Power-saving pitches for notebooks at IDF

Intel's efforts to cut power consumption in chips are being matched by new energy-saving display and battery technology.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
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Tom Krazit
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SAN FRANCISCO--The most sought-after location in the Moscone Center this week? Along the wall, next to the plug.

The crowds that hovered around the electrical sockets during the three-day Intel Developer Forum here are telling evidence that something more needs to be done to keep an untethered notebook PC going for longer than a few hours. To tackle this, Intel is obsessed with reducing the power consumption of its chips. Other companies, however, are working on hoarding energy by extending battery life and by coming up with power-saving displays.

Intel hopes to see notebooks with eight hours of battery life as a standard feature toward the end of the decade, said Kamal Shah, Intel's Mobility Enabling Initiative manager. New notebook chips, such as Merom, will continue to improve performance without consuming more power than their predecessors, but help is also needed from other companies that contribute technology to a notebook, he said.

IDF Spring 2006

One Intel partner, Toshiba Matsushita Display, unveiled a new LCD (liquid-crystal display) design that can switch between progressive scan mode and interlaced scan mode, said Hiroyuki Echigo, senior manager for business development at TMD. The business is a joint venture of Toshiba and Matsushita Electric Industrial, known primarily for its Panasonic-brand products.

A display operating in progressive scan mode refreshes its image much more frequently than one in interlaced scan mode, used by most televisions to show pictures. Progressive scanning results in a more detailed image, but consumes a lot more power than an interlaced scan, Echigo said.

TMD's technology, known as dynamic display power optimization, allows the display to use progressive scanning to display rapidly moving images in games or movies, but to use interlaced scanning to save power when browsing a static Internet page or typing up a document. TMD developed the LCD panel technology, and Intel contributed a graphics controller and software that identifies the best scanning mode for the image data.

Intel said it is also working with the battery industry on more powerful sources of energy. One company, Sion Power, is working on technology that uses lithium sulfur as the primary ingredient in a battery, as opposed to the lithium ion ones found in most notebook PCs.

Lithium sulfur batteries can store much more energy than lithium ion models. However, batteries built using that technology only last as long as 60 recharge cycles, said Mark Jost, vice president of marketing at Sion Power. Sion hopes to extend the recharge cycles of lithium sulfur to the standards set by lithium ion, but the Tucson, Ariz., company does not expect to begin production of lithium sulfur batteries until the first half of 2008, he said.

Correction: This story originally misstated the relation between the weight of lithium ion batteries and Sion Power's lithium sulfur batteries. The lithium sulfur batteries are lighter.