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Intel claims optical computing "milestone"

Intel claims optical computing "milestone"

Intel's hybrid silicon laser research has allowed it to transfer 50Gb/s down a single fibre-optic channel.

Intel has made a breakthrough in optical connection technology with the world's first end-to-end silicon photonics connection, which the company claims "could revolutionise computer design, dramatically increase performance, [and] save energy."

The milestone - which is part of the company's investigation into the use of optical, rather than electrical, data carriers within computers - is an important one: Intel claims that its latest prototype device is capable of shifting data at a quite incredible 50Gb/s - "the equivalent of an entire HD movie being transmitted every second."

While high-speed optical data transfer isn't new, Intel's work ditches the commonly used 'exotic' materials often used in laser diodes in favour of the cheap silicon it is so used to working with - reducing the environmental impact of the technology while, the company claims, dropping the cost and size low enough for use inside a computer, rather than for external network connections.

Described by Intel as a "concept vehicle" rather than a ready-to-roll product, the system achieves its impressive speeds by combining four silicon-based lasers each carrying a 12.5Gb/s data stream along a single optical fibre, at the end of which the beam is split once again and sent to four photodetectors for decoding for a total of 50Gb/s along a single fibre.

Intel's Justin Rattner, chief technology officer and director of Intel Labs, claims that "this achievement of the world’s first 50Gb/s silicon photonics link with integrated hybrid silicon lasers marks a significant achievement in our long term vision of 'siliconising' photonics and bringing high bandwidth, low cost optical communications in and around future PCs, servers, and consumer devices."

Although clearly part of the same overall strategy as Intel's already-announced Light Peak technology, the company claims that this work is separate - and given that it has already bested Light Peak by a factor of five, the future is looking bright for optical computing.

Are you impressed with Intel's work one this project, or will it take an actual product - available for less than a second mortgage - before you'll start getting excited at the possibilities? Share your thoughts over in the forums.

26 Comments

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kenco_uk 28th July 2010, 09:39 Quote
I wonder how much it'd save on energy cost?

Imagine if a pci-e slot had four of these optical lanes available.. and then imagine a gfx card that would saturate that bus. Like, woah.
The_Beast 28th July 2010, 10:02 Quote
Quote:
looking bright for optical computing

That's a good pun, cool tech btw
Gareth Halfacree 28th July 2010, 10:14 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by The_Beast
That's a good pun
It made me smile when I wrote it. I'm suitably ashamed.
SlowMotionSuicide 28th July 2010, 10:20 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by kenco_uk
I wonder how much it'd save on energy cost?

Imagine if a pci-e slot had four of these optical lanes available.. and then imagine a gfx card that would saturate that bus. Like, woah.

Then imagine the cost of making a game which would actually stress the said card:)
Jack_Pepsi 28th July 2010, 10:28 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by kenco_uk
Imagine if a pci-e slot had four of these optical lanes available.. and then imagine a gfx card that would saturate that bus. Like, woah.

CGi (film) type graphics/physics... ymmmm! Still, substance over aesthetics - in this context anyway.
mclean007 28th July 2010, 10:34 Quote
PC Pro picked this up, and suggested the tech could go even further:
Quote:

"50Gbits/sec is just the beginning," declared Intel fellow Mario Paniccia, introducing the technology. By increasing the data rate and using more concurrent beams, Intel plans to scale the interface up to 1Tbit/sec
Source: http://www.pcpro.co.uk/news/359818/intel-reveals-50gbits-sec-interface-but-its-not-light-peak#ixzz0uy4rJ8EV
eddtox 28th July 2010, 11:07 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by SlowMotionSuicide
Quote:
Originally Posted by kenco_uk
I wonder how much it'd save on energy cost?

Imagine if a pci-e slot had four of these optical lanes available.. and then imagine a gfx card that would saturate that bus. Like, woah.

Then imagine the cost of making a game which would actually stress the said card:)

Then imagine the cost of buying this Messiah of games and a computer to run it.

And the disappointment when it turns out to have little going for it other than the pretty visuals.
rickysio 28th July 2010, 11:19 Quote
Sort of like the non-Japanese Crysis?

At least Japanese Crysis had the Wakamoto Suit.
liratheal 28th July 2010, 11:44 Quote
Call me when there's a drive that supports it.
Lord-Vale3 28th July 2010, 13:36 Quote
Cool stuff, wonder how quick it will become a part of the industry?
Altron 28th July 2010, 13:49 Quote
It has nothing to do with optical computing. It's not an advancement in optical computing.

It's an efficient miniaturization of optical communication.

All of the number crunching in these is still being done by electrons in silicon. The actual computing is done with electrical transistors. An electronic processor is cruching bits, then this thing is turning those bits into photon pulses, and then the photon pulses are being turned back into electrical bits, where another electronic processor is crunching them.

An "optical computer" is one where the actual processors operate with light instead of electricity. It's a concept that is still far away. The nature of semiconductors allows electricity to control electricity, creating logic gates. As of 2010, we still haven't found a similar device that would allow light to control light. There's a huge amount of research being done in that field.

