Solar-powered processor raises new possibilities

At Intel’s Developer Forum, Chief Technology Officer Justin Ruttner demonstrated one of Intel’s latest research items — a microprocessor that consumes insanely low levels of power.

Code-named Claremont, the circuits on this processor operate very close to their “threshold voltage,” which is the minimum voltage at which the circuit can change states and pass a current. This allows the entire processor to run on less than 10 milliwatts at its minimum, which is a significant improvement.

“So where does the solar power come in?” I hear you ask. “Your headline promised solar power!” OK, stop yelling, I’ll tell you. In order to demonstrate how little power this chip needs to run, the demonstration model was powered by a small photovoltaic cell that was about the size of the processor itself. That is pretty impressive.

Claremont might not ever be in any publicly available products, so don’t start standing in line for one just yet. However, the data they’ve accumulated from it in the lab will probably enable Intel to integrate aspects of this technology with a wide variety of platforms.

Among the possibilities Intel suggests are longer battery lives, energy-efficient multicore processors in everything from handhelds to servers to supercomputers, and generally greener computing.

Who knows, maybe one day they can use offshoots of this technology to make digital devices that are entirely powered off of solar energy. Wouldn’t that be cool? If you ever needed more power, you could simply shine more light at your computer.

At the very least, the folks at Intel have figured out how to keep their demo going even if the building’s power goes out.

About the Author

Greg Crowe is a former GCN staff writer who covered mobile technology.


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