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Thursday, March 04, 2021

Explained: How an IIT breakthrough can help in extending life of your electronic gadgets

In order to increase the efficiency and durability of a gadget, the various components of microchips need to be designed optimally to minimise losses caused by fluctuating or erratic power supply.

Written by Gagandeep Singh Dhillon | Shimla |
Updated: January 25, 2021 3:18:01 pm
An advertisement for financing options stands next to tablets, laptops and computers displayed at a Croma electronics megastore in Mumbai (Photographer: Vivek Prakash/Bloomberg)

Researchers from IIT-Mandi and IIT-Jodhpur claim to have made a breakthrough in extending the life and performance of electronic gadgets such as mobile phones and laptops. We explain the significance of the breakthrough.

What is the breakthrough?

The researchers say that electronic circuits in modern gadgets continue to be designed according to concepts developed decades ago despite an evolution in the nature of microchips. In order to increase the efficiency and durability of a gadget, the various components of microchips need to be designed optimally to minimise losses caused by fluctuating or erratic power supply.

For this, the researchers have proposed a mathematical tool which can analyse these losses accurately and help in coming up with better designs.

How does power supply wear down a device?

Today’s mobiles and computers use very large-scale integration (VLSI) technology in which lakhs of transistors can be embedded on a single silicon microchip (eg microprocessors and memory chips). Also, a single chip has both digital and analog components.

Such microchips are powered by a direct current supply, often from an in-built battery. While such a battery may have a low voltage (usually 3.7 volts in mobile phones), parts of the microchip operate at even lower voltages.

A transistor may be as small as 7 nanometres (a strand of human DNA is 2.5 nanometres wide), and requires a minute voltage to work. In such a case, even slight power spikes and fluctuations can significantly degrade the performance of the microchip over time. The fluctuations in power supply, called power supply noise, occur due to multiple factors and are considered unavoidable in electronic systems.

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How else is the study significant?

The first generation computers, built in the 1940s and 50s, used vacuum tubes as the basic components of memory and processing. This made them bulky and expensive. In the early 60s, the vacuum tubes were replaced by transistors, a revolutionary technology which made the computers smaller, cheaper and energy-efficient.

A few years later, the transistors were replaced by integrated circuits, or microchips, which had multiple transistors on a single chip. Finally, during the 70s, the VLSI technology was introduced, which made it possible to incorporate thousands of transistors and other elements onto a single silicon chip.

Since then, computing devices have been getting faster and faster, because the size of transistors is getting shorter and more of them can be embedded onto a single chip. This trend has been called the ‘Moore’s Law’, named after Intel cofounder Gordon Moore who observed in 1965 that the density of transistors on microchips doubles every two years.

But this advancement seems to have reached its limit, because the size of transistors has already been shrunk to a few nanometres in width, and it’s getting difficult to viably decrease it further. In such a scenario, the electronics industry is beginning to shift its focus from increasing the speed to increasing the efficiency of the chips and decreasing their power consumption.

Where was the research published?

The study titled ‘An inspection based method to analyse deterministic noise in N-port circuits’ was published recently in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Open Journal of Circuits and Systems. It was authored by Hitesh Shrimali and Vijender Kumar Sharma from IIT-Mandi and Jai Narayan Tripathi from IIT-Jodhpur. The research was funded by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY).

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