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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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Intel Cheating?
By pmouse on 9/22/2006 11:16:54 AM , Rating: 2
The title of their press release suggested that they have finally fabricated a silicon based laser.

But in fact, the device is still InP based light source, "glued" together with a wave guide.

The point of Si Photonics is to make everything with Si in one integrated process, other than combining all kinds of extra processes to get different materials into one cheap - you run into all sorts of problems doing this, which induces cost.

The way things were done before was using InP lasers and then couple the light onto waveguide chips. Now Intel removed the need of coupling (which is tricky too), that's nice, but they are far away from making a real Si Based Laser.

Si, as we know it, has an indirect band gap - it can't be used to efficiently generate light. Recent development in nano technology allowed us to trick silicon into thinking it has a direct band gap, by forming so called Si nanoclusters. This effect is known as quantum confinement, and the device (mostly when applied to materials other than Si) is called a "Quantum Dot Device". However, this technology still requires extensive research and development. Making Si Lasers now is not really a realistic goal, single wavelength Si LEDs is the next logical step.

I was really surprised by the title of this Article, thinking that Intel just leaped 20 years forward in time - only to be disappointed after reading their press release.

"Intel is investing heavily (think gazillions of dollars and bazillions of engineering man hours) in resources to create an Intel host controllers spec in order to speed time to market of the USB 3.0 technology." -- Intel blogger Nick Knupffer

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