Berkeley researchers discover power-saving methods for computers

Researchers at UC Berkeley have discovered a way to reduce the amount of power consumed by transistors, a fundamental component of modern computers.

On-campus postdoctoral researcher and co-author of the study, Suraj Cheema noted that the main question the team aimed to answer was whether microelectronics can operate at “lower and lower” power. The answer, they found, is yes.

The study, published in the scientific journal Nature on April 6, details the effect of negative capacitance and how it helps reduce the amount of voltage needed to power field-effect transistors, or FETs, which are tiny switches. electrics that control the flow. current in a semiconductor.

“If it is possible to reduce the power dissipation in the FET, which is the cornerstone of all computers, it is possible to significantly reduce the power dissipation in computing,” said co-author Sayeef Salahuddin. study and campus professor emeritus. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, in an email.

With this power change in transistors, computers will essentially be able to consume less power without having to sacrifice other factors like size and performance, Salahuddin noted. Salahuddin said the amount of energy consumed by computers is “growing exponentially”.

One of the most exciting aspects of this research for Cheema is its ambition to have real-world applications. He added that the finding has implications for many technologies widely used today.

“We use computers for everything from our cell phones to healthcare and even food distribution and usage is only going to increase,” Salahuddin said in the email.

The study, which has both industry and government collaborators, focused on a type of microchip that already exists in phones and computers now. This will facilitate large-scale implementation of their findings, Cheema noted. The technology developed by the researchers has surpassed commercial transistors in the microchip industry today, Salahuddin and Cheema said.

However, Cheema added, putting the findings to use in the industry is no small task, as there are “billions of transistors” in a single phone.

While the power consumption of microchips in technology was not a major concern 10 years ago, computing has grown rapidly over the past decade, according to Cheema. He added that the energy consumption of the microchip industry is comparable to that of other major industries, such as transportation, globally.

Cheema noted that when people are using their phones or laptops, they’re usually not as “aware” of power consumption as they might be when performing other activities such as driving. a car, for example.

Researchers will continue to focus on reducing the supply voltage required for transistors, Salahuddin said, which will ultimately help reduce the power consumption of rapidly expanding technologies.

“We will continue to work to improve the capacity as much as possible,” Salahuddin said in the email. “Finding the limit of improvement that can be achieved with the capabilities of today’s materials is what we will focus on.”

Contact Lydia Sidhom at [email protected]and follow her on Twitter at @SidhomLydia .