Insomniac: New approaches to Voltage Scaling

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Bo Zhai

Dynamic voltage scaling (DVS) is a popular approach for energy reduction of integrated circuits. Current processors that use DVS typically have an operating voltage range from full to half of the maximum Vdd. However, it is possible to construct designs that operate over a much larger voltage range: from full Vdd to subthreshold voltages. This possibility raises the question of whether a larger voltage range improves the energy efficiency of DVS. First, from a theoretical point of view, we show that for subthreshold supply voltages leakage energy becomes dominant, making “just in time completion” energy inefficient. We derive an analytical model for the minimum energy optimal voltage and study its trends with technology scaling. Second, we use the proposed model to study the workload activity of an actual processor and analyze the energy efficiency as a function of the lower limit of voltage scaling. Based on this study, we show that extending the voltage range below 1/2 Vdd will improve the energy efficiency for most processor designs, while extending this range to subthreshold operation is beneficial only for very specific applications. Fially, we show that operation deep in the subthreshold voltage range is never energy-efficient.