Researchers at MIT and Texas Instruments have unveiled a new chip design for portable electronics that is reportedly up to ten times more energy- efficient than present technology. The design could lead to cell phones, implantable medical devices, and sensors that last far longer on a battery charge.

The design, presented at the recent International Solid-State Circuits Conference in San Francisco, was demonstrated on Texas Instruments' MSP430, a widely used microcontroller. The scientists were able to lower the chip's operating voltage to 0.3 volts, compared to one volt for current designs. One key was a high-efficiency DC-to-DC converter that lowered the chip's operating voltage and reduced the number of discrete components.

One challenge facing the researchers is overcoming yield variations all-too-often present when fabricating chips with lower operating voltages. "Designing the chip to minimize its vulnerability to such variations is a big part of our strategy," said Anantha Chandrakasan, one of the project's scientists. The chip is expected to become commercially viable within five years, with possible applications in portable and implantable medical devices, portable communications devices, networking devices, and military sensor networks.

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