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[ The PC Guide | Systems and Components Reference Guide | The Processor | Processor Physical Characteristics ]

Processor Power and Voltage

In the early days of computers, there wasn't very much concern about how much power a processor used. There weren't as many of them, and we weren't doing nearly as much with them. We were just thrilled they existed at all! As time has gone on our demands on these machines have continued to increase and new uses have put power consumption in the spotlight. This has led to a confusing set of voltage specifications where before (up to the Intel 486DX2-66) everything ran on 5 volt power.

The power usage and the voltage support of a processor are important for the following reasons:

  • Power consumption equates largely with heat generation, which is a primary enemy in achieving increased performance. Newer processors are larger and faster, and keeping them cool can be a major concern.
  • With millions of PCs in use, and sometimes thousands located in the same company, the desire to conserve energy has grown from a non-issue to a real issue in the last five years.
  • Reducing power usage is a primary objective for the designers of notebook computers, since they run on batteries with a limited life. (They also are more sensitive to heat problems since their components are crammed into such a small space).

Newer processors strive to add additional features and to run at faster speeds, which tends to increase power consumption. Processor designers compensate for this largely through technology, by using lower-power semiconductor processes, and shrinking the circuit size and die size.

Next: External and Internal Voltage Levels

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