So Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini says that the company is chasing a new goal: instead of striving for ever-faster chips, it will seek to optimise performance per watt – in other words to make them faster and more efficient, too.
Otellini, speaking at the Intel Developer Forum, said: "We’ll save $1 billion in electricity bills for every 100 million units sold." He almost made it sound like Intel is doing this for environmental reasons, to help reduce the planet’s energy consumption. [Image: Intel CEO Paul Otellini. How many watts were wasted in the making of his Powerpoint presentation? Source: AP.]
Perhaps I’m being overly cynical, but it occurs to me that the reason Intel needs to produce more efficient chips is because it realises that as computing becomes more and more pervasive – just take the increasing use of PDAs and smartphones to the iPod, PSP and Nintendo DS – its chips need to be ever more portable, and hence ever more efficient. The next barrier to the pervasive computing revolution is less likely to be chip speed than it is battery life.
If Intel wanted to save the planet from excessive power consumption, it could have made efficiency a higher priority long before David Ditzel founded Transmeta with exactly that goal.
As a corporation, Intel is by no means the worst offender when it comes to the environment. It maintains a team of full time environmental engineers to implement, run, review and continuously improve what it calls its Environmental Management System. But its products – which have been designed for maximum performance almost irrespective of power consumption – tell a different story.
Perhaps I’m not being too cynical after all. As Otellini said himself in his speech: "Left unchecked, power generation and heat would have limited the devices we build today and the ones we could imagine in the future." At least Intel is now imagining a future with more efficient chips. Better late, than never.