Making P Cs Power Misers By Cutting The Juice To Their Brain

So-called power management is common in portable computers. The idea is to prolong battery life by cutting off power to the disk drive and display if the keyboard hasn't been used for a few minutes. But PicoPower Technology Inc., a three-year-old company in San Jose, Calif., argues that it's more efficient to regulate power based on what the machine--not the user--isn't doing.

PicoPower has developed a chip that peeks inside the microprocessor to keep tabs on what's going on in there. When the "brain" chip launches an operation that involves waiting an eyeblink for some result, PicoPower's chip instantly cuts the power--then restores it a split second before it's time to resume the operation. Since any PC's processor twiddles its thumbs most of the time, PicoPower President Robert H.J. Lee says his patented approach reduces power consumption by an average of 70%. Trimming power that much also means a significant reduction in heat, which can help desktop PCs with hot-running microprocessors such as Intel Corp.'s Pentium keep their cool. So PicoPower's market isn't just laptops. That may explain why the startup has been snatched up for $60 million in stock by Cirrus Logic Inc. in Fremont, Calif.

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