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Chip business needs its own low power plan

Samsung chief calls for cuts to manufacturing consumption.

The chip industry is doing much to reduce power consumption by its products, but must do more to cut what it uses to make them, according to the president of Samsung Electronics’ Semiconductor Business, the world’s largest manufacturer of memories.

In a keynote to the International Solid State Circuits Conference, Dr. Oh-Hyun Kwon said that the industry as a whole uses 40TWh/yr, more than the entire state of Michigan, and that there is ample room for improvement.

He analysed variations in the power consumption of the fab plant Samsung uses and found that energy consumption per wafer could vary by as much as 2X for diffusion and chemical vapor deposition equipment. Other machines also showed large variations.

“So many of the variations do depend on the [equipment] vendors,” he said, “but we also haven’t asked them the question.”

One easy target is vampire power, the standby consumption of equipment. Dr Kwon said that because fabs are typically running for 20 hours a day, there is often little variation in the power drawn when equipment is idle.

“If we can reduce the average standby-to-operation ratio of all equipment to less than 50%, we can save 2.32TWh annually,” he said.

Samsung itself has been a pioneer in driving down semiconductor power consumption both for memories and the processors it delivers for products such as mobile phones, so Dr Kwon feels the company has a particular need to match its own behaviour to that of its technology.

Samsung is not the first chipmaker to speak out about the need for ‘greener’ manufacturing. Europe’s STMicroelectronics has raised the issue repeatedly, particularly during Pasquale Pistorio’s time as CEO. However, the Korean company’s huge position today in memory give it considerable sway over equipment suppliers.

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