Intel researchers are trying to create small, integrated chips that will be able to run high-definition 1080p video on portable devices.
But the research could take five to eight years, a senior Intel engineer has said.
One of the main issues the researchers have to overcome is that of power leakage in processors, said Shekhar Borkar, an Intel fellow. Intel engineers are trying to reduce that power leakage while also scaling graphics performance on chips to bring richer multimedia content to smartphones and other portable devices.
Intel aims to boost graphics performance by using an on-chip accelerator that will allow multiple streams of graphics data to be processed simultaneously, using a technique called SIMD, or Single Instruction, Multiple Data. Rendering high-definition video is best done using SIMD techniques, Borkar said.
SIMD is already used in some graphics processors and CPUs. For example, Intel used SIMD with the MMX extensions it introduced for its Pentium processor in the 1990s, which allowed that chip to better handle video on desktops.
However, chip circuits that enable SIMD acceleration have high power leakage and don't scale down very well to low voltages, Borkar said. As video gets more popular on handheld devices, with the arrival of applications like mobile TV, engineers need to come up with new ways to manage power.
At the International Solid State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, Intel is presenting a paper about a SIMD accelerator that scales smoothly to ultra-low voltages and has circuits that are up to 8 times more energy efficient than what exists today.
The technology could find its way into mobile chips such as Intel's Atom processor in five to eight years, Borkar said.
"There's a lot of recent interest in how to reduce power consumption of SIMD operations so that we can take this technology and use it for really low-power graphics," he said.
Circuits that do SIMD processing today draw 1.1 to 1.2 volts, but Intel thinks it can come up with a design that will offer equal performance and draw only about 300 millivolts, Borkar said.
He hopes to apply the technology to server chips as well, to bring greater power efficiency to high-performance computing.
In some ways Intel is just now getting its feet wet in the market for small portable devices.
Last year it introduced its Menlow platform for what it calls mobile Internet devices, which are somewhere between a sub notebook and a cell phone.
Handset makers adopting Menlow chips have expressed concerns about their poor battery life, however. The Menlow platform has a set of components, including the low-power processor code-named Silverthorne and the Poulsbo chipset.
Intel hopes to fix Menlow's ills with the Moorestown platform, which will consume up to 10 times less power and is due for release in late 2009 or 2010, according to the company.