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A matter of scale

Adaptive voltage scaling helps to solve power consumption problems. By Olivier Wilms.

Graphics and baseband processors in the latest mobile communications equipment have high energy demands. But, with no breakthrough in battery technology expected before the arrival of micro fuel cells, the functionality offered by 3G phones can only be offered at the expense of standby and talk time.
However, power management schemes can reduce the energy required to perform a given task and on/off, frequency scaling and dynamic and adaptive voltage scaling techniques are commonplace in today’s embedded devices.
The physics of power consumption in a standard cmos process are complex, but understanding the basics will help specifiers and designers to ask the right questions when developing new silicon.
CMOS circuits present three major sources of power dissipation: switching losses, usually dominant for the well designed circuit; short circuit currents, caused by the simultaneous switching of n- and pmos devices; and leakage current, produced by sub threshold effects and substrate injection. Leakage gets worse as geometries get smaller.

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Vanessa Knivett

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