Intel has demonstrated an experimental low-powered microprocessor, codenamed Claremont, that can be powered by a small solar cell. It raises the prospect of greener computing, longer battery life for mobile devices and powerful, energy-efficient many-core processors for use in everything from handheld devices to servers.
Intel calls the technology the Near Threshold Voltage (NTV) Processor and the purpose of the chip is to demonstrate the energy-efficiency benefits. It’s challenging to run electronics reliably at very low voltages because the difference between a “1” and a “0” in terms of electrical signal levels becomes very small, so ‘noise’ can lead to failure.
NTV technology is promising for a wide range of digital platforms. Also, these ultra-low power levels could allow Intel architecture to expand into broader applications such as embedded devices in home appliances and automobiles.
One goal of the NTV research is to enable architectures where power consumption is so low that entire devices could be powered by solar energy, or rely on such things as vibrations and ambient wireless signals. It would mean we could leave power cords and chargers behind.
At the moment, though, the chip itself is the only solar-powered part of Intel's demonstration computer. For the moment the main potential is likely to be in powering small sensors or other devices that feed into larger computers.