optical computing and intel
Intel today announced that it has devised a method to use light beams to replace the use of electrons to carry data in and around computers.
The company has developed a research prototype representing the world’s first silicon-based optical data connection with integrated lasers. The link can move data over longer distances and many times faster than today’s copper technology; up to 50 gigabits of data per second. This is the equivalent of an entire HD movie being transmitted each second.
Today computer components are connected to each other using copper cables or traces on circuit boards. Due to the signal degradation that comes with using metals such as copper to transmit data, these cables have a limited maximum length. This limits the design of computers, forcing processors, memory and other components to be placed just inches from each other.
Intel’s research achievement may be another step toward replacing these connections with extremely thin and light optical fibers that can transfer much more data over far longer distances, radically changing the way computers of the future are designed and altering the way the datacenter of tomorrow is architected.
“This achievement of the world’s first 50Gbps silicon photonics link with integrated hybrid silicon lasers marks a significant achievement in our long term vision of ‘siliconizing’ photonics and bringing high bandwidth, low cost optical communications in and around future PCs, servers, and consumer devices” said Justin Rattner, Intel chief technology officer and director of Intel Labs.
The transmitter chip is composed of four such lasers, whose light beams each travel into an optical modulator that encodes data onto them at 12.5 Gbps. The four beams are then combined and output to a single optical fiber for a total data rate of 50 Gbps.
At the other end of the link, the receiver chip separates the four optical beams and directs them into photo detectors, which convert data back into electrical signals. Both chips are assembled using low-cost manufacturing techniques familiar to the semiconductor industry.
Intel researchers have also indicated that they are working towards improving the data speeds which can be achieved using this technology.