One of the lead researchers, Professor Pavan Kumar Hanumolu, explained: "Typical links take a long time (several micro-seconds) to synchronise the receiver with the transmitter because of slow feedback loops employed in the clock generation and data recovery circuits. As a result, such links take a long time to turn on (referred to as power-on time) from the off state and therefore cannot be turned on and off rapidly. Such a long power-on time severely limits the ability to save power during the idle link period. The new techniques reduce link power-on time to 20ns and facilitate power savings even during short idle times. To quantify this further, compared to the typical link operating at 1 per cent utilisation, the new link consumes 44 times less power."

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