Chip startup Suvolta has developed a process that when used in manufacturing chips helps them conserve power, and it has shown off the results in a test with ARM. In that test, an ARM microcontroller core consumed 50 percent less power than it previously would have running at 350 MHz. While these microcontroller cores aren’t the chips inside phones or servers, the Cortex M cores are ARM’s bet for the internet of things.
And if you think reducing power consumption on mobile devices is important, imagine having to plug in 40 or 50 sensors in order for your smart home to function. Those connected door locks or thermostats need power too.
Yet, that’s not all that’s packed into the news about Suvolta’s ARM partnership. Jeff Lewis, SVP business development and marketing with Suvolta, notes that what happens with the Cortex M core could be duplicated in the higher-level A-15 and other ARM cores that are used in mobile phones. So while the Suvolta technology isn’t designed into those or used for manufacturing ARM’s cores today, an ARM licensee could easily bring the power-saving tech to the upper tiers of ARM cores if it chose.
That’s a pretty big deal, and could enable better battery life on many devices — from phones to servers (especially on servers, since on phones the CPU core is only a fraction of the power consumption). Suvolta, which was founded in 2006, realized that by tweaking the types of chemicals layered onto a chip during its manufacture, it could cut power consumption. It calls this the Deeply Depleted Channel process.
The technology works best for systems on a chip — multiple cores combined together onto one chip. SoCs, as they are called, are becoming more important as companies integrate more functions on one chip.
Suvolta on Tuesday also announced a partnership with UMC, a semiconductor manufacturing plant, where UMC can make chips using the Suvolta Deeply Depleted Channel process at sizes down to 28 nanometers. The chip-making process aims to cram as many transistors on a chip as possible, and the lower that process number is, the more advanced (and energy efficient) the chip is. The ARM core tested was manufactured at 65 nanometers.
I’ve been amped up about Suvolta for a few years now, and am excited that its technology is gaining ground with big name companies such as ARM. We’re placing computing in more places, but without new breakthroughs in battery life, those computers will have to have wires or compromise compute for battery life. With Suvolta, they can double their run-time without time-consuming architecture changes or expensive manufacturing techniques.