Intel claims optical computing "milestone"

July 28, 2010 // 8:59 a.m.

Tags: #fibre-optic #hybrid-silicon-laser #intel #laser #lightpeak #light-peak #optical #optical-computing #silicon-laser

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.

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