Low Power Design Course

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011 by Robert Cravotta

In last week’s Question of the Week I asked “what makes an embedded design low power?” I asked if there was a way to describe low power design such that it accommodates moving the threshold definitions as technology continues to improve. The reader responses encompassed a common theme – that the magnitude of the system’s power consumption is not what defines it as a low power design. Rather, you must take into account the end-use requirements and compare the final implementation with other implementations for analogous functions to confirm that the “low power” implementation completes the function at less cost and/or less energy.

The impetus for this question comes from a new information center about the basics of design that we have added to Embedded Insights to supplement an online course that I recently put together and presented. The course is hosted at EE Times as part of their Fundamentals feature, and it is called Fundamentals of Low Power Design using the Intel Atom Processor.

A challenge in creating the course was to create an approach that imparted useful information to every type of embedded developer – not just the people that were interested in the target processor (the Intel Atom in this case). I developed a spectrum of low power design that expands the sweet spot concept that I have proposed for processor architectures. In this case, the spectrum identifies six (6) different target implementations that share a common goal and available techniques for low power/energy designs – but they may define their thresholds and optimization approaches differently. The categories identified in the spectrum are energy harvesting, disposable, replaceable, mobile, tethered with passive cooling, and tethered with active cooling. I briefly describe each of these categories in the course, and I will follow-up with articles that focus on each one.

The Basics Information Center aggregates and organizes information on the basics for design topics. The inaugural page includes a set of low power optimization datasheets for a number of processor architectures that I researched when developing the course – however, including them in the final version of the course material would disrupt the flow of the sponsored material, so we are providing them as supplemental material. The concepts in the datasheets are a work-in-progress, so we welcome any comments that help us to tweak and fill-in the content so that the lower power spectrum and datasheets become a more useful tool for describing embedded processors. The end goal is to take what we learn from this effort and incorporate it into a parts search engine for the Embedded Processing Directory.

The datasheets currently reflect the organization of the course material; we will probably need to change them to make the information more generally accessible. Please share any ideas or specific information that we can use to refine the datasheets.


Leave a Reply