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Microsoft delivers PCs that "talk in their sleep"

By Stuart Turton

Posted on 7 May 2009 at 15:36

Microsoft Research has demonstrated a new technology which it claims could revolutionise a computer's sleep mode.

The technology, dubbed Somniloquy, does exactly what its name implies by allowing computers to continue communicating with a network even in sleep mode.

During an exclusive visit to Microsoft's Cambridge Research centre we were shown Somniloquy, which looks like a USB drive, but actually features a low-power Atom processor, embedded Windows CE OS and flash drive. This device maintains a presence on the network even when the machine is in sleep mode.

Thanks to "stubs" of applications - the basic code and network protocols needed to get an app running - Somniloquy can continue with BitTorrent downloads or updates without waking the main system. When the computer is powered up in the morning, Somniloquy simply transfers the files, or applies the patches.

In cases where this won't work, for example, in cases where there's an incoming VoIP call, or a remote user is trying to access their desktop, Somniloquy will wake the machine fully.

"Instead of having computers as all-on or all-off we want to introduce tiers of functionality so that even if the user's not there they can carry on with tasks that don't need the graphics card or aren't really taxing the CPU," says Microsoft researcher James Scott.

Many companies tend to leave their machines on overnight for patching, representing a tremendous waste of power. According to Scott, employing Somniloquy could take a machine's overnight power drain down from 85 watts to around 4 watts, without losing functionality.

Also on display at Microsoft Research was the SenseCam, a blackbox recorder for humans and Wayve, a messaging tool for the home.

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