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More details on Intel’s solar-powered processor

  • The solar-powered CPU dissipates so little energy it requires no cooler
  • The solar-powered CPU uses a regular (albeit rather old) Pentium motherboard

By Darien Graham-Smith in San Francisco

Posted on 15 Sep 2011 at 19:03

Intel CTO Justin Rattner has revealed more details of Intel’s solar powered processor – a technical project unveiled by CEO Paul Otellini in his IDF opening address on Monday.

The solar CPU, codenamed Claremont, is based on a regular Pentium core, but its power consumption has been pared back to approach the lowest voltages that permit the internal transistors to operate.

Intel Fellow Shekhar Borkar, joining Rattner on stage at IDF, estimated that reducing voltages in this way could cut power demands by a factor of eight – though the limitations of the old Pentium design permitted “only” a five-fold reduction.

Nevertheless, the approach enables the Claremont processor to operate on a few milliwatts of power.

The design is so old, we had a hard time finding a Pentium motherboard

"When that processor is active it’s dissipating less power than an Atom processor in standby,” Rattner pointed out.

New techniques with old technology

Though the Pentium architecture provides – by today’s standards – very limited processing power, Intel foresees designs in which the operating power can be dynamically ramped up when high performance is demanded.

However, engineers were unable to demonstrate that capability with this experimental sample, as the ageing Pentium technology doesn't support dynamic power and frequency slewing.

“The design is so old, we had a hard time finding a Pentium motherboard," explained Rattner.

"We actually went out on eBay looking for one…] We’re at the frontiers of computing, and we were looking in dumpsters for motherboards. Fantastic.”

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User comments

Really, really poor reporting ...

I'm not sure if this is Intel or PC Pro, but this achievement is really underwhelming unless you know the size of the solar cell. Are they saying the cell is integrated with the chip and therefore restricted to the die area, or is it sitting on top of the package and so limited to the package area?
I could go to Maplin's today and buy a large solar panel and an inverter and power my desktop computer (or anything else electrical for that matter). You can get any amount of energy you want from the sun with a large enough panel - no need for any energy saving measures at all!

By JohnAHind on 16 Sep 2011

The solar cell was about an inch square, so in principle it could have been integrated onto the top of the package – but in this case it was connected by cables (as you can see in the photos). Total power consumption for the CPU was stated as "a few milliwatts".

By DarienGS on 16 Sep 2011

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