Startup launches its first power-efficient chip

Firm claims its 64-bit processor uses only 5W to 13W of electricity running at 2GHz

A startup chip company is introducing a power-efficient processor it has been developing for three years, just as the market clamors for energy efficiency.

P.A. Semi is offering a dual-core, 64-bit processor that it claims uses only 5W to 13W of electricity running at 2GHz, making it 300 per cent to 400 per cent more power-efficient than comparable processors.

The company was making its PA6T-1682M PWRficient processor available to companies that would test it for possible use as an embedded processor in networking equipment for telecommunications, military or aerospace customers, co-founder and chief executive officer, Dan Dobberpuhl, said.

The chip is based on Power Architecture technology, which the company has licensed from IBM. P.A. Semi claims the new product has a better performance-per-watt rating than an IBM 670MP processor, an Athlon 64x2 processor from Advanced Micro Devices and the Core 2 Duo from Intel. But P.A. Semi won't be directly competing with AMD and Intel because it won't be selling into the server or personal computer markets with its initial product.

P.A. Semi's performance measures were not independently verified.

It had improved power efficiency through advanced dynamic power supply regulation, Dobberpuhl said. In older chip design, power coursed through the processor continuously. About 10 years ago, chip designers introduced dynamic power supply regulation in the processor block to start and stop the flow as needed, a process also called clock gating. But P.A. Semi gets more granular, clock gating not at the block level, but at the registry level within a block.

"That level of fine grain clock gating inside the block, nobody else has really done," Dobberpuhl said. "In our chips we have more than 25,000 gated clocks; most chips that do [block level] clock gating have maybe a few hundred."

Although the 1682 is targeted only at networking equipment, the company has plans to later introduce other members of the PWRfficient family, including single-core processors that could find a wider market in blade servers and some portable devices.

But even just in networking equipment, the chips could be a big help in energy efficiency, senior market analyst with Semico Research, Richard Wawrzyniak, said.

"For all the people who are concerned with their power budget, or they have run out of power budget, and they are trying to figure out some way to increase their performance, this makes a lot of sense," Wawrzyniak said.

Dobberpuhl was previously a vice-president at chipmaker, Broadcom, which acquired his company, SiByte, in 2000. He also spent 20 years at Digital Equipment developing microprocessor technology. Other co-founders and executives of P.A. Semi, founded in July 2003, worked with Dobberpuhl at Broadcom or SiByte.

Engineering samples of the 1682M sell for $US700 apiece while an evaluation kit carries a price tag of $US8500.

Power efficient operation of servers and other computers has become a top concern of data-center managers because of rising energy costs. It has long been a focus of P.A. Semi and its embedded processor development. "We were doing this before it was cool," Dobberpuhl said.

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Robert Mullins

IDG News Service
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