Power: When Less is More

May 11, 2020 James Bou, Virtium Solid State Storage and Memory

In the broad scope of technology, the word power has several connotations. The power-metric colloquialism “speeds and feeds,” megahertz being among the most common, is at first blush alluring. After all, who doesn’t want faster, higher-powered products? But then there’s power consumption. Well, now you’re whistling a different tune, especially if you’re whistling about embedded systems.

System designers often need to contend with uncomfortable tradeoffs between performance and power consumption. And many an otherwise promising system design has been shelved due to its power consumption being excessive and, thus, incompatible with the embedded application for which it’s intended.

One telling example of the “Power Paradox” can be found in 5G communications technology, which is poised for broad implementation across industries, and deliver unprecedented connectivity to embedded systems. With its astounding speed, several times that of its precursor, 4G, comes a price: 5G demands significantly more power. According to a recent report by MTN Consulting, a typical 5G base station can consume more than twice the power of a 4G version.

Therefore, choosing a storage solution with the lowest-possible power consumption is absolutely necessary to minimize the negative effects on systems performance.

The demand for products that strike a balance between power-efficiency and sufficient performance is particularly real for embedded-systems market segments: communications, energy, industrial control, medical, networking, transportation, and video/surveillance. Companies such as Virtium take that balance seriously, supplying those market segments with industrial-grade hardware and the software to manage it. Solid-state drives (SSDs), for example, often are deployed in systems with the lowest-possible wattage allowance and where high-speed components require so much power and therefore generate heat to the point that they may need more frequent maintenance.

Drives with those features are all the more important in battery-powered devices, such as the remotely deployed vibration sensors and data collectors. We know this first-hand because of a customer using our industrial-grade SSDs for just such devices, to be used on bridges, tunnels and roadways. In applications like that, minimal power isn’t merely a luxury, but an absolute necessity.

A great example can be found in eUSB SSDs. Not only do they feature small form factors and speeds up to nearly 5Gbps, at less than 1W these drives draw about half the power of SATA SSDs. (Virtium eUSB 3.0 SSDs, for example, range in capacity from 2GB to 128GB to meet system designers’ diverse needs in space-constrained environments.) eUSB drives are ideal for booting operating systems, logging video and data, and hosting storage-hungry applications.

Another example can be found in Secure Digital Cards, or SDs. These compact power-misers (sub-2V) are inherently rugged and able to withstand shock and vibration other storage forms can’t. SDs have found a welcome home in single-board computers, as well as COM Express, MicroTCA and Mini-ITX designs. Many of our SDs are presently deployed in IIoT, machine-to-machine and other no-nonsense applications.                                                     

So, when it comes to storing and protecting crucial data in demanding environments, embedded-system designers would do well to remember that there’s power and then there’s power. And more often than not, less is more.

About the author

James Bou is technical marketing manager at Virtium Solid State Storage and Memory, in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.  He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology/Biological Sciences from the University of California, Riverside, and a Master of Science degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from California State University, Long Beach.

                                                                                    

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