updated 10:55 pm EST, Wed November 23, 2011
MIT diode uses existing hardware for optical CPUs
A recently published research paper from MIT in Nature Photonics could lead to a cheap, viable way to make light-based, optical processors. Nicknamed a "diode for light," it would stop the light with an isolator and process the information it holds directly in the same part. It would amount to an integrated optical circuit which, like a silicon integrated circuit, would be more efficient and much cheaper to make.
The technique puts a layer of garnet on a loop attached to the light channel. Using the material would allow light to only head in one direction into and out of of the chip while funneling the light through the loop to be processed.
Diodes could be made using silicon, not only keeping the cost down but saving the trouble of having to invent all-new factory techniques to make the full processors. Designs could use nothing but optical links for data instead of having to use electricity for anything more than basic power.
Optical chips, also called photonic chips, could dramatically increase the speed of a processor by communicating inside the chip much faster than passing electricity through silicon. They can also communicate in parallel and make much more efficient use of available space.
Any production hardware is likely to be years away, since the invention has yet to be refined and commercialized. Intel sponsored a fellowship for one of the researchers, Lei Bi, however, and could be one of the first to use the advancement for itself. [via MIT]