Hewlett-Packard's labs looking to cut energy use of computers

Hewlett-Packard chief executive Meg Whitman yesterday gave the audience at a forum here a peek into the research being done by the computing giant.

Her firm wants to change the fundamental structure of computers, she said, to make them more ecologically sound and affordable.

Ms Whitman told New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who was moderating the exchange, that photonics technology, which centres on the use of light, can help create new computers that use less energy, emit less heat and cost less.

"The fundamental computing architecture hasn't changed in 60 years. It is becoming inefficient," she added, noting that the electronic components in a laptop are connected by copper wires which get hot.

More power is needed to cool the computer, which in turn drains battery life.

Ms Whitman, a former CEO of eBay and unsuccessful candidate for the governorship of California, said research in HP's labs has already commercialised a technology now used in the tech giant's Moonshot servers.

The servers, which hit the market early this year, use 89 per cent less energy, occupy 80 per cent less space, are 97 per cent less complex and 77 per cent cheaper than existing products.

This is possible partially because the servers use microprocessors that power smartphones, said Ms Whitman, who was speaking at The New York Times Global Forum Asia held at the Four Seasons Hotel.

This one-day forum, which was organised by The New York Times, attracted about 250 senior executives.

"These tiny chips use less electricity. The Moonshot servers power hp.com with the equivalent of 12 60-watt light bulbs," she said. This leading edge is keeping HP ahead of its competitors by 12 to 18 months, she added.

To keep up with competitors, HP has to invest in disruptive innovation which requires huge investments in labs and engineers.

Companies that want to innovate should focus, she advised. "You can't have random innovation. It's good to let a thousand flowers bloom but you also have to weed the garden."

As an example, HP's inkjet printer manufacturing plant in Singapore developed a technology for shooting the ink out of the printer head onto the paper. This is also how drugs can be automatically dispensed.

"So we licensed this technology to the pharmaceutical companies," said Ms Whitman.

chngkeg@sph.com.sg