VOISS - Power Management

Written by Rich Morin.

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Precis:  a discursion on VOISS power management

See Also:  VOISS - Pi-UpTime UPS 2.0, VOISS - PiJuice HAT, and VOISS - Power HATs

Note: As of early 2020, the VOISS project and F123Light were discontinued. For details, see VOISS - Status.

If you’re running a Raspberry Pi 3B+ from an adequate power supply (2.5 Amp is recommended), power management isn’t a real concern. However, if you’re running it for an extended period of time (even idling), and your power source is a battery, power management can be an issue.

I’d like to develop a battery-powered VOISS system which retains the “instant on” capability of braille notetakers, etc. One way to accomplish this is to use a fairly substantial battery and minimize the amount of power the VOISS uses while idling. This might let the VOISS “sleep”, using relatively little power. When user activity is detected (e.g., via a push button), the system could come up to full operating mode.

Note: Although I like the idea of booting from a USB flash drive, powering the USB bus and devices while sleeping seems rather silly. So, let’s assume that we’re not doing that. Of course, it’s quite possible to boot from a microSD card, but keep the user files on a (mountable) USB-based storage device.

Option Summary

I’ve found a number of articles (detailed in the Resources section) which discuss options for reducing the power used by a RasPi. The assumption here is that the RasPi is basically sleeping and waiting for the user to request its attention. I plan to try out some of these options, using a 3B+ and an ammeter. I’ll report here about any significant power savings I observe.

Note: The “Savings (mA)” values in the table below are drawn from things I’ve read. They will be replaced (Real Soon Now :-) with measured values.

OptionSavings (mA)
Bluetooth (off)?
CPU Clock (slower)5
CPU Cores (fewer)5
Daemons (minimize)?
HDMI (off)30
LEDs (off)30
USB devices (off)?
USB/LAN (off)100
Video (off)?
Wi-Fi (off)?

Option Details

This section presents some details about the options listed above. It is very much a Work In Progress…

Bluetooth (off)

Aside from being a power sink, Bluetooth could be a security hole. Bluetooth can be disabled by a line in /boot/config.txt:


CPU Clock (slower)

While the RasPi is sleeping, the CPU clock only has to run fast enough to detect user activity and keep the dynamic RAM refreshed. If it can slow down and speed up as needed, some power might be saved. The clock speed can be set by a line in /boot/config.txt:


Q: Can these settings be changed at runtime? How?

CPU Cores (fewer)

The 3B+ has four CPU cores; only one should bve needed to detect user activity. The maximum number of cores can be set by a line in /boot/cmdline.txt:

# replace N with the number of cores you want to keep using

Q: Can this setting be changed at runtime? How?

Daemons (minimize)

Daemons (aka “background processes”) are run to provide system services. A VOISS system shouldn’t be running all that many to begin with. It may also be possible to disable or suspend some when the RasPi is idling.

HDMI (off)

The typical VOISS user will not be using an HDMI monitor. This interface can be disabled by a line in /etc/rc.local:

/usr/bin/tvservice -o   # disable
/usr/bin/tvservice -p   # enable

Q: Can this setting be changed at runtime? How?

LEDs (off)

The typical VOISS user will not be using the status LEDs. They can be disabled by a pair of lines in boot/config.txt:


Q: Can these settings be changed at runtime? How?

USB devices (off)

Each device (e.g., keyboard) on the USB bus uses some power. This can be disabled by the following command:

echo 0x0 > /sys/devices/platform/bcm2708_usb/buspower

Q: How can this setting be re-enabled?

USB/LAN (off)

A single chip handles both the USB and the LAN (Ethernet) sockets. This chip can be turned on and off at runtime:

echo '1-1' | sudo tee /sys/bus/usb/drivers/usb/unbind   # off
echo '1-1' | sudo tee /sys/bus/usb/drivers/usb/bind     # on

Q: What exactly, is being done here?

Video (off)

The RasPi has hard-wired video input and output interfaces. The typical VOISS user will not be using these. In any case, they should not be enabled at run time.

Q: Are these interfaces enabled by default?

Q: How can they be enabled and disabled?

Wi-Fi (off)

Aside from being a power sink, Wi-Fi could be a security hole. Wi-Fi can be disabled by a line in /boot/config.txt:


Q: Can this setting be changed at runtime? How?