Tag Archive | "standby"

Haswell Ultrabooks could achieve Tablet-like 100mW Connected-Idle

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100mw idle

In a presentation due to go out at the Intel Developer Forum over the next two days Intel will outline best practices for low-power idle on Ultrabooks. Today you’ll be lucky to see an Ultrabook idle to less than 3000mW (3 Watts) which is a background drain that’s always there. On Haswell, Intel says that you could get to a screen-off idle state of 100mW.

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200mw Internet Access on the Acer Iconia Tab A500

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If you measure the power used by a netbook PC when it’s in standby, a frozen unusable state, it uses around 500mW of power.  Leaving a netbook on with WiFi connected in an idle state with the screen blanked, maybe with an email program polling occasionally, you’ll see about 10 times the power usage. In PC terms, 5W is impressive but if you go to the smartphone world and take a look at the figures there, there’s a huge huge gap that needs to be tackled. As smartphones become tablets, become smartbooks, there’s a threat that ‘always-on’ becomes ‘must-have’ and that X86-based devices will struggle to compete in casual computing scenarios.

Smartphones are designed from the ground-up around the concept of ‘always-on. From the moment a smartphone is conceived, every element of the design has to be checked for power consumption which is why a smartphone can sit connected to the GSM telephone network drawing power consumption levels lower than 50mw. That’s 1/10th of the power consumption taken by a good netbook when it’s in a frozen state. Impressive.

But what happens when you connect a smartphone to the internet ? You can use cellular data services to achieve a good rate of connectivity by switching on UMTS for example. Switching to WiFi on a typical smartphone brings faster connectivity and, in a lot of cases, lower power that can be done on cellular networks. A smartphone can run a multitasking operating system and remain connected to internet and voice networks in well under 500mw of power, the same as it takes a netbook to sleep.  In fact, the best smartphones are running in this configuration for over 24hrs on a 5Wh battery which is an amazing 100mw of power usage. Turn on some background internet activities and it will jump to an average 200mw!

What happens if you take an ARM platform that’s in the same processing power category as a low-end netbook. Put it in a 10” screen form factor and do the same test? Actually, it’s the same as a smartphone. The only difference between a high-end smartphone and a smartbook with a 10” screenand a huge battery is the screen itself and when that is off, there’s practically no difference at all.

To prove this, I took one of the most powerful mobile computing platforms in a large 10” form factor device with 32GB of storage, 1GB of RAM and integrated WiFi. The device has a 23wh battery (about half that of ‘6-cell’ netbooks. The device is the Acer Iconia Tab A500 Android tablet which runs honeycomb. I connected to the Wifi (at 54mbps) and left the device connected with the screen off while it did it’s stuff in the background. Marketplace checks, email checks, Twitter checks and even some GPS usage by Google Maps. A weather service was running, the volume was set to silent and Bluetooth was turned off.

Over a 48  hour period with a few screen-on moments for checking progress (and a 10 minute in-use period as my daughter grabbed it to use a paint program)  I measured 46% fall in battery usage of which 5% was due to screen-on time. Take away the screen-on figure and you have 209mw of power usage.  The Acer Iconia Tab is nothing more than a smartphone inside!

‘Always-on, Always Connected’ will be a ‘Must-have.’

Always-on tests are interesting because it’s a hands-off test that people think only applies to idle smartphones.  In fact, it applies to many computing scenarios. With location, polling, sync, presence, alarms, push updates and of course, cellular voice and messaging becoming the norm in the hand, they will also have appeal on the desk. Not having to wait 5 seconds for a machine to start-up, another 5 seconds for a Wi-Fi connection and another 10 seconds for tweets, emails and other features to catch up is annoying.  There’s also a bunch of other screen-off, connected activities that are interesting. Servers for example. By that, I mean computers and gadgets that serve information to the Internet. This doesn’t just cover web servers. Think about internet-connected weather stations and web cameras, in-car data storage and notification systems. Then there are the devices that just don’t need big screens; Connected musical instruments. Digital cameras with 3G. Internet Radios. Low-power internet connectivity is important for these devices.

Related: Social Netbooks and ARM’s Lock-In Netbook Opportunity.

Summary

The point here is not to highlight that ARM is better than X86, it’s to highlight the gap. This gap is currently a huge advantage for ARM-based platform designers.

  • The first point is, if manufacturers using X86/PC architecture don’t get products to market with active standby soon, with the help of Intel (the only X86 player trying to tackle this problem) customers will have a chance to experience, and may not turn back from, ARM-based always-on products.
  • The second point is that this is a screen-off gap. Current screen technology is killing ARMs advantage in the ‘in-use’ scenario where screens are larger than 7”. It reduces the ARM advantage from 20x in idle to about 4x with a 10” screen being backlit. When the devices CPU is being actively used, the advantage drops even lower to around 2x. [Acer Iconia Tab – 4W. Samsung NC210 – 8W)
  • Finally, the Acer Iconia Tab A500 is a good example of low-power internet connectivity. It’s likely that other devices in this ARM tablet segment hit the same figures.

Keep an eye on high-end ARM-based platforms over the next year or two. Honeycomb and iOS are leading the way into the professional space with their software and application ecoystems and you might find that this always-on advantage starts to lock people in soon.

Toshiba AC100 Still Broken – 3 Months After Launch.

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About 3 months ago I bought a Toshiba AC100 ‘smart’ book for testing. While I didn’t believe it would provide me with a netbook experience I was very interested in continuing my testing with ‘always on’ ARM-based devices. Unfortunately, that ‘always on’ experience highlighted in marketing and videos, has still not been delivered 3 months later. It’s time Toshiba actually stood up, removed the false claims, started apologizing to customers and fixing this broken device. More importantly, potential owners need to keep fingers off until we can confirm the problem is fixed.

We highlighted the standby battery life problem just a few days after we got the AC100 and a few weeks later delivered the message direct to Toshiba at IFA. The product simply doesn’t provide anywhere near the claimed ‘up to 8 days’ of standby battery life. You’ll be lucky if the AC100 still has a charge 24 hours later. Many many users have confirmed the same issue.

A promised upgrade to Froyo was the light at the end of the tunnel that most owners clung on to but that is now many weeks overdue with no official word about a timescale. In fact, a surprise firmware update last week that failed to install was followed by another firmware update that doesn’t seem to have fixed the problem or updated the device to Froyo. Do you trust them to deliver 2.2 AND fix the battery life problem?

In attempts to actually get something useful out of the AC100 I hacked the bootloader (yes, forgoing any rights to a return or repair under guarantee) to install Ubuntu and after trying the update a few days ago, I now have a bricked device. I’m sure others will fall into this trap.

I’m not going to address this email to Toshiba because their forum should be alerting them to their problems (link) instead, I’m addressing it to current and potential owners. The AC100 is still broken and I advise you to check your standby battery life and if you think I’m right, return the device. [If not, please let us know – we’d love to strikethrough and update this article.] Potential owners should refrain from a purchase until there are clear confirmations that the problems have been fixed. Better still, pass the message on and highlight that the AC100 is not yet the device with the ‘ultimate battery life’.