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Haswell chip primer: How Intel pinches power

Intel's Haswell processor is first and foremost about power savings. Here's how the chipmaker got a serious battery life boost.

Haswell chip layout.
Haswell chip layout.

How serious is Intel about battery life on its next processor? Very.

On Thursday, the world's largest chipmaker hauled out two chip experts to brief journalists on the ways Intel's fourth-generation core processor, aka Haswell, reduces power consumption and boosts battery life.

Intel is claiming a 50 percent improvement in battery life for devices using Haswell compared to the current Ivy Bridge silicon.

The chip will be officially introduced on June 3 and is expected to power future Windows, Apple, and Chrome OS computers.

The information below was provided by Rani N. Borkar, general manager, Intel Architecture Development Group, and Kaizad Mistry, Technology and Manufacturing Group director, Logic Technology Integration at Intel.

Haswell improvements:

  • On-chip voltage regulator: Fully Integrated Voltage Regulator. This is an industry first, Intel said. Combines multiple voltage regulators into one. This reduces the motherboard footprint, leading to smaller and sleeker devices.
  • Power optimizer: Manages power consumption for the platform (entire device). This chip (inside Haswell) alone has as much compute power as an Intel 486 processor.
  • Active power reduction: Aggressive use of lower-power circuits.
  • Idle (standby) power reduction: Reduced by 20X over the previous generation. Architected new, ultra-low-power processor states.
  • Power planes: Added new power planes that can shut down most of the CPU transistors in standby mode.
  • Transistor leakage: Excessive leakage, which wastes power, is a big problem as transistors get smaller. On Haswell's Tri-Gate (3D) transistors, Intel was able to reduce the leakage of the transistors by a factor of two to three, without impacting performance.
  • Lowered minimum operating voltage: Lowered the minimum functional operating voltage. This reduces the active power.

A concept Intel laptop powered by a Haswell processor.
A concept Intel laptop powered by a Haswell processor. CNET