It may sound like a mineral used in an evil scientist’s death ray, but ‘dark silicon’ actually refers to underused transistors found in modern microprocessors — and scientists believe that this resource can be tapped to improve the batteries of everyday smartphones. A team of researchers at the University of California San Diego have developed a new prototype chip called the GreenDroid that harnesses dark silicon to improve energy efficiency by up to 11 times compared to standard mobile application processors. Image © Flickr Elisie esq
UC San Diego’s GreenDroid prototype delivers improved performance through specialized processors that take advantage of dark silicon. These processors are specially designed to run heavily-used chunks of code, called “hot code,” in Google’s Android smartphone platform. The chips can respond to instructions using 11 times less energy than typical mobile application processors, and even while running code outside the conservation core, the GreenDroid is still 7.5 times more efficient that a standard mobile application processor
The use of ‘dark silicon’ is an instance where the over-use of certain elements in computer construction can lead to waste. In standard microprocessors, a large amount of transistors are left offline most of the time due to lack of power, leaving these areas of ‘dark silicon’ obsolete.
Computer science professors Michael Taylor and Steven Swanson from the Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) currently head the project at UC San Diego. Speaking to PhysOrg about the project, Swanson said, “Smartphones are a perfect match for our approach, since users spend most of their time running a core set of applications, and they demand long battery life. As mobile applications become more sophisticated, it’s going to be harder and harder to meet that challenge. Conservation cores offer a solution that exploits a resource that will soon be quite plentiful – dark silicon”