Information technology uses about 2 percent of the electricity generated in the United States. Intel says it wants to bring its share of that power use down.
That's the impetus behind some of the projects Intel showed off Thursday at its Research@Intel day in Mountain View, Calif..
From new technology to cut the power use of inactive mobile internet devices fifty-fold to work aimed at keeping PCs and laptops in low-power "sleep" mode while still "always on" from a network standpoint, "Eco-innovation and energy efficiency continues to be a big part of what we do," Justin Rattner, Intel's chief technology officer, said.
Foremost among those efforts, he said, was Intel's new "Moorestown" platform for mobile internet devices like laptops and mobile phones. The new platform will be able to cut the power used by idling mobile Internet devices by a factor of 50 compared to its previous platform, known as Menlow, he said.
That would be a boon for battery life for laptops enabled by Atom – and it could be a selling point for a line of handheld Atom-enabled mobile internet devices Intel is working on as well.
Prototypes have already been on display at Taiwan's Computex IT show, Rattner said. Intel in February announced its intention to incorporate the Moorestown technology in handheld devices build by LG Electronics, with an eye to bringing devices to market next year.
The idea is to enable hardware to manage power use so that only the processors or chipsets needed at the time are getting power, said Ticky Thakkar, director of platform architecture for Intel's ultra mobile group.
Thakkar compared previous technologies to turning on every light in a house when you come home. Moorestown is more like turning on lights only in the rooms you're using, he said.
Given that many mobile devices spend about 90 percent of their time sitting in pockets or briefcases doing very little, "It's a much more selective approach in driving the power down," he said.
Even when in use, Moorestown-enabled devices should use about two to three times less power than previously, said Greg Allison, Intel technology strategist.
"By design, this research was put in place to ensure it would work across the full range of Intel products," he added. "Over time we'll see which product groups will choose to incorporate it into what they do."
For example, Intel's research into "communication assisted platform power management" is aimed at reducing power used for heavy workloads like video or voice-over-internet telephony, said James Tsai, Intel research scientist.
He showed off a platform that could yield average 30 percent power reductions for those data-intensive uses, depending on how heavy the workloads were.
Another challenge Intel is tackling is keeping PCs and laptops in low-power "sleep" mode while remaining available for networking. Intel has developed technology that bridges that gap, allowing sleeping devices to remain aware of and wake up to networking requests, said Kapil Sood, an Intel research scientist.
Given that PCs use about 150 watts when idling, but only 1 to 2 watts when asleep, that's a lot of potential power savings, he said.
That's going to become important as the Environmental Protection Agency finalizes its new version of Energy Star regulations that seek to measure PCs power use across all their states - from active to asleep - and compare average annual usage against benchmarks, Sood said.
Intel is now shipping PCs with the sleep state networking technology, but is working on bringing it to wirelessly enabled laptops and other devices, he said.
These aren't the only energy efficiency plays Intel is looking at, by the way. The company is also involved in microprocessors for wind turbines, is working with General Electric on TV-based home energy management systems, and a host of other "green" projects (see Intel Inside Wind Turbines and Coming Soon: Intel in Smart Grid).