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RealTime IT News

Big Blue Eyes Optical Chip Connectors

IBM has developed a new chip-to-chip interconnect that uses high-speed light pulses and optical connections, the company said.

The process, commonly known as silicon photonics, is designed to replace parts of the intricate web of wires that surround a processor and its various components. The technology is based on optical fibers that can carry multiple simultaneous data channels by using different colors of light. Researchers suggest this is like having hundreds of channels on your cable TV. However, optical fiber can carry millions of times more data. Using silicon to detect light is commonly used in solar panels and digital cameras.

Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM said its new high-speed photo detector is based on a newly developed germanium-on-insulator (GOI) technology, which Big Blue said could be used on many of its standard CMOS chips. IBM said it chose to work with germanium because it absorbs light nearly 70 times better than the current silicon.

"This is a major step toward overcoming the biggest bottleneck in system performance, the interconnection between chips," T.C. Chen, IBM research vice president, said in a statement.

The new devices have an optical frequency response of nearly 30 GHz, making it, in principle, suitable for detecting signals at speeds over 50 Gbps, IBM said. The devices also operate at low voltages and can detect light over a wide range of wavelengths.

IBM is not alone in investing in silicon photonics. Intel has been working on connecting its processors with tunable lasers and has augmented some of its technology courtesy of its acquisition of West Bay Semiconductor.

Motorola and STMicroelectronics have also made investments in replacing copper with fiber optic interconnects on a motherboard.

But while the chip companies suggest optical fibers provide a lot of room for technology growth, Kevin Krewell, principal analyst for In-Stat/MDR, said don't throw out those wire interconnects just yet.

"While optical communications between chips may turn out to the an appealing solution in the future, electrical (wired) chip communications has plenty of headroom for most of the next decade," Krewell told internetnews.com. "Optical will be useful in connecting boards together before it will be popular connecting chips on the boards. While optical has potentially higher bandwidth, it can't send data faster than the speed of light and optical interfaces add some latency converting parallel buses to/from a single serial signal (the light beam)."

IBM said it will detail the photo detector breakthrough at the Device Research Conference in Notre Dame, Indiana, on June 22.

The process, commonly known as silicon photonics, is designed to replace parts of the intricate web of wires that surround a processor and its various components. The technology is based on optical fibers that can carry multiple simultaneous data channels by using different colors of light. Researchers suggest this is like having hundreds of channels on your cable TV. However, optical fiber can carry millions of times more data. Using silicon to detect light is commonly used in solar panels and digital cameras.

Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM said its new high-speed photodetector is based on a newly developed germanium-on-insulator (GOI) technology, which Big Blue said could be used on many of its standard CMOS chips. IBM said it chose to work with germanium because it absorbs light nearly 70 times better than the current silicon.

"This is a major step toward overcoming the biggest bottleneck in system performance, the interconnection between chips," T.C. Chen, IBM research vice president, said in a statement.

The new devices have an optical frequency response of nearly 30 GHz, making it, in principle, suitable for detecting signals at speeds over 50 Gbps, IBM said. The devices also operate at low voltages and can detect light over a wide range of wavelengths.

IBM is not alone in investing in silicon photonics. Intel has been working on connecting its processors with tunable lasers and has augmented some of its technology courtesy of its acquisition of West Bay Semiconductor.

Motorola and STMicroelectronics have also made investments in replacing copper with fiber optic interconnects on a motherboard.

But while the chip companies suggest optical fibers provide a lot of room for technology growth, Kevin Krewell, principal analyst for In-Stat/MDR, said don't throw out those wire interconnects just yet.

"While optical communications between chips may turn out to the an appealing solution in the future, electrical (wired) chip communications has plenty of headroom for most of the next decade," Krewell told internetnews.com. "Optical will be useful in connecting boards together before it will be popular connecting chips on the boards. While optical has potentially higher bandwidth, it can't send data faster than the speed of light and optical interfaces add some latency converting parallel buses to/from a single serial signal (the light beam)."

IBM said it will detail this photodetector breakthrough at the Device Research Conference in Notre Dame, Indiana, on June 22.



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