Intel takes the next step in its efforts to use light to speed up the transfer of data, unveiling a prototype interconnect that uses light to transmit data at up to 50G bps.
Intel engineers have created a prototype of an interconnect
that uses light rather than copper wiring to speed up data transfer within a
system to as fast as 50 gigabits per second.
The breakthrough is the
latest step by Intel
to create a light-based technology that would replace
copper wiring and electrons to transmit data at significantly faster
rates-company officials during a conference call July 27 with journalists
talked about as fast as 400G bps-and at longer distances.
The optical interconnect technology could solve a number of
problems, Intel CTO Justin Rattner said.
Copper wires are reaching their limit in their ability to transmit data,
Rattner said. Currently data can be moved at 10G bps over copper wires, and
some vendors are pushing into the 40G-bps arena. And with copper wires, as
speed increases, it becomes more difficult to move electrons over longer
"We've traded performance over distance," he said.
This is becoming an increasing larger issue as the amount of
data that needs to be moved-thanks to the rise of social media and video, among
other things-is growing rapidly. Using light to move data will not only significantly
increase the speed of transfer, but also the distance.
"Photonics gives us the ability to move vast amounts of
data across the room or across the globe at extremely high speed," Rattner
Rattner and Mario Paniccia, Intel Fellow and director of Intel's
Photonics Technology Lab, both said they expect, should everything continue at
its current pace, products with optical interconnects to start hitting the
market in servers, PCs and mobile devices in the middle of the decade.
Light already is used in a number of applications. Lasers can
be found in DVD players and in fiber optics
for long-distance communications. However, for what Intel officials are talking
about, a real challenge is cost, Rattner said.
Intel wants to find a way to bring the cost down to the point
where it makes financial sense to use it in common electronic devices. That
will be a challenge going forward, Rattner and Paniccia said.
"A lot of the costs have to be taken out, or it won't be
practical," Rattner said.
Paniccia said Intel researchers "have a good sense of the
challenges" of bringing the optical interconnect technology to market. In
addition, the prototype proves that Intel can assemble the necessary pieces and
make it work. Rattner said that Intel isn't waiting on any new invention to
move this forward. All the pieces are in place. It's now a matter of continuing
to refine it, putting it into chips and then getting it into the manufacturing
stream, a process that could take the next few years.
A number of other companies, including IBM,
also are working on photonics.
While Intel is pushing forward with its research, it also has a project
under way to create an optical interconnect-dubbed "Light Peak"-to
connect a number of devices to PCs that can be up to 100 meters away. Light
Peak is designed to transmit data
at speeds up to of 10G bps.