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IBM's new chips slash power consumption

The computing giant is coming out with a new line of PowerPC chips that will consume less power by shutting down parts of the chip that aren't in use.

IBM is coming out with a new line of PowerPC chips that will consume less power by shutting down parts of the chip that aren't in use.

The PowerPC 405LP will contain circuitry that will turn sections of the processor off and on as needed, similar to the Banias chip coming from Intel in 2003. Combined with existing power-management features such as silicon-on-insulator (SOI) technology and copper wiring, the new on-off features could lead to a chip that uses one-tenth as much power as predecessors.

The chip, which will come out next year, also contains integrated functions for performing data encryption and voice recognition. So far, IBM is working with five or six companies that are considering incorporating the chip into consumer electronics devices and PDAs, a representative said.

Power consumption has become an obsession for microprocessor designers in recent years and will be one of the hot topics at the Microprocessor Forum next week in San Jose, Calif.

Increasing speeds and transistor counts have meant that chips require more energy. The growing energy demands, however, conflict with how these chips are used.

Computer manufacturers are trying to squeeze all-day battery life out of their notebooks. Similarly, server manufacturers want to compress hundreds of blade servers into racks without setting the room on fire.

Some industry experts have predicted that 10 years from now, microprocessors could produce as much heat, for their proportional size, as a nuclear power plant if changes don't get implemented.

IBM will present a paper on the 405LP at next week's forum, while Intel will discuss Banias. Transmeta, the processor designer that popularized low-power chips, will also present papers on its future chips and discuss ways to compare chips for energy efficiency.

Although IBM's power-modulation technology will appear first in the PowerPC line, it will also likely show up elsewhere. IBM manufactures chips on behalf of a number of companies, including Hewlett-Packard, and licenses its technology. AMD, for instance, will incorporate SOI into its Athlon processor later this year.

"IBM has outlined an aggressive road map for next-generation chip technologies for consumer computing products and applications," Lisa Su, director of emerging products for IBM Microelectronics, said in a statement. "These new low-power capabilities are made possible through IBM's unique combination of design and manufacturing technologies."

The new IBM chip will also include encryption technology. In 1999, privacy groups protested when Intel included a serial number on the Pentium III. The serial number existed so the chip could make easier and more secure encrypted transmissions.

Although the privacy risks were remote, consumer protests prompted the company to remove the feature.