Voltage regulator dims lights on processor parts

A Harvard researcher has developed a device that will be able to significantly reduce the amount of power required by processors – possibly leading to longer battery life and slimmer products.

Wonyoung Kim, an engineer at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), has created an integrated voltage regulatory system that can effectively shut down relevant parts of a chip in order to save energy when they are not being used.

The on-chip multi-core voltage regulator (MCVR), which as the name suggests will allow the function to be performed on a number of cores, had been theorised in a 2008 paper, but now the invention could soon be implemented in a wide variety of electronic devices that seek lower energy consumption.

“If you’re listening to music on your MP3 player, you don’t need to send power to the image and graphics processors at the same time,” Kim says. “If you’re just looking at photos, you don’t need to power the audio processor or the HD video processor.”

“It’s like shutting off the lights when you leave the room.”

The MCVR, which is essentially a DC-DC converter, uses an algorithm to work out which areas of the processor are not needed for a particular task and cuts power to them.

The high speed device is able to scale a 2.4-volt input down to a voltage ranging from 0.4 to 1.4V, and increase or decrease the output in under 20 nanoseconds.

With the voltage regulator on the chip it means that there is a shorter distance between cores on a processor, further improving efficiency.

“This is a plug-and-play device in the sense that it can be easily incorporated into the design of processor chips,” says Kim.

“Including the MCVR on a chip would add about 10 percent to the manufacturing cost, but with the potential for 20 percent or more in power savings.”