Intel Harnesses Light For High-Speed Data Transfer

July 28, 2010
Research prototype uses lasers to transmit data at 50 gigabits per second, breaking new ground in speed and distance.

Computer chip developer Intel might have hit upon a breakthrough in optical communications with the announcement of a prototype interconnect that uses light instead of copper wires to transmit data at a speed of 50 gigabits per second.

Intel believes that within five years this technology could lead to affordable optical links inside computers that have the potential to maximize speed up to a terabit per second or, according to Justin Rattner, Intels chief technical officer, fast enough to transfer the contents of a laptop in less than a second or the entire Library of Congress in less than two minutes.

According Dr. Mario Paniccia, the director of Intels photonics technology lab, the technology will not be initially integrated into CPUs. For now, it will be used as an optical data link between computer centers.

The announcement comes amid a backdrop in which the industry has acknowledged that copper wiring has reached its limits in terms of speed and efficiency. To reach speeds of 10Gbps simply requires more energy.

Photonics technology has the potential to speed up data transfers within PCs or handheld devices. The problem is laser technology can be exceedingly expensive. Intel is hoping to bring the technologys cost down to a point where it can be integrated into mass consumer products.

What could happen if we take the benefits of silicon manufacturing, the ability to do high-volume low-cost, highly-integrated silicon processing, and combine that with the laser? asked Paniccia. We can now start driving optical communications anywhere, everywhere, to any place.

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