Intel breakthrough means "speed of light" computing

Intel has announced a new breakthrough in technology that it claims could revolutionize computer design, while at the same time dramatically increasing performance and saving the planet, all within 5 years.

What could this new fangled technology be? 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 which can move data over longer distances and many times faster than today's copper technology; up to 50 gigabits of data per second in fact.

This says Intel 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. 

Intel claims that the new data rates could allow manufacturers to create a wall-sized 3D display for home entertainment and video conferencing with a resolution so high that the actors or family members would appear to be in the room with you.

But it's not just about gadgets, Intel says it would be perfect for search engines like Google and Bing. "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 to solve the worlds biggest problems".

“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”, Rattner said.

Now for the super techy part:

The transmitter chip is composed of four lasers, whose light beams each travel into an optical modulator that encodes data onto them at 12.5Gbps. The four beams are then combined and output to a single optical fibre for a total data rate of 50Gbps. 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 Intel manufacturing techniques familiar to the semiconductor industry. Intel researchers are already working to increase the data rate by scaling the modulator speed as well as increasing the number of lasers per chip, providing a path to future terabitps optical links - rates fast enough to transfer a copy of the entire contents of a typical laptop in one second.



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