Start-up launches power-efficient chip

A start-up chip company is introducing a power-efficient processor it has been developing for three years.

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A start-up chip company is introducing a power-efficient processor it has been developing for three years.

PA Semi has launched a dual-core, 64-bit processor that it claims uses only 5 watts to 13 watts of electricity running at 2GHz, making it 300 percent to 400 percent more power-efficient than other, comparable processors. These figures have not been independently verified however.

The company is making its PA6T-1682M PWRficient processor available to companies that will test it for possible use as an embedded processor in networking equipment for telecommunications, military or aerospace customers, said Dan Dobberpuhl, co-founder and CEO.

The chip is based on Power Architecture technology, which the company has licensed from IBM. PA Semi claims the new product has a better performance-per-watt rating than an IBM 670MP processor, an Athlon 64x2 processor from AMD and the Core 2 Duo from Intel. But PA Semi won't be directly competing with AMD and Intel because it won't be selling into the server or personal computer markets with its initial product.

Dobberpuhl said that PA Semi had improved power efficiency through advanced dynamic power supply regulation. In older chip design, power coursed through the processor continuously. About 10 years ago, chip designers introduced dynamic power supply regulation in the processor block to start and stop the flow as needed, a process also called "clock gating." But PA Semi gets more granular, clock gating not at the block level, but at the registry level within a block.

"That level of fine grain clock gating inside the block, no one else has really done," Dobberpuhl said. "In our chips we have more than 25,000 gated clocks; most chips that do [block level] clock gating have maybe a few hundred."

Although the 1682 is targeted only at networking equipment, the company has plans to later introduce other members of the PWRfficient family, including single-core processors that could find a wider market in blade servers and some portable devices.

But even just in networking equipment, the chips could be a big help in energy efficiency, said Richard Wawrzyniak, senior market analyst with Semico Research.

"For all the people who are concerned with their power budget, or they have run out of power budget, and they are trying to figure out some way to increase their performance, this makes a lot of sense," Wawrzyniak said.

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