Intel at ISSCC '12: More Research into Near Threshold Voltageby Anand Lal Shimpi on February 20, 2012 1:45 PM EST
At IDF last year Intel's Justin Rattner demonstrated a 32nm test chip based on Intel's original Pentium architecture that could operate near its threshold voltage. The power consumption of the test chip was so low that the demo was powered by a small solar panel. A transistor's threshold voltage is the minimum voltage applied to the gate for current to flow. The logical on state is typically mapped to a voltage much higher than the threshold voltage to ensure reliable and predictable operation. The non-linear relationship between power and voltage makes operating at lower voltages, especially those near the threshold very interesting.
At this year's ISSCC Intel is presenting details of a number of NTV (near threshold voltage) research projects. For starters, Intel is sharing more details on Claremont - the 32nm NTV Pentium processor demonstrated at IDF. At 3MHz Claremont can operate at 280mV and scale up to 1.2V at 915MHz. Minimum power for Claremont is a meager 2mW.
Intel is also sharing details of a 22nm NTV SIMD engine for use in processor graphics. Given Intel's new focus on improving processor graphics performance, the fact that we're seeing more Intel driven research around GPU technologies isn't surprising. It's also important to point out that Intel needs the experience in building NTV circuits for both CPUs and GPUs if this technology is ever to make it into an actual product. NTV operation grants much better power efficiency where possible, making eventual productization very desirable.