A View from the Top: A Virtual Prototyping Blog


Lower Power Design – Think Big!

By Johannes Stahl

In his book “Hot, Flat and Crowded” the author Thomas Friedman gives us a comprehensive perspective on the fundamental equations this planet operates from. He connects population, natural resources, energy and information technology into these equations. One of his conclusions for energy production and consumption balance is to have a systemic approach, which optimizes the system from the top level with intelligent energy generation, distribution, storage and consumption. He warns that our current system for energy production and distribution is largely overdesigned for delivering peak capacity 24/7.

Nobody designs electronic products from a power perspective with the same energy waste today. Energy is either very limited (mobile devices) or expensive (infrastructure). Semiconductor companies are doing a lot to optimize energy consumption from using the best low power silicon processes, efficient micro and macro architectures and advanced, software-driven power management. By implementing all of these approaches at the software, RTL and transistor levels, semiconductor companies have been able to squeeze an amazing amount of processing power onto single chips.

Is that enough? Have we managed power every way possible in the best possible ways? Maybe not. Here are a few experiments for the undecided:

· 1st: Use your smartphone to browse, comment on, and update your Facebook feed and see how long it takes to empty your battery that way.

· 2nd: Take several HD videos of your incredibly entertaining kids . I recommend keeping a sharp eye on your battery level and wearing a glove on the hand holding the device.

· 3rd (for next year): Use your LTE enabled smartphone and stream a movie from the internet.

What is going on here? Clearly high-speed video and the related high-speed wireless access are the main power drains on you battery. This trend is only going to accelerate in the future, as 3D video and LTE-A will be experiences consumers will want to pay for.

All of these experiences have one thing in common – Lots of digital signal processing. The only way to achieve the best signal processing algorithm is to start telling the algorithm designers that they have to be power conscious and optimize their algorithms much more than they used to for performance and power.

So if you want to save big, go and talk to your algorithm design teams. They need both some recognition and some well-deserved pressure to save your day. As Friedman said, “either we are going to rise to the level of leadership, innovation, and collaboration that is required, or everybody is going to lose big.” The winners in the semiconductor space will be those that rise to the challenge of designing to save energy at the algorithm level.

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