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Microchip Sets Low-power Record With Extreme Sleep Mode

ScienceDaily (June 16, 2008) — A low-power microchip developed at the University of Michigan uses 30,000 times less power in sleep mode and 10 times less in active mode than comparable chips now on the market.

The Phoenix Processor, which sets a low-power record, is intended for use in cutting-edge sensor-based devices such as medical implants, environment monitors or surveillance equipment.

The chip consumes just 30 picowatts during sleep mode. A picowatt is one-trillionth of a watt. Theoretically, the energy stored in a watch battery would be enough to run the Phoenix for 263 years.

Scott Hanson, a doctoral student in the U-M Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, will present the design June 20 at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' Symposium on VLSI Circuits. Hanson jointly leads this project with Mingoo Seok, a doctoral student in the same department.

Phoenix measures one square millimeter. There's nothing special about its size, as chips in many modern sensors and electronics are one square millimeter and smaller. But Phoenix is the same size as its thin-film battery, marking a major achievement.

In most cases, batteries are much larger than the processors they power, drastically expanding the size and cost of the entire system, said David Blaauw, a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. For instance, the battery in a laptop computer is about 5,000 times larger than the processor and it provides only a few hours of power.

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