2011-11-01

Co.Exist

This Computer Chip Can Be Powered By A Potato

Computers use a lot of energy to keep all their parts going, but a new chip from Intel is able to operate with the bare minimum amount of electricity—as much as could be drawn from a postage stamp-sized solar cell or even, yes, a spud.

Computers may suck up a lot of power, but we’re not about to throw them overboard—we need them too much. It’s exciting, then, to hear about innovations like the Near Threshold Voltage Processor (code name: Claremont), a low-power Intel chip that can run off a postage stamp-sized solar cell, lemon juice, or a potato and drastically reduce the amount of power a computer uses.

Today’s computer microprocessors run at levels high above the minimum amount—the threshold voltage—needed to make transistors turn on and conduct current. As Intel explains in a blog post: "It is challenging to run electronics reliably at such reduced voltages. To put it simply, the difference between a "1" and a "0" in terms of electrical signal levels becomes very small, so a variety of noise sources can cause logic levels to be misread, leading to functional failures." While a chip can technically run on very little energy—like the energy from a potato—it tends to get confused if it tries to.

The Claremont chip runs at 400 to 500 millivolts, which is right near the minimum. There’s always a catch, of course, and in this case the problem is that performance drops when the chip operates near threshold voltage. So Intel designed the chip to only switch to near threshold voltage mode when the computer has a low workload.

Ultimately, this could lead to devices that never have to turn off—instead, they can always remain just barely on, keeping applications and processes open without gobbling up power. And many years down the line, near voltage threshold research might yield zero-power devices that run entirely on tiny amounts of solar energy, vibrations, and ambient wireless signals.

For now, though, Claremont remains a research chip; Intel has no plans for commercial use. But don’t be surprised if one day your iPad or iPhone is powered by just the tiniest bit of energy.

Intel

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8 Comments

  • jT Thom

    most of a computer's energy is used for cooling, not processing...so it may end up saving you 10% power.

  • Ollie Shotton

    "Ultimately, this could lead to devices that never have to turn off--instead, they can always remain just barely on, keeping applications and processes open without gobbling up power."
    yer you could do that orrrrr you could just turn your comp into hibernate mode and then you wouldn't be using any power and you would return to the computer just how it was!it's silly to try and power a chip off a potato! like what actual modern day process could you achieve with it?!

  • Rebba Rajesh

     

    It was nice but try for high
    workloads, for low loads we always have enough power to drive, if it
    works for high loads we can save lot of power

  • Jonathan Tien

    GLaDOS will be pleased... Don the slow clap processor!! Whatever next though? Combustible lemons??

  • Richard Miller

    Unbelieveable, whatever will they come up with next. A car that runs on Lettuce?

  • Troy Gerth

    This was a triumph!

    I'm making a note here:

    "HUGE SUCCESS!!"

    It's hard to overstate

    my satisfaction.