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Why Low Power Is The Most Critical Design Issue Of All

Comments(0)Filed under: green, thermal, low-power, power, Hardee, mobile, low power

With this posting, the Cadence Community is launching a Low Power Design blog. This initial posting was written by Pete Hardee (right), director of solutions marketing at Cadence.  

If over sixteen years in EDA has taught me anything, it's taught me that success needs two main ingredients. The first is a real tough design problem, experienced by a significant portion of the market, which has a high economic value to solve. The second is a differentiated solution that really solves that problem. That is why I am really happy to have joined Cadence six months ago, assuming marketing responsibility for the low-power solution.

The more I get into this, the more I realize that we have both of those criteria. Don't get me wrong -- I'm not saying our solution is perfect -- but we're solving the problem in a way that many big customers seem to believe is the right way, and moreover they seem to be very willing to help us get the kinks out. For a marketing guy, this is a great place to be!

The need for low power design is almost ubiquitous. It's always been there for mobile equipment such as cell phones and digital cameras, but the advent of convergent Internet-enabled mobile devices has recently accelerated the need. Your "phone" has rapidly become your multi-function communication, entertainment and productivity device, much-vaunted for so long. It uses the same small form-factor we've been used to for years, with seemingly exactly the same size of Lithium-Ion battery -- a battery with which we get really upset if it doesn't make it through at least a complete day without needing a recharge.

Having worked pretty closely with mobile device manufacturers and their semiconductor suppliers over most of those sixteen years in EDA (most of which was spent at Synopsys and CoWare), that came as no surprise. What was an eye-opener for me was the rate at which home consumer electronics and high-performance computing segments are adopting advanced low power design techniques.

The Consumer Mandate

In consumer electronics, cost and quality are paramount. While the attractiveness of "green" and reduced power consumption per se is becoming more of an issue, for equipment that plugs into the wall socket, low power design is really about managing the thermal profile of the device. This reduces cost by reducing the need for expensive chip packages, heatsinks and fans, and improves quality in the form of reliability.

Most people have some device in their home that demonstrates the effects of poor thermal design. For example, I must have gone through about six different DVR boxes. I won't mention the manufacturer, or even let on whether it's cable or satellite to protect the names of the (not so) innocent. The device consistently fails when it gets hot, so now I make sure that its airflow circulation is unobstructed, and so far so good.

Thermal issues are definitely a big deal in high-performance computing. The classic illustration is from Intel back in 1999 -- a graph that shows power density in a single processor on a trajectory towards that of a nuclear reactor or a rocket nozzle. Hence the industry is going towards multi-processors, instead of continuing to push clock speed further into the gigahertz range.

Going For Green

A bigger surprise for me is that "green" really is a big deal in this segment. If you're a natural skeptic like me, you may view "green" as a feel-good, environmentally-friendly marketing bandwagon that companies like to jump on. Then I read somewhere that all the U.S. data centers put together consume more power than the state of Utah. Utah's reaction to this seems to be to attract all new US data centers to set up in that state -- they have been doing a good job of that lately.

In closing, a further attraction for me of working with the low power solution at Cadence is how well it fits with EDA360. I can think of no other solution that illustrates better the need to span silicon, SoC and system realization -- all the way from transistors to system software -- to help our customers build more power-efficient products.  I hope you've enjoyed this first entry for the Low Power blog category. It would be great to hear from you, and you will be hearing more from me and the low power team at Cadence in the near future.

Pete Hardee



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