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Perspective on Power – 300 Designers and 20,000 Miles Later…

Comments(1)Filed under: low-power, power, Hardee, low power, PSO, MSV, DVFS, MVt, EDA360 Tech on Tour

If you're like me, one of the things you appreciate about traveling is the contrasts. It's great to experience the different cultures, geography, architecture and cuisines across the world. It's the differences that make it exciting. It was fun to experience those differences once again as, for the first time in a while, I had a series of road trips taking me to seven major cities across North America, Europe and Israel. Given the timing of this trip, one of the biggest contrasts was crawling along an Autoroute in heavy snow to an airport in France and only just making our plane in time, then landing the same day in Tel Aviv where they were experiencing what still seemed to be a Mediterranean summer! But on a technical level, it was the similarities, not the differences, that I found more striking.

I was traveling with a couple of Cadence's low power experts for a series of full-day seminars under the EDA360 Tech on Tour banner. These were no marketing pitches to huge rooms of barely-interested engineers, but much more intimate expert-to-expert discussions with smaller groups of designers. We had plenty of time to interact with the attendees: we encouraged the sessions to be interactive, we had breaks for informal discussion, and many folks stayed around after to continue discussions over some suitable libations. In case we missed anyone, we also had a simple yet focused survey questionnaire to gauge where folks are at with their adoption of low power design techniques.

My first impression of the similarities was this: if there was a time when I could characterize chip design in North America as being dominated by computing and networks, Europe by wireless and automotive, and Israel by a dazzling array of largely communications-focused start-ups, those times are gone. Such is the convergence of applications, and shifting of the electronics markets to the consumer, that the dual challenges of performance and power seemed to be ubiquitous.

Based on the discussions and the interest in the various aspects of low power design we were presenting, and the survey results, I can broadly divide the 300 or so designers we met into three categories:

The newbies: Maybe around 15-20% of the people we met were new designers in their companies who wanted to get up to speed on advanced techniques that, in general, their companies were already using.

The mainstream: This group was maybe about a half of the audiences on average -- experienced engineers who now have an increased need to optimize for power and want to apply advanced techniques, either to reduce power density or because their next designs are moving to process nodes where they know leakage will be an issue.

The old hands: The remaining one third or so of the folks we met already knew all of the advanced techniques and had been using them for some time. They probably could have given the presentations we were delivering just as capably, but luckily we had an ace up our sleeve -- our team included a member of our Advanced Low Power Services team who could talk about techniques so advanced that even this group went away feeling they had learned something useful! Most, but not all, of this group were working on devices for the mobile market.

Two more of the similarities were that first, that this audience make-up did not significantly vary across the globe and second, we're starting to see significant application of advanced low power techniques in non-mobile (non-battery) applications.

By advanced low power techniques, I mean the ones that apply to power domains -- splitting the design into separately-powered areas where the voltage can be shut off to reduce leakage (Power Shut-Off -- PSO, aka State Retention Power Gating -- SRPG) or supplied with different voltage levels (permanently in the case of Multi-Supply Voltage -- MSV, or dynamically in the case of Dynamic Voltage and Frequency Scaling -- DVFS). The basic techniques ("basic" undersells them - there's actually a lot of good technology involved, but in general they're well automated and do not have the impact on implementation, verification and design closure that the "advanced" techniques do) include clock gating and Multi-Threshold Voltage (MVt) optimization.

Given these definitions, I can share one edited highlight of our survey results in the graph to the right. Practically everyone is already using the basic techniques -- no real surprise there, but over 60% are already using advanced techniques, a number which is predicted to grow to a massive 95% on the next round of designs! Even given that this was a Cadence seminar to customers interested in low power design, I find that number interesting. A major part of this is the adoption of advanced low power techniques beyond mobile equipment, mentioned earlier.

My conclusion: get on board! The advanced low power revolution is in full swing!

Pete Hardee


By affiliate marketing on December 12, 2010
I just wanted to say a big thank you for a great blog post.
I always find that I learn great things from you and your work and could never appreciate it enough. You do a wonderful job at opening my eyes and I really feel like I have learn something from you.
Keep up the fantastic blog posts and I have just tweeted the post on Twitter and will be joining your RSS feed.
Thanks again

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