Light beams can replace electronic signals for future computers, believes chip maker Intel. The company has developed a research prototype representing silicon-based optical data connection with integrated lasers.
The link, says the company, 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 says its research achievement is 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.
Silicon photonics will have applications across the computing industry. For example, at these data rates one could imagine a wall-sized 3D display for home entertainment and videoconferencing with a resolution so high that the actors or family members appear to be in the room with you.
Tomorrow’s datacenter or supercomputer may see components spread throughout a building or even an entire campus, communicating with each other at high speed, as opposed to being confined by heavy copper cables with limited capacity and reach.
This will allow datacenter users, such as a search engine company, cloud computing provider or financial datacenter, to increase performance, capabilities and save significant costs in space and energy, or help scientists build more powerful supercomputers, says Intel.
“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.