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Shifting down a gear

Embedded processors learn to ease off in order to conserve power. By Philip Ling.

Managing power in any electronic system remains a conundrum – how much power do you spend monitoring and controlling the power? In a mains powered system, maximising efficiency may not be such a priority but for battery operated equipment it has never been more poignant.
A battery can account for 25% of the cost of a cellular handset, so extending the useful lifetime of handheld equipment must come through innovation, not through increasing the physical size of the battery. But with switching regulators in power supplies now achieving efficiencies of up to 97%, there is little room for further improvement there, so what else can be done?
The great advantage of cmos technology is that it only expends energy when it is switching transistors and the speed at which they can switch relates directly to the voltage at which they operate. It follows, then, that if the amount of transistors switching per second is reduced, the total energy consumption will fall. It also follows that, as the vast majority of synchronously switching transistors are found in a microprocessor, reducing the processor’s activity will result in less power used. This is, essentially, the theory behind voltage and frequency scaling.

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Vanessa Knivett

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