Bizarro world savings

I was reading a Wired article named, “Why Intel’s Processors Aren’t Big on Cellphones,” when I ran into a peeve that always stops me absolutely dead.

“Atom today is not suitable for cellphones,” acknowledges Kedia. “But Moorestown will deliver the same level of performance as today’s Atom but with a 50x reduction in idle power and a 3x reduction in power when you are playing 720p video.”

The author is indulging in the increasingly common technique of using a mathematical operation that increases a number, called multiplication, to show a reduction. Of course this makes no sense, at least when whole-numbers are involved.

A 50 times reduction in idle power? No sense at all. Let’s say the power-hungry Atom processor uses ten watts at idle. I have no idea what the processor really uses, but I’m just choosing a nice even number. Using multiplication, 10 Watts times 50 is 500 Watts. Where’s the savings part again?

See, the problem is that a 1 times reduction in energy use means you’re using no energy at all. If the processor is using 10 Watts, 1 times 10 Watts is 10 Watts. Using 10 Watts less means using 0 Watts. The logical conclusion is that the processor must therefore generate 490 Watts, which is clearly ridiculous.

I’m guessing the author meant that is uses 1/50 (or 2%) the power, which is a far cry from 50 times less.

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