Intel Says Breakthrough Could Lead To Powerful, Low-Cost Chips

Intel Corp. and University of California at Santa Barbara researchers announced Sept. 18 a breakthrough that could lead to a laser-producing chip that could vastly improve computing power at a low cost. The process could allow the production of hybrid silicon-laser chips to use laser beams instead of wires to transfer data.

"This breakthrough addresses one of the last major barriers to producing low-cost, high-bandwidth silicon photonics devices for use inside and around future computers and data centers," the company said in a statement.

The use of photonics, or optical data transfer, could vastly increase the speed of computers while keeping costs down, the researchers said. Experts say the use of lasers could allow communication between chips within a system, bypassing many of the bottlenecks on existing computer chips.

"This could bring low-cost, terabit-level optical 'data pipes' inside future computers and help make possible a new era of high-performance computing applications," said Mario Paniccia, director of Intel's Photonics Technology Lab. "While still far from becoming a commercial product, we believe dozens, maybe even hundreds of hybrid silicon lasers could be integrated with other silicon photonic components onto a single silicon chip."

The researchers said the key to manufacturing the device is the use of a low-temperature oxygen plasma -- an electrically charged oxygen gas -- to create a thin oxide layer on the surfaces of the materials.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2006

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