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Clockless ARM chip watches power use

A radical new design of the asynchronous ARM processor loses the clock to reduce power consumption and noise.

Rupert Goodwins
Rupert started off as a nerdy lad expecting to be an electronics engineer, but having tried it for a while discovered that journalism was more fun. He ended up on PC Magazine in the early '90s, before that evolved into ZDNet UK - and Rupert evolved with them into an online journalist.
Rupert Goodwins
British chip designer ARM and Philips Electronics offshoot Handshake Solutions have announced a clockless ARM processor core.

The design, which will be available in the first quarter of next year, is intended for use in smart cards, consumer electronics and automotive applications.

Clockless processors, also known as asynchronous or self-timed chips, have no central timer switching the chip at a regular rate. That means they emit far less radiation and use less power than standard processor designs. When there is no processing activity, they consume close to no power, yet can respond instantly to requests.

"Applying Handshake Technology to the industry-leading ARM architecture will result in a new type of ultra low-power processor, enabling new classes of application," Handshake Solutions CEO Wouter Van Roost said in a statement.

Handshake Solutions' technology is already in use in millions of chips, the company said, in 80C51 microcontrollers that can be run in synchronous or asynchronous mode.

Many other chip companies have investigated asynchronous computing, including Intel, IBM and Motorola. However, the ARM-Handshake product is thought to be the first general-purpose asynchronous commercial processor to reach the market. Problems with previous designs have included lackluster performance, difficulties in programming and interfacing with existing memory, and peripheral busses that assume a clocked processor.

Handshake Solutions and ARM said that the new processor is compliant with existing ARM architectures and can be run in both modes.

Rupert Goodwins of ZDNet UK reported from London.