Intel works to extend mobile device battery life by solving radio problems

Intel Labs is developing new hardware to analyze data flow to laptops, and has integrated a Wi-Fi radios in a chip

Intel on Thursday showed off technologies for the future that are designed to improve the computing experience by extending the battery life of PCs, making devices smaller and enabling always-on communications.

In a keynote with the theme of "Vintage Tomorrows," a take on future technology, Intel's chief technology officer Justin Rattner presented networking and communication technologies that could improve the battery life on PCs, and even tablets and smartphones.

Some of the technology shown during the keynote at the Intel Developer Forum was designed to reduce the stress on CPUs. People want their devices to appear to be awake and always available, but communications can reduce battery life tremendously.

"When you look at mobility and wireless technology, you start to realize there are a large number of tradeoffs. One of those tradeoffs is convenience ... versus battery life," Rattner said.

Intel is integrating the communication radios inside CPUs and is also working on a communications chip that can intelligently evaluate data packets to ensure only relevant data is delivered to devices. The technologies reduce the stress on the CPU, which in turn improves the battery life of PCs on active usage and idle time.

One of the advances that was presented was called Spring Meadow, a networking chip that evaluates each data packet sent to an active PC. After evaluation, the important packets are sent to the PC, while the useless ones are trashed. The processing of data packets is off-loaded to the communications chip, which reduces the stress on the CPU.

The communications chip could save half the power consumed by CPUs, said Charlie Tai, principal engineer at Intel Labs, during an on-stage presentation. This technology could be especially useful with more data flowing in from the cloud to mobile devices.

"It's still a prototype, it's getting better everyday," Tai said.

The new technology is an enhancement of Intel's technology called SmartConnect, which is available on ultrabooks today. Much like on smartphones and tablets, SmartConnect keeps important social network feeds and email flowing even when an ultrabook is in idle mode. Spring Meadow is an implementation for when ultrabooks are in active usage, when data flow is much heavier, Tai said.

Intel also showed off a chip code-named Rosepoint, which integrates the Wi-Fi radio inside an Atom chip. The chip has two low-power Atom cores, an integrated Wi-Fi radio as well as DDR3 memory and PCI-Express I/O interfaces. Higher-level integration reduces the number of chips and enable smaller and more power-efficient devices. Intel initially talked about Rosepoint in February, but this is the first time the company showed off a chip. Rattner did not say when the chip would reach devices.

Intel acquired 3G/4G modem technology when it completed the US$1.4 billion acquisition of Infineon Wireless last year. The company maintains that it wants to integrate communication radios in its low-power Atom chips, which are used in tablets, smartphones and netbooks.

The company is also doing research to pave the way for digital radios in future chips, removing the traditional analog radios being used for communications. Digital radios will reduce signal interference on chips, which will make it easy for the integration of CPUs and modems on a single chip. The ultimate goal for Intel is to bring the radio and CPU on one chip, with an example being Rosepoint.

The researchers are approaching the digital radio development as a mathematical issue, said Yorgos Palaskas, research leader, radio integration lab at Intel Labs.

"We had to rethink radio problem," Palaskas said. "We wanted to tackle this as a computational problem."

The company has resolved some of the equations involved, and is working to bring the transmitters to the transistor layer, Palaskas said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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