Intel has demonstrated a 48-core research chip that's 10 to 20 times more powerful than the top offering in its multi-core Core processor range but which uses the same amount of energy as two household light bulbs.

The chip giant said it built fully functional cores in the new chip as part of what it calls its "terascale" mission.

"With a chip like this, you could imagine a cloud data centre of the future which will be an order of magnitude more energy efficient than what exists today, saving significant resources on space and power costs," said Justin Rattner, Intel CTO and head of Intel Labs.

intel logo"Over time, I expect these advanced concepts to find their way into mainstream devices, just as advanced automotive technology such as electronic engine control, air bags and anti-lock braking eventually found their way into all cars."

News of the 48-core chip, nicknamed the "single-chip cloud computer", comes nearly three years after Intel revealed it had built an 80-core chip. That chip fit 80 cores onto a 275-square millimetre, fingernail-size chip and draws only 62 watts of power - less than many modern desktop chips.

Intel says its 48-core chip includes newly invented power management techniques that allow it to operate at as little as 25 watts.

Dan Olds, an analyst at The Gabriel Consulting Group, said the new research chip is an important step in the process of building many-core processors, but Intel should release more details about the technology.

"We need more information from Intel in order to understand just how big a leap forward this chip really is," he added. "For example, can it handle the standard x64 instruction set? This is important in that it determines if existing software will be able to run on it without being ported. But we don't want to get ahead of ourselves. At a volume of only 100 units, this is more of a science project than an actual prototype," said Olds.

With additional reporting from Sharon Gaudin, Computerworld US