Originally Published: Thursday, 12 October 2000 Author: Brian Richardson
Published to: enhance_articles_hardware/Hardware Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Power Struggle

It's no secret that computer manufacturers have spent years trying to make more powerful computers. And they have succeeded, but today's computer is more powerful than they could have possibly imagined. Who would have thought that a CPU could consume more power than a incandescent light bulb?

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It's no secret that computer manufacturers have spent years trying to make more powerful computers. And they have succeeded, but today's computer is more powerful than they could have possibly imagined. Who would have thought that a CPU could consume more power than a incandescent light bulb?

The problem with making more complicated computers is that they require more transistors which consume more electrical power. So larger computers generate larger power bills. This, to many people, is pretty obvious. But the ramifications of extra power consumption go farther than the increased combustion of decomposed dinosaurs to generate kinetic energy used to generate the stream of electrons required by your latest Loki product.

Several factors come into play when a computer requires more electrical power:

(1) Heat generated by components (2) Size/cost of cooling devices (3) Noise generated by cooling devices (4) Size/cost of power supply (5) Size/cost of system enclosure

These factors are rarely a consideration in the traditional "beige box" computer market. Your standard-issue geek will gladly clear more floor space for that new mega-case, drowning out the system noise by blaring Metallica MP3's at a higher volume. But the consumer market isn't so willing to make this type of concession.

The idea of power consumption caught up to me while I was reading information on Intel's Pentium 4. This new processing monster has a current envelope of 65 amps. At 1.3 volts, this processor can consume over 90 watts when at peak processing. Most of my house's light bulbs use less power. Remember, that's not a rating for the system -- that's just the CPU. The Pentium 4 requires a special power supply and one of the largest cooling apparatus I have ever seen.

Go to the other end of the spectrum, where Transmeta and VIA live with their "low end" processors. Transmeta's claim to fame is their notebook friendly, code-morphing Crusoe processor. Meanwhile, VIA is shopping the inexpensive Samuel, a Celeron-compatible CPU that utilizes the very low power IDT core. (It doesn't require a fan, just a modest heat sink.)

It seems the "power struggle" in the CPU arena may shift from processing power to power consumption. While power users and businesses will take faster computers no matter the electrical ramifications, the emerging appliance/set-top market requires a different computer. The power-sucking air-blowing beige monster attached to a hydra of cables will not find a home in the living rooms of America.

Every processor company has a plan for low-power computing, but each one takes a different approach. Intel and AMD have generally focused on low-power solutions for notebook users, but at a higher component cost, since notebook computing is the last bastion of profit in today's cut-throat PC market. VIA and Transmeta may not have the fastest silicon, but the home user has trouble seeing the speed difference in 600 MHz and 900 MHz. The winner of the processor power struggle may be different depending on what rules the market chooses to play by.

Brian Richardson has considered putting some disclaimer at the bottom of his articles. Since he's sure most people don't agree with him anyway, he assumes you know these opinions are not necessarily those of linux.com.





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