IBM claims optical computing breakthrough

According to IBM, its latest optical developments mean data can be transmitted at 160Gb per second

The ability to move an entire database or a complete movie from one system to another in a second is within reach, according to researchers at IBM.

Such a fast download is possible because of the use of optical signals instead of normal electronic signals. Whereas electronic signals must travel down physical hardware paths in chips, optical signals use the much wider optical spectrum and can travel at the speed of light.

According to IBM, scientists have found a way of shrinking and integrating the components required into one package with standard low-cost, high-volume chip-manufacturing techniques. The primary task in this process was to try to build an unheard level of integration in the chipset. To achieve this, the researchers built an optical transceiver with driver-integrated and receiver-integrated circuits in current CMOS technology. 

The chips are "coupled" with other necessary optical components made in more exotic materials, such as indium phosphide (InP) and gallium arsenide (GaAs), IBM said. The final integrated package is only 3.25mm by 5.25mm in size.

This compact design provides a high number of communications channels, necessary to transmit a huge amount of data in parallel, as well as very high speeds per channel. While the research has yielded promising possibilities, IBM released no details on when we can expect to see the new technology in finished products.

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