Intel achieves breakthrough with light beams to replace electronic signals for computers

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Researchers and technological companies have been augmenting the diverse digital world with newer innovations. Intel has announced a major breakthrough which offers a glance into the future of computing devices. The company claims that it has formulated the use of light beams which will replace the use of electrons for carrying data in and around computers.

The development of the primary prototype of the world’s first silicon-based optical data connection with integrated lasers is said to mark an important feat in Intel’s portfolio. Compared to the current copper technology, the light beams will transport data over longer distances at a far rapid pace. Apparently, it will move up to 50 gigabits of data per second which has been stated to be same as the transmission of an entire HD movie every second.

“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,” elucidated Justin Rattner, Intel Chief Technology Officer and Director of Intel Labs.

It is said that the computer components are wired together with copper cables or traces on circuit boards in today’s day and age. The use of such metals for data transmission brings along signal degradation issues that restrict the maximum length of these cables. Due to the issues faced, manufacturers are forced to design computing devices in a manner so that processors, memory and other components are placed almost next to each other.

The company states that the results of their research may expand the horizons of computing systems by replacing the existing connections with exceptionally slender and light optical fibers. This in turn will accelerate the speed of data transfer even over a wide expanse. With such improvements, computers are expected to be designed in an extremely different fashion and there will be a fundamental modification in the architecture of the datacenter.

Intel anticipates a vast change in the digital world with the arrival of silicon photonics across a range of diverse applications in the computing segment. It proclaims that with such high-speed data rates, 3D displays will stretch across wall-sized screens. Besides, the innovation may offer a superior quality resolution to users while videoconferencing. This could possibly transport real life-like images into living rooms.

Probably, the technology may also drive datacenters to view components across an enormous landscape and communicate at speeds which heavy copper cables may not deliver. It is said that users including search engine companies, cloud computing providers or financial datacenters can employ the advancement to excel their performance capabilities while saving costs in space and energy. The technology could be expedient for scientists to devise powerful supercomputers, purging various problems.

The Silicon Photonics Link was demonstrated by Rattner in Monterey, California. Acting as a concept vehicle, this 50Gbps link is claimed to assist researchers at Intel to test new ideas. The company plans to develop technologies which will enable transmission over optical fibers by employing light beams from economically viable and easy to make silicon. This will eliminate the need to use expensive devices which require exotic materials such as gallium arsenide. Though telecommunications and other services have adopted laser technology, PC applications still have to make their way on this path.

The link has been produced by including a silicon transmitter and a receiver chip. The development has incorporated breakthroughs accomplished from previous researches such as the first Hybrid Silicon Laser which was co-developed by the University of California at Santa Barbara in 2006. It also derives inputs from high-speed optical modulators and photodetectors which were announced in the year 2007.

Apparently, the transmitter chip has been created with four lasers which allow light beams to travel into an optical modulator and encode data at 12.5Gbps. It has been stated that the beams are merged together to transmit data at 50Gbps through an optical fiber. Researchers state that the receiver chip splits these beams again and directs them into photo detectors. The data is then converted into electrical signals.

According to Intel, these chips can be assembled by using low-cost manufacturing techniques which are familiar to the semiconductor industry. Scientists at the company have been endeavoring to formulate technologies that will enhance data rate by elevating the modulator speed and augmenting the total number of lasers per chip. This has been proclaimed to allow the development of future terabit/s optical links, enabling transfer of all content from a laptop in approximately one second.

The company has revealed that this research is different from its Light Peak technology. Light Peak is being set up to bring a multi-protocol 10Gbps optical connection to Intel client platforms for applications which will be developed in the near future. Whereas, the Silicon Photonics research attempts to utilize silicon integration and reduce cost while increasing data rates to tera-scale and expanding the applications of optical communications.

Intel has revealed that the 50Gbps Silicon Photonics Link prototype is a result of a multi-year silicon photonics research agenda. This entails several ‘world firsts’ from its lab.