Intel and partners search
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Home » Battery Articles » Intel's Napa Could Boost Laptop Battery Life

Intel's Napa Could
Boost Laptop Battery Life

Intel and partners search for ways to stretch laptop battery life to a full workday on one charge.
Rich Fisco - PC Magazine

Mar. 3

Intel yesterday unveiled further details on its next-generation Centrino platform, currently called Napa, including information on how it plans to improve laptop battery life. The chip manufacturer told attendees at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco that it's working with other hardware manufactures to reduce power consumption in several key laptop components. The current industry goal is extending battery life to 8 hours, enough for a full workday. With the new Napa platform and improvements in LED and battery technology, Intel hopes to get there by 2010.

There are no hidden miracles coming in battery technology. There's a buzz about fuel cells, but "not yet," said Martin Reynolds, a vice president and research fellow at Gartner. Mass production of fuel cells is still in the distant future. for now, good engineering is what's going to bring battery life in laptop PCs closer to the 8¨Chour goal. "How do we get there?" Reynolds asked. The answer seems to be 100 milliwatts at a time.

Battery capacity continues to increase slowly, but that alone is not going to bring life up to 8 hours. The rest of the platform will have to run on less power: The LCD, chipset, wireless LAN, and even software all need to reduce their electricity consumption.

LCDs, especially their backlights, still use the most power. One of the companies participating in IDF, the Toshiba Matsushita Display Technology Co., discussed LTPS (low-temperature polysilicon) as one way to save power in LCDs. This technology increases transmittance (the proportion of light that can pass through the layers of an LCD), which makes the screen look brighter, while using less power.

Software also plays a big part in power consumption. First, the BIOS needs to set the system's CPU and chipset power management correctly. Next, drivers need to be power-conscious and should put their devices in a low-power state as often as possible. They should also know enough to not interfere with the CPU's low-power states. And if applications help minimize CPU clock cycles, they can play a key role in allowing the CPU to get to a lower-power wait state as soon as possible.

CPU Still Central

Still, when people talk about laptop power consumption, the focus usually turns to the CPU. Not surprisingly, a significant part of Intel's Napa platform is devoted to making the CPU more energy efficient. The main component of Napa is the follow-up to the Pentium M, a dual-core CPU called Yonah. Add a new chipset called Calistoga and a next-generation wireless technology called Golan, and you have the complete platform.

Yonah will include Intel's Dynamic Power Coordination, a dual-core power-management scheme that controls average power output while still increasing performance. Two cores on a chip mean roughly twice the power of a single-core chip, and more power means more heat. To compensate, Intel developed the Advanced Thermal Manager as a new way to control the added heat. Even the Serial ATA hard-drive connection isn't immune to the need for power saving. Link Power Management allows for increased data-transfer rates while reducing power consumption. The final piece of the puzzle is shrinking the die used in manufacturing chips. The Pentium M is built on the 90-nm process; Yonah will be built on a 65-nm process. Shrinking the die makes the transistors smaller, putting traces closer together and enabling it all to fit on a smaller piece of silicon. All that adds up to better energy performance.

Even with all this technology, there is still work to do. Intel estimates that by next year the average Centrino platform will have 5 hours of battery life. It will still take some more work to get to 8 hours by 2008. for all of us who travel frequently with our laptops, 8 hours of battery life can't come soon enough.

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