Maximising the efficiency of chained regulators

Linux v4.4 will include a cool new feature contributed by Sascha Hauer of Pengutronix which propagates voltages set on a regulator to the regulators that supply it (taking into account the minimum headroom that the child regulator needs). The original reason for implementing it was to allow us to set voltages through simple unregulated power switches but the cool bit is that we can also use this to save power in some systems.

There are two standard types of voltage regulator, DCDCs which are very efficient but produce noisy output and LDOs which are much less efficient but a lot cheaper and simpler and produce much cleaner output. What a lot of systems do to avoid a lot of the inefficiency of LDOs is to use a DCDC to reduce the voltage from the main system power supply (eg, the battery) to something close to the minimum power supply for the LDOs in the system This means that most of the voltage reduction (which is what generates inefficiency) comes from the DCDC rather than the LDO but you still get the clean power supply from the LDO and can have several different output voltages from a single expensive DCDC. By managing the voltage we set on the DCDC at runtime depending on the LDO configurations we can maximise the power savings from this setup, putting as much of the work onto the DCDC as we can at any given moment.

This has been at the back of my mind for a long time, I’m really pleased to see it implemented. It’s a pretty small change code wise and probably not worth implementing for any one system but when we do it in the core like this hopefully many systems will be able to use it and the effects will add up.

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