Prime Time

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2005-06-23 Print this article Print

Intel still has some work to do before silicon photonics are ready for prime time, company researchers say. For one, it has yet to create prototype chips that use silicon photonics-based busses, Vara said. Instead, the labs are working on each individual component required for silicon photonics as well as boosting the overall bandwidth they can achieve and ensuring their manufacturability in silicon, said Marco Paniccia, director of Intels Photonics Technology Lab. "Theres a lot of fundamental issues and research we need to do here," Paniccia said.
But earlier this year, Intel announced that it had succeeded in building a laser in silicon. The laser is vital as it can serve as the light source for silicon photonics interconnects.
Such breakthroughs serve not only as scientific proof points, but they help to remove physiological barriers, Paniccia said. But Intel researchers are still working on how to create and integrate the various elements of a silicon photonics system, including lasers, photo detectors that read and convert the data, and waveguides for carrying light inside chips. "Everything we do has to be under the presumption that its CMOS-compatible" and that it can be "fabricated using todays technology alongside existing products," Paniccia said. But so far, Intel has discovered that silicon photonics doesnt need leading-edge, 90-nanometer manufacturing. Its developed its technology inside older chip plants. Still, integrating silicon photonics with chips just for the sake of integration is "useless," Paniccia said. "It has to be smaller, better, faster. Otherwise, stay with discrete, because the penalty you pay is in [manufacturing] yields." Intel is exploring several other applications for silicon photonics, including networking. Outside of chips and other computer interconnects, it envisions potentially building lasers for the health care industry, the companys researchers said. Ultimately, "if you build it, people will find ways to consume the bandwidth," Paniccia said. "Were at the infancy of a true revolution people have been talking about for 20 years." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on servers, switches and networking protocols for the enterprise and small businesses.

John G. Spooner John G. Spooner, a senior writer for eWeek, chronicles the PC industry, in addition to covering semiconductors and, on occasion, automotive technology. Prior to joining eWeek in 2005, Mr. Spooner spent more than four years as a staff writer for CNET, where he covered computer hardware. He has also worked as a staff writer for ZDNET News.

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