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From left to right: processing equipment, iphone, and laptop.

As processor-based systems become more complex, more power is consumed by both active and standby systems. At the same time, more systems are going portable and the emphasis on extending battery life adds more challenges to power management. Designers are now striving for high efficiency at both full and light loads.

Since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added computers to ENERGY STAR specifications, many of the major system manufacturers, such as HP, Dell, Cisco, IBM, and Intel are pushing for even higher energy efficiency. Their current near-term target is 92 percent ef ciency at 20 percent load, 94 percent at 50 percent load, and 92 percent at full load.

Historically, the goals of efficiency, thermal management, voltage regulation, reliability, power density, and cost drove power electronics design. These factors remain critical, particularly in the face of falling supply voltages and rising current demands. Yet, as multiple voltages proliferate across the PC board, the challenge becomes distributing and managing power across the board.

It is time to revisit the power architectures that are in general use and have evolved over time. These architectures may no longer be the optimal solution.

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