But it's a misnomer to call this "optical computing". it's a good technology, but it is an optical communication interface, not an optical logic processor.

It is cool to see miniaturization, and I wouldn't mind a link to a technical paper or something. I'm a little confused about the wording of a "silicon". Generally, fiber optics use fused silica. Is this fused silica (which is made from silicon), or some other silicon material? I'm also curious as to what lasers they are using, and what the wavelength is. As far as I knew, the current best technology available is fused silica fibers with semiconducter near-IR lasers at the dispersion minima at 1315nm and 1550nm. if this is a four channel device, it's probably around 1550nm, and is using different bands. One laser might be 1530nm, another 1540nm, another 1550nm, an the last at 1560nm. The other channels are not as efficient as 1550nm, but dispersion doesn't become a limiting factor until these links are several miles long, and we already have big bulky OC fiber for that. This small fiber communications modules would probably be made to make the network infrastructure completely fiber. Right now, we got fiber from the internet cloud to your doorstep, but then most home and businesses have copper from the PCs to the fiber switches in each building.
maximus09 28th July 2010, 14:18 Quote
nice, they should start introducing to all the servers in the world, would save a tonne of energy. Hope they recycle those old server components though!
BlackRaven 28th July 2010, 14:35 Quote
I concur with Altron as this has more to do with data transfer than actual processing. I would like to see the materials used etc. This could be a nice alternative for all the copper cabling inside buildings.
jamie_macdonald 28th July 2010, 15:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by maximus09
nice, they should start introducing to all the servers in the world, would save a tonne of energy. Hope they recycle those old server components though!

-They can allways send me their old Xeon's xD

Some nice advancments so far, looking forward to seeing how soon realisticaly this could end up inside all of our home computers ...That bandwidth is huge!!! :)
RichCreedy 28th July 2010, 16:39 Quote
its the lasers that are using silicon, instead of the normal gallium arsenide etc, this system is for use on motherboards, between the bus, processor, and memory etc. etc.

you can make the boards lighter and more energy efficient, batteries will last longer, as you won't be losing power along the tracks of the motherboard. essentially, you would have a power bus, maybe just +5v to provide power only to the modules, all communication, between modules would be optical, not electrical.

you could in theory get rid of the pci/pcie bus, and have a 2 wire connector to provide power only, with an optical connector for the data communication. i think that is the kind of goal they are looking at.
Altron 28th July 2010, 16:52 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by RichCreedy
its the lasers that are using silicon, instead of the normal gallium arsenide etc, this system is for use on motherboards, between the bus, processor, and memory etc. etc.

Is it a silicon and gallium arsenide hybrid? Or all silicon. I didn't think an all silicon laser would work, unless it is something really nifty like a quantum cascade, but those are too far in the IR to be good over fiber.
RichCreedy 28th July 2010, 16:54 Quote
its all silicon, they dont want the other stuff, they like silicon.
Altron 28th July 2010, 17:03 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by RichCreedy
its all silicon, they dont want the other stuff, they like silicon.

yeah but how does it work? Silicon is an indirect bandgap, so you can't make a semiconductor laser out of it like you can from gallium arsenide. I can double check my good friends Saleh and Teich when I get home, but I don't recall it being possible.

Theoretically, they could make a quantum cascade laser out of silicon, but I have never heard of that being done, and typical QCLs are way outside the communications band.

I think they are wording it wrong. It's gotta be gallium arsenide fabricated inside a silicon wavegide, where the actual laser medium is still gallium arsenide. I know Intel has been doing research in that. But all silicon? I have my doubts, but I'm very curious now for further info.
RichCreedy 28th July 2010, 17:04 Quote
maybe they are using quantum dots
RichCreedy 28th July 2010, 17:13 Quote
after doing some more research, they maybe using a silicon hybrid, or have found a way to get rid of the exotic elements.
HourBeforeDawn 28th July 2010, 18:12 Quote
Power is still needed so you would still have a power line running down the cable to power whatever device you plug in, now on the motherboard side of things this could be great for communications between hardware to speed that up and so forth, still not new but going in the right direction. Wish this was a committee designed project and not just Intel because you know Intel will be basties and not share and charge up the ass for people to use it. ~_~
MrZephyr 28th July 2010, 18:26 Quote
replacing all copper elements in the motherboard for fibre optic connections would suitably speed things up!
crazyceo 28th July 2010, 20:21 Quote
Maybe this answers the Intel USB3 question?
Fizzban 28th July 2010, 23:36 Quote
Nice tech. Will be amazing what will be possible in 10 years time.
Slizza 29th July 2010, 20:09 Quote
Good luck to them with this stuff. hope they advance it fast.
Saivert 29th July 2010, 22:59 Quote
yeah. I imagine addon cards plugged into the motherboard via a optical link cable instead of the bulky PCI-e slot. then cases could more easily be designed with better cooling in mind. I know you can use PCI-e riser cards with flex ribbons today but that is still not as flexible as a thin optical link cable.

as for optical links on the motherboards itself Intel would have to develop some way to print optical fibers onto the PCB or gluing on fiber to the pcb somehow. Guess robots can handle everything these days.
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