Intel Unveils Details About Research Near-Threshold Voltage Processor

Intel’s “Claremont” NTVP to Help Cut Down CPU Power Consumption by Five Times

by Anton Shilov
09/15/2011 | 06:54 PM

At the Intel Developer Forum the world’s largest maker of semiconductors unveiled additional details about its research x86-compatible Near-Threshold Voltage Processor (NTVP) that uses novel ultra-low voltage circuits. The chip consumes milliwats of power and its technology will not allow x86 to compete head-to-head against ARM, but will also let Intel cut down power consumption of many-core chips for exascale supercomputers.


"Since 2006 Intel and the IA developer community have worked in partnership to realize the potential of multi- and many-core computing, with accelerating impact beyond high-performance computing to solving a wide range of real-world computing problems on clients and servers. What we have demonstrated today only scratches the surface of what will be possible with many-core and extreme scale computing systems in the future,” said Justin Rattner , chief technology officer of Intel, during his IDF keynote.

At the Intel Developer Forum the company demonstrated a Near-Threshold Voltage Processor. Using novel, ultra-low voltage circuits that dramatically reduce energy consumption by operating close to threshold, or turn-on voltage, of the transistors. This concept CPU runs fast when needed but drops power to below 10 milliwatts when its workload is light – low enough to keep running while powered only by a solar cell the size of a postage stamp.

While the research chip will not become a product itself, the results of this research could lead to the integration of scalable near-threshold voltage circuits across a wide range of future products, reducing power consumption by 5-fold or more and extending always-on capability to a wider range of computing devices. Technologies such as this will further Intel Labs' goal to reduce energy consumption per computation by 100- to 1000-fold for applications ranging from massive data processing at one end of the spectrum to terascale-in-a-pocket at the other.

Just like the famous research single-chip cloud computer (SCC), the code-named NTVP Claremont sports the super-scalar Pentium core without out-of-order execution capability. Though the same techniques could be applied to any Intel digital designs in the future, according to Intel's Sriram Vangal.

Extreme sensitivity to power supply and transistor threshold voltage variations complicates NTV design. Intel had to develop NTV-aware techniques to improve design robustness for reliable operation. The maker of microprocessors re-designed the on-die caches and logic and incorporated new circuit design techniques and methods to tolerate variations at NTV, while increasing the chip’s dynamic operational range.

Intel dramatically needs reduction of power consumption of chips based on x86 architecture. Nowadays the company’s microprocessors – and x86 technology in general – dominates the PC space and will hardly be challenged any time soon. But Intel needs to address the rapidly growing market of smartphones, tablets and other ultra-portable devices, where ARM holds over 95% market share. With current offerings, Intel’s chips are not truly competitive against ARM-powered offerings because of high power consumption. Moreover, Intel needs to build many-core chips for exascale supercomputers and those chips should be extremely power efficient as well. The code-named Claremont NTVP will help Intel to better learn about circuit-level power consumption trimming technology.