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Asynchronous ARM watches power

A radical new design of ARM processor loses the clock to reduce power and noise

UK chip designers ARM and Philips offshoot Handshake Solutions have announced a clockless ARM processor core. The design, which will be available in the first quarter of next year, is intended for use in smart cards, consumer electronics and automotive applications.

Clockless processors, also known as asynchronous or self-timed chips, have no central timer switching the chip at a regular rate, so they emit far less radiation and use less power than standard processor designs. When there is no processing activity, they consume close to no power yet can respond instantly to requests.

"Applying Handshake Technology to the industry-leading ARM architecture will result in a new type of ultra low-power processor, enabling new classes of application," Wouter Van Roost, chief executive of Handshake Solutions, said in a statement. Handshake Solution's technology is already in use in millions of chips, the company said, in 80C51 microcontrollers that can be run in either synchronous or asynchronous mode.

Many other chip companies have investigated asynchronous computing, including Intel, IBM and Motorola. However, this is thought to be the first general purpose asynchronous commercial processor to reach the market -- problems with previous designs have included lacklustre performance, programming difficulties and interfacing with existing memory and peripheral busses that assume a clocked processor.

Handshake Technology and ARM says that the new processor is compliant with existing ARM architectures, and can also be run in both modes.