Intel researchers demonstrate optical data connections

Intel researchers demonstrate optical data connections
Intel has created the first silicon-based optical data connection with transmission rates up to 50Gbps. Researchers have developed a research prototype, which the company says represents the world’s first silicon-based optical data connection, with integrated lasers.

Today’s computer components are connected to each other using copper cables or traces on circuit boards. Due to the signal degradation that comes with using metals such as copper to transmit data, these cables have a limited maximum length. This limits the design of computers, forcing processors, memory and other components to be placed just inches from each other. Intel has announced an important breakthrough that could see light beams replace the use of electrons to carry data in and around computers, enabling data to move over much longer distances and at speeds many times faster than today’s copper technology.
The link can move data at speeds of up to 50 Gbps – that’s the equivalent of an entire HD movie being transmitted each second.

Future applications

Silicon photonics is expected to have applications across the computing industry. Intel says the data rates possible with the technology could enable wall-sized 3D displays or videoconferencing with resolutions so high that the participants appear to be in the room with you.
The company also imagines tomorrow’s data centre 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 data centre users to increase performance, capabilities and save significant costs in space and energy, or help scientists build more powerful supercomputers to solve the world's biggest problems.

50Gbps “concept vehicle”

While telecommunications and other applications already use lasers to transmit information, current technologies are too expensive and bulky to be used for PC applications.
Justin Rattner, Intel chief technology officer and director of Intel Labs, demonstrated the Silicon Photonics Link at the Integrated Photonics Research conference in Monterey, Calif. The 50Gbps link is akin to a "concept vehicle" that allows Intel researchers to test new ideas and continue the company's quest to develop technologies that transmit data over optical fibres, using light beams from low cost and easy to make silicon, instead of costly and hard to make devices using exotic materials like gallium arsenide – a material used in the recent development of a device that can be used as an optical switch.

"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.

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