Today 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. Today's research achievement is another step toward replacing these connections with extremely thin and light optical fibers that can transfer much more data over far longer distances, radically changing the way computers of the future are designed and altering the way the datacenter of tomorrow is architected.
Silicon photonics will have applications across the computing industry. For example, at these data rates one could imagine a wall-sized 3D display for home entertainment and videoconferencing with a resolution so high that the actors or family members appear to be in the room with you. Tomorrow's datacenter 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 datacenter users, such as a search engine company, cloud computing provider or financial datacenter, 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.
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 fibers, 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. While telecommunications and other applications already use lasers to transmit information, current technologies are too expensive and bulky to be used for PC applications.