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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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RE: whew
By Tyler 86 on 9/18/2006 7:00:46 PM , Rating: 5
The demand is already there for supercomputing...

As for apps that take advantage of the speed, you should take note;
Graphics, audio, and general purpose processors all have a limit in size, scale, and speed, on typical electricity conducting silicon.

3D graphics in particular has yet to hit a wall in utilization.
In fact, it's becoming increasingly easier to feed these increasingly paralell, massive, and compressed architectures enough juice/data to accomplush what a designer expresses...

General purpose CPUs, however, are not best suited when designed to be used 'fully' - that may seem strange, but take the Pentium 4 or D for example.
It's streamlined NetBurst architecture allowed for very impressive specialized feats at high clock speeds and reasonable prices.
Although, it absolutely neglected it's "general purpose", and thus, frankly, it sucked.

Intel has since changed their ways, and now instead of trying to streamline and specialize specificly what can be singular tracked, streamlined, and specialized, similar to (early generation) graphics processors, they're putting more effort into abstracting, generalizing, general purpose prediction, and dynamic resource/capability management.

Lasers instead of electrons might be a cheap path to clockspeed, and so long as they keep their current, very objective view on general purpose processing, but I'm sure they're not preaching optical inter-chip communication for the absolute immediate future for a reason - nonetheless, the future does look promising, after all, light is much faster, and stable (or rather, coherant), than electrons.

As you probably know, on-chip memory, or cache takes up a sizable portion on most modern processors - sometimes as much as half to 2/3rds, or in the case of the Itaniums, 3/4ths.

If on-chip memory and cache could be taken off-chip, the die size would be smaller, thus each individual die would be cheaper, because more dies could be produced.

The main issues of off-chip memory is latency, and bandwidth - that is why cache and on-chip memory exists.
Another issue with off-chip memory is the scale and complexity with which the memory bus has become accustomed.

RDRAM, as a serial (versus DDR(2,3...) SG/SD-RAM as paralell) interface, has overcome that complexity obstical, by not requiring all traces to be timed absolutely perfectly.
Alternate serial technologies reduce the obstical by transmitting over a minimal number, or densely defined traces with more effort in implementation - ala HyperTransport.

An optical memory bus could allow fairly cheap, paralell, perfectly timed, massive amounts of data to be transfered to off-chip memory, and other destinations.

Yes, it's overkill for now, but something drastic happening is hardly 'new' in the electronics industry.

We will get more applications that take advantage of the speed and possibilites, but we already have a few applications that 'truely utilize' even the latest processors - even if you don't think much of them; Folding@Home like applications for example.

To reiterate the previous poster, the future looks promising.

... and the new post coming in during my entry, yes, F@H...

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