CHIPMAKER Intel has announced a breakthrough in optical communications in the form of the first silicon based 50Gbps laser transmitter and receiver parts produced in its labs.
The company said that within five years this milestone development will lead to low-cost optical links inside computers that might scale to speeds up to 8Tbps or higher.
Chipzilla's silicon photonics data link is still being developed in the lab, but the firm predicts it will deliver semiconductor chip manufacturing economies of scale to realise low-cost optical communications in PCs, consumer electronics and datacentres.
Dr Mario Paniccia, the director of Intel's photonics technology lab said that the industry is reaching the limits of copper wiring, with speeds above 10Gbps requiring more energy to transmit beyond short distances. Using photonic communications over optical fibre solves the problem, but existing technology is too expensive.
"Because of the cost, because of the bulkiness, the costs are still limiting use only for telecoms. It is very difficult to drive use of optical in the PC or in and around everyday devices," said Paniccia.
Intel's technology uses a hybrid silicon laser integrated into the transmitter chip along with other components such as the modulator and multiplexer to combine several laser beams as separate channels for transmission over optical fibre. The design enables Intel to fabricate the transmitter and receiver using processes similar to those it uses to manufacture CPU chips.
"What could happen if we take the benefits of silicon manufacturing, the ability to do high-volume low-cost, highly-integrated silicon processing, and combine that with the laser? We can now start driving optical communications anywhere, everywhere, to any place," Paniccia said.
The transmitter and receiver can also be integrated into equipment using standard circuit board assembly methods. Intel said it has developed a low-cost passive connector to attach the fibre optic cable.
The photonic data link prototype Chipzilla has developed uses four 12.5Gbps channels, multiplexed to create a 50Gbps link, but Paniccia claimed it can scale up to 25, 40 or 100Gbps channels and scale out to eight or more laser channels on a chip. He said this means that 1TBps optical links are easily within reach.
Paniccia speculated that high-speed photonic data links will revolutionise high-performance and cloud computing. Compute and storage elements will not need to be located close together, for example, but could be far apart. "This is just the beginning," Paniccia predicted.
Intel said products based on this revolutionary technology might be produced within three to five years. µ
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