Intel’s Power Play

The implications of 2X performance-per-watt improvement will be significant for server, desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone applications.

By Bhanu Kapoor, Mimasic

With the Intel® microarchitecture, codename Ivy Bridge, Intel claims half the power at the same performance level or double the performance with the same power consumption as the Intel® microarchitecture, codename Sandy Bridge.

The implications of 2X performance-per-watt improvement will be significant for server, desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone applications. You can be operating at the same frequency while either cutting the power consumption in half, or doubling the number of transistors leading to different types of performance and feature improvements.

The feature size reduction from 32nm for Sandy Bridge microarchitecture to 22nm for Ivy Bridge microarchitecture also gives you a more than 2X reduction in device size. Ivy Bridge technology uses Intel’s 22nm 3D tri-gate transistors, which are also stacked on top of each other, allowing additional features for processors by placing transistors both horizontally and vertically. With the new 22nm process technology, it represents a Tick in Intel’s processor roadmap. A Tick represents process technology advances and a Tock represents architectural advances. At 32nm, Intel’s second-generation HKMG process technology (the rest of the industry is coming out with its first-generation HKMG technology), Westmere and Sandy Bridge processors were the Tick and the Tock. At 45nm, Intel’s first-generation HKMG process technology, Penryn and Nehalem processors represented the Tick and the Tock processors.

The 2X performance-per-watt improvement allows Intel to increase the number of cores, improve HD graphics functionality with more samplers and shaders or simply add graphics capability to processor versions that didn’t have it earlier. On the power-sensitive mobile devices, it allows Intel to cut down on power while extending battery life.

There are some additional non-Intel power advances coming into play with the systems using the next generation of processors, as well. The computing devices will start using DDR3L standard for memory, which gives a 15 percent to 20 percent power reduction in memory devices. DDR3L memories operate at 1.35 volts compared to DDR3 devices, which operate at 1.5 volts.

Self-refreshing displays (LG’s Shuriken) also will reduce power consumption in the devices by relieving the CPU and GPU at times. These displays include a small embedded-memory buffer that holds the current display frame, relieving the GPU and CPU from refreshing when the display is static.

Future Intel® microarchitecture, codename Haswell, its Tock processor at 22nm, will include a system-level power management framework that will allow a 20X reduction in some aspects of power consumption. That equates to a full-day laptop and up to 10 days in standby mode. We’ll have more on this later.


Dr. Bhanu Kapoor is the founder, president, and owner at Mimasic. He has played leading technology development roles in EDA startups ArchPro (now Synopsys), Atrenta, and Verisity (now Cadence). Bhanu graduated from the Indian Institute of Technology (IITK) in 1987 with a degree in Electrical Engineering. He has received M.S. (1990) and Ph.D. (1994) degrees in Computer Science from SMU, Dallas.