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Intel shows solar-powered CPU

Intel shows solar-powered CPU

This CPU can run Windows and was powered by a single lamp and a solar cell 'about the size of a postage stamp.'

To demonstrate its commitment to low-power computing, Intel CEO Paul Otellini challenged the Intel Labs to create a demo of just how far Intel can push technology at the moment. He added, ‘the ultimate goal is the most power-efficient devices known to man.’ The result was a CPU capable of running Windows that was powered by tiny solar cell.

An Intel engineer was brought onto the IDF 2011 stage to show off an demo involving a nodding cat wearing overlarge headphones (actually, probably just headphones – it was a small cat).

The engineer told us that ‘what I’m showing here is technology that one day will make its way into future ultrabooks and a whole bunch of other devices… we’ve been experimenting with low-voltage circuits.

‘What we have here is a microprocessor – it’s an experimental prototype – which is capable of operating near to the threshold voltage of the transistors and is still capable of running Windows.


The engineer then revealed what was powering the CPU in the system: ‘the processor consumes so little power that we here have it running off a small solar cell which is only about the size of a postage stamp.

When the engineer moved his hand between the lamp above the solar cell and the cell itself, the cat animation stopped, showing that the system had locked up due to a lack of power to the processor. We sould point out that it was only the CPU of the low-power system that was powered by the solar cell, but the feat was impressive nonetheless.

Alas, the project was merely being used as a demonstration of what Intel can do with low-voltage circuits – don’t expect solar-powered laptops anytime soon – but as mentioned, the low power technology contained in the processor is very likely to find its way into an ultrabook or tablet within the next couple of years.

Disappointed that we probably won’t have solar-powered tablets anytime soon, or amazed that a tiny solar cell can power a Windows-capable processor in 2011? Let us know in the forum.

24 Comments

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Vo0Ds 13th September 2011, 22:56 Quote
:-O
TeddyStretchMe 13th September 2011, 23:44 Quote
That's awsome, would love to see a video of how fast windows runs.
Gigglebyte 14th September 2011, 00:11 Quote
Impressive, a nice step forwards :)
longweight 14th September 2011, 00:16 Quote
Why has my post been deleted?
tad2008 14th September 2011, 00:35 Quote
No specs or details on the CPU they used in this demo? Which version of Windows? Unusually thin on the ground for BT I must say...
salesman 14th September 2011, 00:49 Quote
Yes awesome, but can it run off of a potato battery?
Claave 14th September 2011, 05:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by tad2008
No specs or details on the CPU they used in this demo? Which version of Windows? Unusually thin on the ground for BT I must say...

As said in the article, it was an experimental prototype CPU - Intel didn't say any more than that. I'd guess it was Medfield (next-gen Atom) but that's a pure guess.

From what I can remember, it looked like Windows 7, but can't remember if it was running Aero or not.

Tbh though, all of this is beside the point - the demo was of an x86 CPU running a full desktop OS and a couple of apps on a few watts of power at most, possibly less.
Quote:
Originally Posted by longweight
Why has my post been deleted?

Because I deleted Snips' trolling, banned him for a few days to reflect on how silly he'd been and tried to tidy the threads of all the reactions to said trolling to avoid confusion with new posters. It was no reflection on your posting which I seem to remember was perfectly reasonable.
Wicked_Sludge 14th September 2011, 06:45 Quote
6th paragraph, 2nd sentence: "We sould point out...."

thats an impressive piece of tech. wish there was a video or at least a zoomed-out pic of the rig.
sub routine 14th September 2011, 08:38 Quote
would be handy for the zombie apocalypse
tonyd223 14th September 2011, 09:46 Quote
Intel have so much money they can properly do research - we never hear this from AMD, who perhaps just don't have the capacity to experiment at this level.

From what I hear, Bulldozer is an just lots of athlon XP's on the same die... :-)
Jqim 14th September 2011, 10:07 Quote
Soon we can make Wall-e for realzies! yaaaaay
steveo_mcg 14th September 2011, 10:35 Quote
The current atoms problem isn't the cpu power draw any way, its the north bridge so while this is very cool i'll be more impressed when they are running the full system of a solar panel the size of a standard netbooks lid.
Adis 14th September 2011, 10:58 Quote
What burn my phone battery is the screen not the CPU.
I don't think it's that easy to cut down screen energy consumption.

It would be much better if they tried to improve battery as much as they are trying to improve energy consumption.

Recently there are so many articles about lowering the power usage of hand held devices but i don't remember any article about any new type of battery that improve battery capacity and life time :(
j0rd 14th September 2011, 11:26 Quote
Even if some other components dont have improved power consumption, the fact that the CPU will should at least help the situation. The less components in a device that demand high power then the more power is available overall. Well, thats my guess anyway.
dream1 14th September 2011, 13:45 Quote
Hmm can u OC that chip. What about if u need 2 go to internet in desert or some plase like that there can be sun over 80+ some times i think it not that good solarcell on the ship. My ide is make better solarcell and no problem whit low lotage chips.
mucgoo 14th September 2011, 15:49 Quote
Satellites have been doing this for years.

Lowering CPU power draw yet further is no bad thing though.
azazel1024 14th September 2011, 16:57 Quote
A postage stamp sized solar cell is about 1inx1in, or for you metric folks out there 25.4x25.4mm. That clocks in at around .58w of power assuming noon daylight and a clear day out in the sun and 100% efficiency. Using a table lamp, unless particularly strong, and typical solar cell efficencies you are probably looking more at around .02-05w of power (around 20-30% efficient and light flux probably about 10% of that of noon daylight).

We are talking a staggeringly tiny amount of power to run that CPU.
Xunsu 15th September 2011, 12:20 Quote
ooo looks like intel has been busy of late :p
LordPyrinc 15th September 2011, 17:27 Quote
I would like to see more use of solar cells in laptops and other devices. Even if they aren't always in sufficient light, what time they are exposed can help extend the overall runtime of the device between charges. Power efficiency coupled with the solar tech could really make the big difference. I hope Intel is serious about this research and not just using it as a promo gimick.
Fizzban 15th September 2011, 18:18 Quote
Fantastic!
j0rd 16th September 2011, 13:59 Quote
This ultra low power x86 CPU push from Intel looks to me to be an attempt to get their next gen(s?) Atom CPU's into tablets and smartphone's and unseat ARM. So far, a market Intel has had woefully little success in.
rogerrabbits 19th September 2011, 08:25 Quote
This is cool. I remember being amazed that a calculator could run off a solar panel strip on it.
Nexxo 19th September 2011, 09:15 Quote
Low power = low heat. Yay for silent, passively cooled systems!

Good times. Now if Intel could couple it with a low-power Northbridge chipset we'd be in business.
Coach 2nd November 2011, 17:14 Quote
Shame the heat-sink will block the solar panel... lol
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