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Novel on/off transceivers offer as much as 80% power savings

01 Apr 2015  | R. Colin Johnson

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Pavan Hanumolu

University of Illinois Professor Pavan Hanumolu invented the world's first on/off transceiver capable of commercialisation and that could save $837 million per year in data centre electricity bills. (Source: University of Illinois)

To prove the concept, Hanumolu's team build what they believe the world's first on/off transceiver fast enough to do the job, a 7Gb/s model, and characterised its performance compared to the always-on variety. Other groups have tried to build on/off transceivers, but according to Hanumolu, their power-on time was too slow, in the 100s of nanoseconds range, and of course there is Energy Efficient Ethernet (IEEE 802.3az) but it requires microseconds to power-on, whereas the University of Illinois design takes just 22 nanoseconds.

Of course, the power savings is dependent on the application, and circuits that are always-on, like clocks, would not be appropriate. However, there are so many seldom, but necessary, serial links on- and between-chips and systems that on average the new transceiver consumes 10-times less power than the convention kind, according to Hanumolu.

"We are talking about electrical links that may or may not be separate chips or may be integrated," Hanumolu said. "Almost all of the link circuitry, the entire transceiver, is turned on and off. In other words, the transceiver is turned on only for the duration of data transfer period and turned off (consumes nearly zero power) when idle. Link active and idle periods depend on the application," he said

The researchers estimate that serial links are idle more than 50-70 per cent of the time on average, making a significant waste of power to leave them on all the time. Even mobile platforms could benefit from smart on/off transceivers, especially if they become a standard part of SoC architectures. The researchers claim that their on/off transceivers can be implemented on any technology node and are appropriate for both memory and communications links as well.

Members of SRC that have free access to this technology include GlobalFoundries, IBM, Intel, Freescale, Texas Instruments, Advanced Micro Devices, Analog Devices and Qualcomm. Funding was provided by the Texas Analog Centre of Excellence, SRC and the University of Illinois.

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