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Innovation

Intel hits out against IBM terabit chip claims

IBM's just-announced manufacturing process for making chips with terabit transfer speeds is not the only one around, nor is it the most advanced, Intel has argued.Both Intel and IBM are in the process of developing technology for making chips that can use pulses of light, rather than electricity, to transfer data.
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor on

IBM's just-announced manufacturing process for making chips with terabit transfer speeds is not the only one around, nor is it the most advanced, Intel has argued.

Both Intel and IBM are in the process of developing technology for making chips that can use pulses of light, rather than electricity, to transfer data. But the two companies have different manufacturing techniques in place.

On Wednesday, IBM announced its CMOS Integrated Silicon Nanophotonics technology. The company said its method of manufacture, which places all the technology necessary for photonic transfer onto the same CMOS chip, is more effective than Intel's.

Intel's technology keeps the photonics and the chip separate, so it does not have the benefit of the economies of scale that IBM's single-chip manufacturing process does.

On Thursday, Intel told ZDNet UK that it believes its own light-based data transfer technology is as effective as IBM's. Its own technology has an on-chip laser, unlike IBM's.

"This [IBM] research is another example of others also validating that silicon photonics is the path to high bandwidth, low-cost optical communications. While this research is interesting, there are still many challenges to commercialise this approach such as integration of lasers and integration with advanced future transistor processes," Intel's global communications manager Nick Knupffer told ZDNet UK on Thursday.

Knupffer pointed out that Intel's own light-based silicon photonic technology — demonstrated at the Intel Developer Forum this year — is competitive with IBM's technology for reasons of energy efficiency.

"Keeping the CMOS and photonics separate will allow us to use the most energy-efficient, leading edge manufacturing process for electronics as we scale link speeds. For exascale systems, energy efficiency is a major concern," Knupffer said.

He defended Intel's manufacturing process and said that "although it does require the bonding of indium phosphide to the silicon, this is done at the chip or wafer level, allowing us to create all the lasers we need in one bonding step."

Because Intel's in-development technology has an inbuilt light source, Knupffer feels that it presents advantages when compared with IBM's technique. Knupffer pointed out that unless IBM develops a technique for putting laser sources onto its chips it will have to go through a process of "buying, assembling and fibre-coupling a multitude of laser sources to silicon photonics devices that do not incorporate hybrid silicon lasers."

IBM's technology has been in development for 10 years, Intel's for six. Both companies are hoping to produce chips using the photonics technology that are capable of a terabit of transfer speeds.

In March, Intel demonstrated a chip that could transmit data at the rate of 200Gbps on eight channels of 25Gbps each.

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