IBM takes optical chip breakthrough to standard manufacturing

IBM takes optical chip breakthrough to standard manufacturing

Summary: Big Blue says its silicon nanophotonics technology could have big data implications now that it can be used in standard semiconductor manufacturing processes.


IBM on Monday will outline how an optical communications advance is now possible with standard 90-nanometer semiconductor manufacturing processes. The upshot is that these advances will allow light to transmit information and speed up data transfer.

The technology is dubbed silicon nanophotonics and was outlined in a 2010 proof of concept paper. Silicon nanophotonics uses pulses of light to communicate and moves large data volumes rapidly.

Here's an angled view of the IBM silicon nanophotonics chip. The blue optical waveguides are transmitting high-speed optical signals. Yellow copper wires carry electrical signals. Credit: IBM

IBM contends that the technology will ultimately be used in servers, datacenters and supercomputers and trump current interconnects. It's unclear when the technology would be adopted, but the ability to use traditional silicon manufacturing processes is a big plus.

In a release, IBM positioned the breakthrough as one that could bolster big data use cases. Big Blue said that it transferred its silicon nanophotonic technology to a commercial foundry by adding new processing modules to fabrication line.

According to a paper to be presented by at Dr. Solomon Assefa at the IEEE International Electron Devices Meeting (IEDM):

The first sub-100nm technology that allows the monolithic integration of optical modulators and germanium photodetectors as features into a current 90nm base high-performance logic technology node is demonstrated. The resulting 90nm CMOS-integrated Nano-Photonics technology node is optimized for analog functionality to yield power efficient single-die multichannel wavelength-mulitplexed 25Gbps transceivers.

A cross-sectional view of an IBM silicon nanophotonics chip combining optical and electrical circuits.

Topics: Networking, Big Data, Emerging Tech, IBM, Processors

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  • mmmm

    tell us more
  • Here comes the HAL9000

    Make sure you use Linux though, when Windows was used it went psychotic.
    Alan Smithie
    • In your world...

      I'm guessing that passes for funny. Sad...
      • I like Windows

        And I think it was funny.
        x I'm tc
      • "noaxetogrind" apears to have quite an axe to grind...

        Any one that belives windows is not flawed in a few important ways is delusional at best. and windows is known for freaking out just a little bit when dealing with new hardware.

        So i feel it was quite funny. The next time something dosent meet your standards for humor, do us all a favor and keep it to your self.

        Ps: just so we're clear, my prefered OS is windows, and yes i do feel that windows is a little bit psychotic.
        • If "noaxetogrind" ever gets an axe to grind...

          ...I will gladly grind it for him/her. (I'll sharpen that puppy right up!)
      • That's all they have anymore...

        so yes it's sad.
      • Thread Derailed Already

        Try to keep on topic, chaps.

        Just for once.
        Beast Of Bodmin
    • HAL9000

      This is freaking amazing ... the subject isn't even ABOUT an O/S and we're already getting Linux vs. Windows trolling. Good grief!
      Max Peck
      • HAL9000

        I agree. I rarely view the comments anymore because they quickly veer off-topic, predictably into bashing Window, Apple, Linux or whatever. Perhaps ZDNet should take notice and begin blocking these trolls so the rest of us can read and comment intelligently.

        That said, other than a small sense of pride as a former IMBer, I have nothing constructive to add other than an expectation that this technology will benefit us all down the road in terms of a further reduction in the time required to acquire new knowledge: from a year-long trek to the libraries of Alexandria, to a few months after Gutenberg's press, to a few weeks at the founding of our country to a few minutes now, with a Google search.
  • nanophotonics technology advancement

    It is a pleasant change to read about "real" technology advancement in IBM's nanophotonics breakthrough, as opposed to the superfluous and innane "technology" stories about 'tiles innovation' on a GUI and other Gee-Whiz nonsense.

    The USA should be and to a degree probably is thankful for the engineering and scientific prowess of companies like IBM, Google, Oracle Corp. and a few others, without which the country would be badly trailing the onslaught of China.
    • But to be trailing China has to

      copy something. So they have to copy then mass produce....
      • My guess..

        .. is that there are more than a couple of Chinese scientists and engineers involved in this project. The real problem the US faces is when the foreign-born technologists decide to head back to their home countries. We simply do not produce enough home-grown talent to keep up.
  • Not about Windows - About Great Technology Breakthrough

    What a wonderful breakthrough. This will probably lead to even faster end user implementations. I am not sure how I ever lived with a system without an SSD, something I promoted for years. Since you talk about Windows, to not have the main kernel not on a chip, is still ludicrous. Since I touched my first computer, a basic Dumb terminal, I have never stopped. My first CD Recorder in 1996, RICOH external was $5300 bucks. TDK Blanks by 100, cost $28 bucks each. This technology is so exciting for what people cannot even fathom yet.
    • agree..

      the next few years should see implemented into processor manufacture, we will have greater transfer speeds than ever. I look forward to the day our storage matches or surpasses the speed we are capable of transferring it both internally and machine externally... I hope I am alive for then..and for long after that to enjoy it.
  • Windows is flawed, get over it.

    Ive been a Tech for over 20 years now trouble shooting since windows 3.11 and even a few 3.0 systems ..yes its flawed...I use it for most of my personal and gaming uses and when I get it working the way I want it works perfectly(almost) but add something new and it goes back when Nvidia first started offering their chipsets, there was a nice issue with Gforce cards/drivers back then causing everything to slow down..nothings perfect man. deal with it.
    • Hey goof. Wrong blog...

      this is about technology and data transfer and some pretty cool stuff. The childish rant is on another blog - customers are waiting for their french fries.
  • Finally, a breakthrough!

    Using photons instead of electrons promises not just speed, but something else:

    Lower heat generation.

    And that, friends, is terribly important in the next major generation of computing!
    • indeed...

      The current tech using copper circutry is aproaching the point were the conductivity of copper (or even gold) can no longer compensate for the heat generated by the resistance in increasingly small circut pathways.

      Since light only generates heat when it is absorbed by a given material, we should never have a problem with heat in photonic based circuts so long as we continue to use low absorbtion wave guides and keep the light intensity at low levels. this should be easily acomplished since the distances the light needs to travel in an integrated circut would be incredibly small.
      • Gold is 24% less conductive than copper it doesn't help at this level. It just doesn't corrode much; useful at higher levels. It remains to be seen whether this technology can compete with superconductive materials in high end applications.