Everyone wins with energy-efficient computers

At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco in August, Intel Corp. president Paul Otellini emphasized “performance per watt” — delivering more computing power per watt of electricity.Concern about energy efficiency isn’t new, but has been concentrated in the notebook market until now. Steve Smith, vice-president of Intel’s Digital Enterprise Group, says his company has been looking for ways to build energy-efficient chips for notebooks since the 1980s, but “in the last five years or so, we increasingly recognized the need for performance per watt in other segments.”
IT departments are concerned about the power and heat issues as they try to pack more computing power into the limited space of data centres. And both ergonomic and economic issues make the case for more energy-efficient desktops.
Intel is trying to address this by applying ideas originally developed for notebooks to its desktop and server processors, and through some new ideas, including the dual-core processors the company is preparing to ship.
In the second half of 2006, the chipmaker will be shipping the first iterations of a new microarchitecture built on dual-core designs and its 65-nanometer fabrication technology: A notebook chip code-named Conroe, a desktop processor called Merom and a server version called Woodcrest.
Computer makers should be shipping machines built on those chips before the end of 2006, Smith says. In addition, Intel will be working with PC manufacturers to implement such power-saving ideas as the ability to slow down the processor when a user isn’t demanding the machine’s full power — something analogous to your notebook’s sleep mode, but with the ability to change states much faster. In fact, Smith says, some notebooks do this already.
Computers should be delivering three-and-a-half times the performance per watt by the end of 2006 that they do today, Smith says, and in time Intel believes it can get up to 10 times the performance. In part this is obviously a marketing move. Users just aren’t getting so excited about raw performance any more. Most people’s computers have all the power they need. So of course Intel is looking for a new approach. Emphasizing energy efficiency is a good idea. Although notebook computers have less room to grow, Smith predicts energy-efficiency efforts will push battery life from four or five hours on a charge to eight by 2008.
I’ve heard promises of improved battery life before and learned to believe them when I see the results, but that would be desirable.
Beyond that, reducing computers’ energy use is just a good thing for everyone’s bottom line and for the planet. These things have become big contributors to energy use, and making them more efficient will save money for every organization that uses them (which is pretty much every organization) and help us control our over-use of energy — which, like it or not, we are going to have to start doing.

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Grant Buckler
Grant Buckler
Freelance journalist specializing in information technology, telecommunications, energy & clean tech. Theatre-lover & trainee hobby farmer.

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