Low Power Processors: Intel Banias and Via

In the second presentation of the PC Processors session, Intel presented some details about its upcoming processor designed specifically for the low power mobile market. Unlike previous mobile Intel processors which are largely successful desktop processors tweaked with various power saving features and voltage scaling to achieve lower power performance characteristics, Banias has been designed specifically for the mobile market, and the average power consumption targetted is less than one watt. Banias (pronounced as BAN-NEEAS, not BAA-NEE-AS) incorporates various architectural enhancements such as a new Branch Prediction unit, new micro-op fusion techniques along with a 400 MHz processor bus.

The Banias processor is designed to operate along with the Odem chipset and the “Calexico” wireless LAN chip. Otherwise, the Banias system topology uses the classicial system topology currently found on Pentium 4 processor based platforms. Intel expects Banias systems to begin arriving on the market in 1H03. No performance numbers or clock frequency targets were released in this presentation. It is expected that these numbers will be released at a later time, closer to the actual launch date of the product.

The system board above show the system board with a Banias processor. Interestingly, the Banias processor has been outfitted with a fan on the CPU. As seen in the photograph, various wires have been soldered to the system board and connected to a instrument that records the power consumption characteristic of the processor.

The photograph above shows the operation of the system running on the Banias processor. The system has been scripted to sit in a loop that simulates a user working on a simple image processing task.

The photograph above shows the power consumption of the Banias processor. We see that during periods of time when the scripted system goes through the image processing task, the Banias processor consumes upwards of 2 Watts of power. When the scripted activity pauses, the processor idles, the power consumption number drops to below 0.25 Watts.

VIA technologies have received some press for the $199 Lindows PC sold at Walmart. The photograph above shows the low cost system board that utilizes the VIA C3 processor. VIA is focusing its limited resources on the socket 370 market that Intel has recently abandoned. The system support chipsets for the Socket 370 platform are stable, mature, feature-rich as well as low cost. Although the VIA processors operate at relatively lower frequencies compared with contemporary Pentium 4 and Athlon processors, VIA claims that its processors possess more than enough performance for common office productivity applications. Combined with the low power consumption characteristics, VIA has enabled the construction of inexpensive fan-less PC’s such as the $199 Walmart Lindows PC.

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