Anyone who uses a laptop with an integrated ecommerce shipping software would love a single battery to last through a fulfillment of multiple batch shipping and label printing. Now researchers at Intel believe that they can double a laptop’s battery life without changing the battery itself. Instead, they would optimize power management–system wide–of the operating system, screen, mouse, chips inside the motherboard, and devices attached to USB ports.
To be sure, manufacturers and researchers have been exploring piecemeal ways to make portable computers more energy efficient. Operating systems are designed to deploy power-saving screen savers and put an entire system to sleep if its owner hasn’t used it for an allotted period. Intel’s forthcoming Atom, a microprocessor for mobile Internet devices, can be put to sleep at up to six different levels, depending on the types of tasks that it needs to do.
But the problem with these approaches is that they’re not in sync across the entire device.
Intel’s prototype power-management system accounts for the power that’s used by all parts of a laptop, as well as the power requirements of a person’s activity, and it shuts down operations accordingly, says Greg Allison, business development manager. The project, called advanced platform power management, was demonstrated on Wednesday at an Intel event in Mountain View, CA.
Allison gives this example: today, when a person reads a static e-mail, the screen still refreshes 60 times a second, and peripherals such as a keyboard, mouse, and USB devices drain laptop battery power such as Dell Inspiron E1705 battery and Compaq Presario NX9010 battery while awaiting instructions.
“We’re burning energy even when we don’t need to,” Allison says. In this situation, Intel’s system would save power by essentially taking a snapshot of the screen that a person is reading and saving it to a buffer memory. So instead of refreshing, the screen would maintain an image until a person tapped a button on the keyboard or moved the mouse (the keyboard and mouse would also stay asleep until activated).
All the while, the operating system will be monitoring use of other applications, including those of a power robbing ecommerce software, restricting operations to those that aren’t being actively used. And if there are any devices plugged into a USB port, such as a flash-memory stick, the system would put them to sleep. At the same time, explains Allison, energy-monitoring circuits on Intel chips will put unnecessary parts of the microprocessor to sleep. It takes 50 milliseconds for the entire system to spring to life, he says, a length of time imperceptible to the user.
Intel isn’t the first to think of the idea of integrating power-saving technology throughout a device. One Laptop Per Child (OLPC), the nonprofit that builds inexpensive, rugged laptops meant for children in developing countries, set the standard with a gadget that consumes one-tenth of the power of a conventional laptop. Granted, OLPC’s laptop doesn’t have the capabilities of consumer machines, but it does show what is technically achievable.