Intel yesterday showed off an experimental chip that it says cuts a processor’s power consumption so much that it could run on solar power.

The Claremont processor is what the company calls a ‘near-threshold voltage processor’, meaning it can run on little more than the threshold voltage needed to turn on its transistors.

It can cut energy consumption to under 10 milliwatts, says Intel, meaning a PC processor could handle a light workload with nothing more than a solar cell the size of a postage stamp.

The chip’s based on the now rather venerable Pentium architecture, chosen because of the simpilcity of its design compared with today’s models.

It was demonstrated at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco running on a Linux PC showing a small animation – which ground to a halt when the light source was removed.

It was developed at Intel Labs, not necessarily as a commercial product in its own right but as part of a project to reduce the energy consumption of chips to a fifth of its present level.

In the short term it could be used for applications such as sensors.

The ultimate aim, says Intel, is to improve the energy efficiency of high-performance computers by a staggering 300 times over the next ten years, particularly for large data processing applications.