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High performance light-based computers in the horizon

Researchers at Intel and the University of California, Santa Barbara have announced
the world's first Hybrid Silicon Laser
, or HSL. An HSL is a silicon-based laser emitting device. According to Intel, creating a laser emitting silicon chip is a breakthrough that will propel the world of computers into the light-based transmission era.

Called Indium Phosphide, the material contains properties that allow it to emit light when voltage is applied. Intel researchers were able to integrate Indium Phosphide into traditional silicon chip manufacturing techniques, thereby creating a silicon-Indium Phoshide hybrid chip -- one that could process traditional electrical signals and transmit laser light. The laser light generated by an HSL chip could be used to transmit data and thus power other silicon photonic devices said Intel.

“Silicon Photonics is a critical part of tera-Scale computing as we need the ability to move massive amounts of data on and off these very high performance chips" claimed Intel Chief Technology Officer Justin Rattner. Intel said that HSL could bring along terabit-capable transmission processors that are low cost and easy to produce. Computers would be a multitude more powerful than those we use today. The technology however, is still a number of years off.

Currently, silicon chips can detect light, route light and even modulate light said Intel, but the problem is getting silicon chips to produce light. Intel is taking Phoshide lasers commonly used in other industries and bringing along new types of applications. Voltage is first applied to the HSL. The Indium Phosphide element then produces light, which then enters a silicon waveguide to create continuous laser light. Using this technique, Intel also maintains a low cost production of HSL devices. According to Intel:

The hybrid silicon laser is a key enabler for silicon photonics, and will be integrated into silicon photonic chips that could enable the creation of optical “data pipes” carrying terabits of information. These terabit optical connections will be needed to meet the bandwidth and distance requirements of future servers and data centers powered by hundreds of processors.

The application potentials for HSL chips are truly exciting. The industry in general has been talking about laser or light based electronics for a number of years already. With the development from a company like Intel -- and hopefully others like AMD -- the industry is getting the right push it needs. With multi-core processors now the mainstream, computers will only get faster. HSL devices will drive the future of computing said Intel, and things are looking only brighter. Communications technology uses a fair number of laser electronics and as the technology is refined, desktop computer and notebooks will be using the technology in the next few years as the limits of traditional silicon is reached.

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Star Trek here we come
By dgingeri on 9/18/2006 6:38:57 PM , Rating: 3
The next step is to get chips that run off the light we send and/or are able to store/retransmit the light as memory functions. Then we're well on our way to isolinear chips of Star Trek and 10k time the performance.

Transistors will be a thing of the past, an oddity like we think of coal powered steam engines in horseless carriages or vacuum tubes of old electronics.

Hopefully, we'll be able to do this with less power and be able to run fanless computers, finally. I'd love my power bill to actually go down for once.

RE: Star Trek here we come
By Tyler 86 on 9/18/2006 7:05:48 PM , Rating: 3
Light produces heat.
How much heat is produced during light production?
How much electicity is consumed to produce light?

I don't know about your powerbill going down, but would you settle for the same 10k performance boost?

RE: Star Trek here we come
By Knish on 9/18/2006 7:15:59 PM , Rating: 3
Light produces heat.

All radiation produces heat, but this is hardly tangible compared to the heat produced by say the oscilation of a transistor a few million times per second.

RE: Star Trek here we come
By Tyler 86 on 9/19/2006 10:46:03 PM , Rating: 2
"The researchers believe that with this development, silicon photonic chips containing dozens or even hundreds of hybrid silicon lasers could someday be built using standard high–volume, low–cost silicon manufacturing techniques."

Dozens or hundreds of lasers, routed by silicon...

It might produce less heat than typical processor solutions, even to the point of being fanless for 1:10 or even 1:50 scale performance... but at 1:10,000 (10K) performance...

Now, literally, do you see where I'm coming from?

RE: Star Trek here we come
By Tyler 86 on 9/19/2006 11:25:45 PM , Rating: 2
I don't know if I made that clear enough...

10,000 electrical processors produce enough net heat to... well, the world may never know, because every such arrangement of processors is cooled excessively... but I assume, provided the processors themselves did not cook off in the process of cooking... they could potentially melt a house or several houses...

To be able to perform the work of 10,000 processors using light... Even if the heat produced is negligible 1:1, at 1:10,000, you're most likely going to need a fan or two... :)

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