Semiconductor industry hones in on power management

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As demand on semiconductors grows, power management is becoming more important.

Every semiconductor out there today relies on some form of power in order to carry out its various duties. Unsurprisingly, power plays a huge role in how fast a processor is able to operate and how useful it can be for different applications.

As the technology world continues to evolve, the semiconductor industry is increasingly focused on power management. With power-hungry applications like artificial intelligence (AI) and sensors on the rise, creating components that operate efficiently is crucial. Doing so not only helps entire systems run more smoothly, it also cuts back on power-related costs.

An Industry-Wide Shift

Even until recent years, low-power design principles were only widely applied in the mobile device space. Many believed that they were only beneficial when designing devices that run on battery power. However, that is obviously no longer the case.

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Today’s devices rely on energy-efficient processors that keep them running cool regardless of how they receive power. That trend has only become more visible as even the most compact 2-in-1s are now capable of running graphically-intense programs and AI modeling simulations (to some degree).

As AI and the use of sensors increase the demand for processing power, the need for components with an efficient design is becoming crucial.

Frank Ferro, senior director of product marketing for intellectual property (IP) cores at Rambus, says, “Semiconductor IP designed for low power is adopting many of the design techniques used for mobile devices.”

He goes on to note that this includes features like clock gating and power gating. These help limit the power consumed by inactive circuits. Ferro also notes that lower frequency often translates to lower power consumption, a fact that has led many chipmakers to adopt techniques like dynamic frequency scaling to throttle performance as needed.

Power is Money

For applications with a high processing rate (like AI, data centers, and cloud computing) power equals money. The two are linked in a variety of ways.

Cooling systems in data centers often account for 30-40 percent of total operating costs. As such, increasing the efficiency of components leads to less power lost to heat. Therefore, it costs less to keep things cool.

Moreover, chips that need less power and/or are more efficient can fit in devices with a smaller form factor. This is especially important for consumer devices that continue to shrink with each generation.

Although power consumption has always been a part of component design, it is often overshadowed by metrics like performance. Today’s industry is beginning to recognize that sacrificing a bit of performance to create a chip with more efficient power utilization is a winning tradeoff. In some cases, the change in performance might not even be noticeable to the end user. However, the resulting effects, like longer battery life and a device that doesn’t get hot, certainly are.

As the tech world continues to focus on areas like 5G, AI, virtual reality, and cloud computing, keeping an eye on power management will be more important than ever.

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