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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Reader Comments

Wed, Sep 28, 2011 Anonymole Galaxy spiral arm

And what of errant solar activity sending out enough charge that the circuits start firing randomly from charged solar particles?

But I like the idea of a distributed swarm of solar sensor bots covering the planet.

Mon, Sep 26, 2011 Earth

OK just for fun, imagine a global sensor network that has a bit of intelligence. Roving, solar powered swimmers that can collect trash from the pacific trash gyre, Weather stations spread in a 1km grid across the entire surface of the earth. Soil moisture and other agricultural sensor networks. Subcutaneous computers to monitor the health of all individuals of endangered species. Volcanic sensors running off the temperature differentials (instead of solar, there are a variety of low power sources, streams for water monitors for instance). The latter could also work with self charging wearable computers. Much of the collected energy would have to go to packet burst communication relay but those little solar powered garden lights could probably support that. Earth can come alive. It’s alive. Alive I tell you. (Channeling Son of Frankensteeeeene)

Mon, Sep 26, 2011

What were the dimenstions of the processor and the photovoltaic cell? Can both be produced on the same substrate in simultaneous processes?

Mon, Sep 26, 2011 Stan Doore Silver Spring, MD

Light is an energy source including light bulbs well as the sun. Therefore, portable devices such as laptop computers should be able to recharge themselves while laying around unused. This would help to minimize the need to plug into electrical circuits for recharging. It also could reduce the cost of energy needed to recharge laptop batteries. Regards, Stan Doore

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