A Harvard graduate student has developed a voltage regulator with the potential to reduce the power usage of modern processing chips.
Wonyoung Kim, has developed and demonstrated a device, the multi-core voltage regulator which addresses what amounts to a mismatch between power supply and demand in modern gadgets.
Gadgets today are expected to be smaller yet more powerful with numerous applications available to their users. However, all the applications and features of modern gadgets such as cell phones and laptops use a lot of energy – even if the application itself might not need the devices’ full power.
“If you’re listening to music on your MP3 player, you don’t need to send power to the image and graphics processors at the same time,” Mr. Kim pointed out. “If you’re just looking at photos, you don’t need to power the audio processor or the HD video processor.”
The M.C.V.R. essentially detects the part of the gadget’s processors that are not in use and cuts power to them, saving energy.
“It’s like shutting off the lights when you leave the room,” said Mr. Kim.
This results in longer battery life and could allow for the creation of “smarter” smart phones and slimmer laptops. The technology also has potential applications in data centers where they could help lower energy use and costs.
As a DC-DC converter with an on-chip design, the M.C.V.R. can take a 2.4-volt input and scale it down to voltages ranging for 0.4 to 1.4 v. An algorithm recognizes the parts of the processors that are not in use and ensures power is only sent to where it is needed.
«This is a plug-and-play device in the sense that it can be easily incorporated into the design of processor chips,» says Mr. Kim. «Including the M.C.V.R. on a chip would add about 10 percent to the manufacturing cost, but with the potential for 20 percent or more in power savings.»
Mr. Kim has obtained a provisional patent for the M.C.V.R. with his Ph.D. co-advisors at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Ge-Yeon Wei, Gordon McKay professor of electrical engineering and David Brooks, Gordon McKay professor of computer science.
The research was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Division of Computer and Network Systems and Division of Computing and Communication Foundations.