Photonics: The End of the Copper Wire Age
From the Intel labs comes the future of data connection: Silicon Photonics, or the use of silicon to generate and transmit light.
Intel touts silicon photonics as a copper wire successor, for communications and data transmission. According to Justin Rattner, the company's CTO, “electronic signaling relying on copper wires is reaching its physical limits. Photonics gives us the ability to move vast quantities of data across the room or planet at extremely high speeds and in a cost-effective manner.”
The silicon photonics package features a silicon transmitter and a receiver chip. The transmitter encodes the laser using an optical modulator with a bandwidth of 12.5Gbps. Intel used a gang of four lasers in their technology, resulting in a 50 Gbps throughput. That's like transmitting the data inside a dual-layer DVD in less than two seconds. Receivers on the other end decode the laser streams back into usable information.
Mario Paniccia, director of Intel's Photonics technology lab, says that they "expect the technology to be widely deployed by the middle of the decade.” For now, there are no plans to integrate silicon photonics with the CPU, but the possibility exists. “If we are talking about CPU-to-memory connection, we would take our photonics chip and put it close to the CPU to bypass the copper interconnects,” says Paniccia.
Intel is currently focusing on improving the transfer rate by adding more lasers per chip. “The 50-Gbps rate is just the beginning," Paniccia says. “In the labs, we ran this for 27 hours with no errors and transferred about a petabit of data, all this at room temperature with no fancy cooling.”