Tyndall Workshop Redefines PwrSoC and Moves Toward Commercialization

October 17, 2010 by Jeff Shepard

The Second International Workshop on Power Supply on Chip (PwrSoC ’10) (hosted by the Tyndall National Institute in Cork Ireland) featured many speakers from both industry and academia who indicated that the technology was moving forward and is much closer to commercial realization. Workshop attendees left with a new understanding of the meaning of a PwrSoC – from "Power Supply on Chip" to "Power System on Chip," as well as a new definition of the "chip" itself.

"By redefining the application, we have effectively redefined the solution in such a way that current PwrSoC technology offers enough efficiency that commercial products can be envisioned in the near future," stated Dr. Cian Ó Mathúna, originator of the workshop concept, General Chair of the event and Director of the Microsystems Centre at Tyndall. "Until now, we’ve been severely challenged to achieve the high efficiencies demanded by previous architectures. This new architecture is a game changer and promises a revolution in PwrSoC commercialization," he concluded.

The breakthrough came by examining the power dissipation in advanced microprocessors and similar digital ICs and realizing that the biggest opportunity for energy savings is not in improving the efficiency of the power converters themselves, but in advanced power management that will enable a drastic reduction in the quiescent or leakage currents in the devices.

Leakage currents account for about 50% of the total power consumption in these ICs. The new power management architecture can eliminate almost all of the leakage losses. It is enabled by the use of PwrSoC, and is not possible without the new technology. By embedding many micro-sized voltage regulators directly into the IC package (or onto the IC itself), and employing advanced digital power management, it will be possible to power off sections of the IC that are not processing information and power them on only as needed.

In the keynote talk, Intel’s Ted DiBene envisioned a power system with 320 individual "phases" operating at 60MHz or higher combined with a master digital power controller achieving 76% efficiency and improving the overall operating efficiency of the microcontroller by drastically reducing the leakage currents.

Later the same morning, Dominik Schmidt, also from Intel, took the concept further and described a futuristic power management system consisting of "thousands of regulators on each chip controlled by a comprehensive power management system." He envisions a future IC world with no more global power planes, but employing what he called the "gradient power architecture" to eliminate the problem of leakage currents.

This vision was echoed by Eby Friedman from the University of Rochester who described a "small area power converter for application to distributed on-chip power delivery." Taking the new architecture another step further, he predicted the "simultaneous co-placement of micro point-of-load power supplies with on-chip decoupling capacitors to improve overall signal integrity of the power grid as well as essentially eliminating the problem of leakage currents."

During the closing day of the event, Ahsraf Lotfi, CEO of Enpirion reviewed the closeness to commercialization of magnetic on silicon solution using magnetic material and presented Enpirion’s technology and product roadmap.

The event attracted 110 attendees, 75 from leading industry players, 35 companies including Intel, Analog Devices, National Semiconductor, Texas Instruments, ON Semiconductor, Enpirion, STMicroelectronics, Infineon, NXP, Ipdia, Philips, and others. Numerous respected academic researchers were also in attendance including, Seth Sanders, Alexsander Prodic, John Shen, Charlie Sullivan, Eby Friedman and others.