Minima, ARM apply ‘real-time’ voltage scaling to Cortex-M3

Minima, ARM apply ‘real-time’ voltage scaling to Cortex-M3

Technology News |
By Peter Clarke

However, as Minima gets closer to market with its mixed software and hardware intellectual property approach to the market it appears to have pulled back from earlier sub-threshold voltage discussion and instead talks about the benefits of near-threshold voltage operation.

Minima offers ultra-wide dynamic voltage and frequency scaling (DVFS) and a framework to change the frequency and/or operating voltage of a processor based on active system function parameters and software calls. Minima is claiming that even at near-threshold voltages of down to 0.4V the energy savings over all applications when both dynamic margining and ultra-wide DVFS are deployed is up to 15x to 20x lower energy compared to a nominal voltage design.

Minima inserts timing and voltage monitors along paths to monitor power and performance during operation. If a critical path monitor is activated by a voltage drop, whether due to process variation, temperature conditions, or variability or aging, then software and dynamic feedback responds by temporarily slowing the path for a clock cycle, or until conditions allow a resumption of previous performance. The OS-controlled middleware acts like an automatic braking system that adjusts to conditions. Instead of driving based on worst-case assumptions, Minima goes as quickly as possible at a given voltage and only slows operation or increases voltage when necessary – and only for as long as necessary.

This also means that Minima IP can work with conventional gate libraries rather than libraries made robust for low-voltage operation. Minima claims that its light-touch, real-time, interactive approach can take any existing processor or DSP into the microwatt power consumption range.

The technology has been applied in silicon with two semiconductor test-chip runs and one chip, a RISC with crypto accelerator, has been taped out. Minima and Arm are partnering to produce a low-power implementation of a Cortex-M3 processor core, which is available without paying an up-front licensing fee through ARM’s DesignStart program. But it should also be noted that Minima Processor is also a founding member of the RISC-V Foundation, which promotes open processor hardware.

Next: Quotes

“Achieving a 15x to 20x reduction in energy in an IoT SoC is an impressive feat, and one that will open up a whole new set of IoT applications,” said Phil Burr, director of portfolio product management at ARM, in a statement issued by Minima.

Lauri Koskinen, Minima Processor’s chief technology officer and co-founder, said: “With the semiconductor industry continually searching for solutions that reduce energy consumption for new market requirements and functionality, we are committed to delivering near-threshold voltage design solutions that work for whatever processors our partners choose. Minima’s approach is the only way that minimizes energy across a broad range of processor solutions.”

Related links and articles:

Minima/ARM white paper

News articles:

Finnish sub-threshold startup raises additional funds

Sub-threshold processor startup gets funds

Startup claims lowest power microcontroller with 0.25V operation

Self-timed logic is Eta Compute’s low-power secret

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