Santa Clara University

SCU Engineering News

Toward Greener Computing

Ginger Tseng researches the energy used in computing. Photo: Heidi Williams

A new course will be offered in the spring quarter—Green Computing, or maybe Energy Aware Computing. “This field is still so new,” jokes Silvia Figueira, associate professor of computer engineering, “I’m not even sure what to call it yet.” But that does not stop her from setting her graduate students to work measuring and modeling energy use and efficiency of computer systems. Since last summer, a small group of student researchers have been studying how computers use energy. “There is a lot of talk now regarding how we can use the computer in a more energy efficient way,” Figueira said. “We don’t know where this research will take us, but there is a lot to learn and we are exploring with the goal of finding new techniques for better computing.”

Assisting with this project is Ph.D. student Ginger Tseng. “Ginger is bold when it comes to hardware,” said Figueira. “She just gets right in there and opens things up.” Tseng agreed, “I have opened my PCs since I was in high school—taking out CPUs, installing memory. It makes me very excited when I can play with these components.”

Right now, Tseng is playing with the motherboard, power supply, and different spinning devices for the disc drives to see how much energy they use. “Once we determine the ‘overhead’ for a specific system—how much power it takes to run the CPU, the fan, and the disk drives—we can move on to studying signal integrity problems and we can find out how to fine-tune programming for optimal efficiency,” she said.

Figueira and Tseng are writing a paper on power usage of software, which they plan to submit to IEEE’s first conference on green computing. “In the new class, we will be exploring different places where we can do better,” said Figueira.