updated 06:55 pm EST, Wed March 3, 2010
Need for copper wires replaced by light pulses
IBM has announced that its scientists have created a system that allows computer chips to communicate using light instead of electrical signals. The device, known as a nanophotonic avalanche photodetector, is claimed to be be ultra-fast while minimizing power consumption.
The device converts faint optical signals into electrical signals, as incoming photons free electrons which then 'avalanche' to amplify the signal. Although the concept is not new, IBM claims its scientists have overcome the speed limitations of previous systems that worked with slowly-building avalanches.
“This invention brings the vision of on-chip optical interconnections much closer to reality,” said IBM Research VP of Science and Technology Dr. T.C. Chen. “With optical communications embedded into the processor chips, the prospect of building power-efficient computer systems with performance at the Exaflop level might not be a very distant future.”
The photodetector is said to relay information at rates of up to 40Gbps, while simultaneously multiplying the signal tenfold. The fast speed is obtained while operating with a power supply of just 1.5V.
Although the technology is still in a concept stage, the device is primarily build with typical component materials such as silicon and germanium. Production is also expected to be possible with standard processes already used in large-quantity chip manufacturing, although it is unclear how quickly the technology can be integrated into mainstream manufacturing.
Additional details of the new device can be found in the recent issue of the scientific journal Nature.