Operating transistors at half steam could help squeeze more out of batteries.

As more and more functions are crammed into cell phones and other portable electronic devices, the capacity of their batteries is being sorely tested. To meet this challenge, Finnish handset manufacturer Nokia is turning to a novel approach in chip design that could slash the energy consumption of chips tenfold.

The technique involves the operation of chip transistors at voltage levels below the thresholds they normally need to switch on and off. In effect, this permits idle transistors or those performing low-performance functions to be placed in a kind of standby mode.

“In computer design, power consumption is getting to be a major driving force,” says Jamey Hicks, director of the Nokia Research Center in Cambridge, MA. This is particularly the case with mobile or embedded devices, he says: “The limit on the size of the device gives us a limit on the total energy budget.”

Read the full article »